Job Scheduling at Omaha Children's Hospital

By William Atkinson  |  Posted 03-14-2013

Job Scheduling at Omaha Children's Hospital

By William Atkinson

Children's Hospital & Medical Center of Omaha, Neb., is the only full-service pediatric specialty health care center in Nebraska, providing care to more than 350,000 children each year.

The hospital's extraordinary patient load generates a lot of information. It is the responsibility of the IT staff to ensure the data’s timely delivery--and in a form usable to hundreds of workers in different departments of Children's Hospital.

Over the years, the IT department has engaged in a series of improvements, but the most-revised system during the last several years has been the business intelligence (BI) platform. "There was a time when only a few back-office team members were involved with BI," says Wendy Worthing, director of IT operations at Children's Hospital. "Not anymore. Everyone from finance, access, infection control and even c-level executives have begun using our business intelligence application to analyze, plan and report on various aspects of the hospital's performance."

As the hospital’s BI uses have grown, so has the need to pull and manage information from different sources. The hospital employs a number of mission-critical enterprise applications, including Eclipsys's Sunrise Clinical Manager, EpicCare Ambulatory EMR and Lawson Software's business process management suite.

Data from each of these applications, in various combinations, is fed into several data marts for use by Children’s Hospital's two primary BI applications, Crystal Reports and QlikTech's QlikView.

In the past, most of Children’s Hospital's data extraction, transformation and loading tasks were accomplished through a combination of manual operations and internally generated scripts. The hospital's data administrators used different basic job scheduling tools, including Cron on a Linux-based system, and a pair of database management systems, while Microsoft's SQL Server provided additional functionality.

Each approach had its limitations, though, and none could handle the multi-platform tasks that were required by Crystal Reports and QlikView.

Children’s Hospital looked at a number of dedicated job scheduling applications in order to unify and manage its wide range of data warehousing and report delivery. It eventually selected ActiveBatch Workload Automation from Advanced Systems Concepts. "What we liked about ActiveBatch was its ability to interface with a wide range of operating platforms, databases and applications," says Worthing. "While most of our packages run on Windows, we also use UNIX and Linux a lot. We realized ActiveBatch would integrate with all these platforms, allowing us to handle all our workflows, including non BI-related tasks, through one source."

Another challenge ActiveBatch addressed was the IT department’s previous inability to institute automatic restarts if a job failed. And one failed task would create a domino effect among the other jobs. Since there was no central monitoring capability, the IT department lacked a real-time ability to monitor a developing situation. IT would then have to follow the "breadcrumbs" to identify the failure point. ActiveBatch is able to eliminate latency between jobs, however, and assure that jobs run as scheduled.

Job Scheduling at Omaha Children's Hospital

"The monitoring and troubleshooting of multi-job events is by far the biggest benefit to us," says Worthing. "We know in advance if a job fails. This has allowed us to course-correct prior to having a user impact."

Rollout was relatively easy. "We previously used Solande, a similar product," Worthing says. "We replaced several jobs at a time in a roll-out fashion. We ran jobs side by side to ensure that they provided similar output, then released them into production." In addition, according to Worthing, ActiveBatch had more breadth functionality-wise, thus enabling the rollout to experience few glitches.

"We did take advantage of that technology to rewrite some of our processes to be more efficient," Worthing says. "As an example, we combined several jobs into a single process, eliminating points of failure and simplifying troubleshooting in the event of failure."

The results and benefits have numerous. The IT department automated a process that downloads a report and creates a multi-tab Excel spreadsheet for the hospital's Health Information Management (HIM) department, which saves the HIM staff more than 50 hours a year, as those daily reports were previously manually developed.

The IT department also developed a file directory with an ActiveBatch file-based trigger tied to it for the hospital's patient accounting department. Prior to this, reports were run manually by uploading large files to an Access database, which provided slowly diminishing database performance over time. With the new file directory, when the patient accounting department drops a new file in the directory, it triggers the process in ActiveBatch, providing the accounting department with a level of self-service automation to run reports when it requires, all without IT’s involvement.

Overall, since adopting ActiveBatch, the hospital's database team has been able to create a central approach to IT automation. "Job queues, for example, don't have to be static," says Worthing. "We may have 12 jobs scheduled in ActiveBatch and, depending on the situation, we might run four at a time, saving another four for later and perhaps the remaining four for 3 a.m. That kind of throttling capability conserves resources. In the past, such a capability would have required a lot of manual scripting." Less scripting allows the IT department to accomplish more with the same headcount, while reducing the costs of outsourcing script development to third-party firms.

Automating and replacing the distribution of paper reports with electronic file distribution has led to additional savings. Previously, hospital departments received two-ring binder reports from the in-house hospital patient system every day. The departments would pull the last page from the reports, which contained the summaries and totals, and throw away the rest of the reports. The hospital now uses ActiveBatch to automate the delivery of the same information in an e-mail, or provide the ability to save the report to a network location.

In terms of the future, "we plan to further the use of ActiveBatch with our Epic enterprise rollout and data warehouse initiatives," Worthing says. "Epic offers an enterprise data warehouse that we will be moving to. At that time, we will need to add a multitude of jobs to support."