Microsoft focuses on health care

Last February, Microsoft announced that "leading industry Microsoft software vendors have developed and plan to ship more than 45 health care applications for Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 by April 1999," adding that the applications ranged from physician practice-management solutions on handheld devices to Web-based managed-care solutions, and enterprisewide clinical and financial solutions. Microsoft confirmed, as of June, that all 45 were shipping. This statement led me to explore Microsoft's industry site (http://www.microsoft.com/industry, also available at http://www.winntsolutions.com), where Microsoft identifies six horizontal industries: e-commerce, data warehousing, customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), accounting, and knowledge management (including document management and workflow). It also lists vertical industries, such as construction, education, energy, and many more.

One focus that differentiates Microsoft's vertical-market efforts from those of other database vendors is that Microsoft isn't particularly interested in selling industry-specific applications. For example, Oracle and IBM both sell industry-specific products based on their databases, whereas Microsoft's industry-specific efforts focus on extending Windows and COM architectures in support of industry-specific needs. The Microsoft industry site's Windows-related architectural efforts at http://www.microsoft.com/ industry/initiatives.htm include ActiveStore Initiative, ActiveX for Healthcare, The Digital Legal System, and IPORT.

Focus on Health Care


To understand how Microsoft operates in vertical markets, drill down on the health care sector. Microsoft has identified health care as a vertical market and has a group manager and a technical evangelist assigned to the sector. In a press release, Microsoft announced that Rich Noffsinger, worldwide health care group manager of Microsoft's applications development customer unit (ADCU), observed that there were more than 400 Windows NT-based line-of-business health care applications. Chuck Reeves, a health care technical specialist, is concerned mainly with promoting ActiveX for Healthcare to independent software vendors (ISVs) and developers. A few vertical markets such as health care, financial services, manufacturing, and retail have their own Microsoft Consulting Services practices. David Lubinski heads Microsoft's health care consulting practice, which includes about 18 consultants.

You might think that Microsoft's consulting practice would compete with the channel—with ISVs who have developed SQL Server-based health care products—but that's not the case. "I would reinforce," says Microsoft's Deborah Willingham, vice president of Microsoft's enterprise customer unit, "that we do not compete with the channel. Most of our competitors run large and profitable consulting organizations and so are less willing to partner with the channel." Microsoft's Rich Tong, vice president of applications and tools, reiterated this when assessing IBM's NT efforts. "We are a platform company. We don't build hardware. We don't build vertical applications on top. We have a consulting services group, but its primary mission is knowledge transfer... . The broadest difference between us and IBM is that we don't compete with our partners."

Microsoft's consulting teams aren't out to be profit centers. However, given the growth and profitability of both IBM's and Oracle's consulting services, you might wonder how long this strategy will remain. For now, technology transfer is the primary goal of Microsoft's consulting efforts. A consulting team demonstrates proof of concept by showing customers how to use Microsoft technology to solve today's problems.

In addition to Microsoft's site, you can read about recent Microsoft health care successes at the Micro-Script (http://www.microscript.com) and Sequoia Software (http://www.sequoiasw.com) sites, and find out about the Data General/Microsoft Solutions Center for Healthcare at http://www.dg.com/healthcare. Part of the Solutions Center's mission, the first of a planned competency center network, is to demonstrate that ActiveX for Healthcare messaging architecture offers both plug-and-play capability and a generic layer of translation, or arbitration, in COM. (Data General was one of the stars at the SQL Server 7.0 launch, demonstrating a 2.5TB data warehouse.)

OK, so Microsoft's industry initiatives are COM-centric (you can download an ActiveX for Healthcare software development kit (SDK) from the Microsoft Healthcare User Group site at http://www.mshug.org) and are geared toward the Distributed interNet Architecture (DNA) and getting organizations to use COM, NT, and SQL Server. I don't mean to say that Microsoft ignores other industry standards groups completely. In the health care arena, the Andover Working Group (AWG) (http://interactive.medical .hp.com/mpgawg) and its 230 members have been developing the Health Level 7 (HL7) (http:// www.mcis.duke.edu/standards/HL7/hl7.htm) specification for years and to its credit, Microsoft is working closely with AWG. Microsoft is not, however, working with the Open Management Group (OMG) on the CORBAMed specification.

I'm not saying that Microsoft's COM-centric approach will solve everyone's problems. Scores of hospitals, including the entire Veterans Administration (VA) system, are running legacy Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System (MUMPS) applications. The health care industry has its own privacy, security, and regulatory issues, and any patient-facing applications must be absolutely reliable. And you can only imagine the future: more remote health care workers using Windows CE (WinCE) devices, more SQL Server-based data warehouses mined for everything from fraud detection to development and analysis of best clinical practices, and more SQL Server-based health care solutions in general.

Humming Right Along


Earlier this year, Canada-based Hummingbird Communications rocketed into the top 50 software firms (estimated annual revenues about $240 million) as a result of a series of mergers and acquisitions. Notably, Hummingbird and Andyne Computing merged, with Hummingbird acquiring Andyne's GQL and PaBLO products. Earlier, Hummingbird licensed data-mining technology and software associated with Angoss Software's KnowledgeSeeker and rolled that into its own OLAP products. Most recently, Hummingbird acquired PC DOCS Group Inter-national, a significant player in the document management business—including legal case-management and knowledge-management markets. Also, Hummingbird acquired data-transformation tool provider Leonard's Logic SA (the Genio product line that is for data-warehousing and OLAP applications) and financial software vendor Context. Just before the merger announcement in March, PC DOCS had announced DOC Esq., a scaled-down version of its DOCS Open aimed at small to midsize law firms. And guess what database runs under the hood?

Does that sound like integrated business intelligence (BI) to you? It should. Even before the acquisitions, Hummingbird's BI/Suite was a serious player in the BI information portal market.

Analysts have been predicting a shakeout and consolidation of BI, data warehousing, and OLAP vendors for some time, and Hummingbird isn't alone in acquiring products that build integrated BI capability. Brio Technology, another BI vendor, recently acquired SQRibe, a major enterprise reporting player. And Cognos, the market leader, recently acquired LEX2000, a financial data mart and reporting software developer.

Data Mining


Many people still consider data mining a complex and algorithm-driven high-end technology that's probably several years away from being mainstream. Not only is prepping the data complicated, but calculations can take days—and the sophisticated visualization software makes heavy demands on CPUs. Nevertheless, Microsoft began enlisting ISVs to help grow the market almost a year ago. More recently, at TechEd '99, David Marshall, SQL Server's data-mining team leader, gave a session on data mining. Also, Microsoft announced its OLE DB for Data Mining API, a standard interface to retrieve database information for data-mining applications and a standard model for mining data. Microsoft plans eventually to put data-mining functionality into SQL Server.

My favorite data-mining sites are http://www.kdnuggets.com, an excellent knowledge discovery site with an academic slant maintained by Gregory Piatetsky-Shapiro, and http://www.twocrows.com. Herb Edelstein, one of Two Crows' principals, has written what I consider the most comprehensive report of data-mining products, "Data Mining '99." The report covers more than two dozen products and costs $695. Also, there's Data Mining News newsletter (http://www.idagroup.com), which publishes industry news and analysis.