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7/13/2011
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Blood Centers Use Web-Based Business Intelligence

The LogiXML system is used by Blood Centers of America for performance benchmarking and the online ordering of blood.

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Web-based business intelligence (BI) software helps Blood Centers of America (BCA) benchmark the performance of its 36 members and enables the centers to buy and sell blood supplies online.

BCA, whose members supply about 35% of blood transfusions nationwide, first began using customized dashboards from LogiXML, a McLean, Va.-based firm, more than five years ago. At first, BCA used LogiXML for benchmarking performance on metrics ranging from payroll and staff hours to the number of red blood cell units collected. Previously, the blood centers had sent this data to BCA headquarters, where an employee entered it into spread sheets and disseminated them by email.

BCA used a similar approach to generate reports on which centers had excess blood supplies and which needed more blood. This system was too slow and cumbersome, so BCA looked for a vendor to custom-develop a new online ordering system.

Greg Bishop, BCA's director of technology, eventually decided to do the development himself, using LogiXML's toolkit. It took him about two weeks to develop a prototype of the dashboard, which uses LogiXML's product at the front end and an SQL database at the back end.

Now BCA's blood centers can use the Web-based application to enter data, either directly or through files in specified formats that LogiXML can unload into the database. (LogiXML also emails the status of blood supplies twice a day to the centers.) After seeing which centers have excess supplies, a center that needs blood can enter an order into the system.

To initiate a purchase, a center need only click a listing, complete the form including entering quantities desired, and submit. Upon submission, an email is automatically sent to the offering center, which can then accept or deny the purchase offer.

According to Bishop, BCA has shown its dashboard interface to non-BCA centers and has offered access to the system to non-member blood centers in the event of a catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina or a terrorist attack.

Over the past decade, Web-based business intelligence has been widely adopted in various industries. According to Chor-Ching Fan, senior director of product management for the decade-old LogiXML firm, nearly half of all BI applications are now being deployed over the Internet. However, he added, a lot of vendors that sell Web-based systems are still primarily focused on client-server applications.

The advantages of Web-based BI, he said, include:

-- A familiar form factor. Because people are used to Web browsers, it takes them less time to learn how to use dashboards.

-- Instantaneous access. End users don't have to download or install software.

-- Accessibility. Web-based BI can be deployed on tablets or smart phones, as well as desktop PCs.

Explaining why BCA decided to use this approach, Bishop said, "We're a blood center cooperative, which means we're owned by the blood centers we serve. I have local users in my office, but the majority of the 1,200 users are in other blood centers across the country. So I wanted something that they didn't have to install any software for. They just fire up their browsers, go to our Web page, and click on a members-only link and log in. The only software that's installed is on my server."

For security purposes, BCA uses a role-based approach that gives particular people access to different elements of the LogiXML dashboard. For example, Bishop said the centers order non-blood supplies through group purchasing organizations and only some people have access to the GPO contracts.

The benchmarking aspect of the dashboard has helped blood centers improve their performance on key metrics, he pointed out. For example, one center was discarding 24% of its plasma because it wasn't fit for injection, and the BCA benchmark was 6%. After emulating the best practices of other centers, that organization has reduced its discard rate to 9%.

BCA has used LogiXML to create a discussion forum on various aspects of blood center operations. Users who specialize in particular areas receive emails to notify them about discussion threads pertinent to their areas of interest, Bishop said.

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