Stars Air Ambulance: an Information Systems Challenge Case Study

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Case Analysis 2
BITM 522

STARS

1. Situation

The Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) is a community based not for profit organization in Alberta, Canada. Their mission as an emergency medical response organization is to provide expedited transportation services for critically injured or ill patients via their specialized fleet of helicopters. After their formation in 1985, the organization quickly grew with funding through private donations and partnerships with community and government agencies. According to STARS Governance And Financial Report 2010[1], STARS’ average net revenues over the past three years were $28.9 million from all sources — operations, fundraising and investments. Over the same period, average expenditures were $29.7 million. Average net revenues over average expenditures were $(0.8) million. With such budgeting shortfalls, the organization has to find ways to cut costs. Led by Dr. Greg Powell, a former emergency room physician now CEO, the STARS mission is to “find patients, take care of patients, and transport patients.” The organization employs approximately 250 full and part time staff in addition to the hundreds of volunteers from the medical community. STARS has an average of 3.4 missions per day, and more than 1,000 each year. 2. Strategy

The current organizational purpose is simple; to provide “a safe and rapid, highly specialized emergency medical transport system for the critically ill and injured.” The STARS work environment is made up of professionals working in a cohesive, team oriented model. The air medical crew (AMC) is well staffed and always prepared for a mission. Once a call for an airlift comes in, the crews quickly and efficiently evaluate the situation and are airborne within eight minutes of notification. The current technical strategy is the use of the Emergency Link Center as the central location for communication between the AMC and other medical professionals waiting at incident locations or the hospital. While the ELC is a significant role in the organization’s business model, the technical foundation is not sound or secure. This includes a weather check, ensuring safety checks and special equipment is on board. Upon takeoff, the pilot continually communicates with air traffic towers as well as with the Emergency Link Center (ELC). The ELC is a central communication hub that communicates with the AMC, hospitals, ground ambulance services and other emergency responders. It can be thought of as the messenger between the air crew and others. During the flight, the ELC informs the crew of patient data and landing zone information. When a mission is completed, the helicopter is brought back to the base where it is cleaned, re-fueled and re-stocked for the next mission. STARS relies heavily on Information and Communications Technology, from providing services, maintaining communications between all parties, monitoring weather patterns etc. Dr. Sharaz Kahn the recently appointed Chief Information Officer for the organization in 2008, inherited a fractured system that had no central oversight. 3. Issues

The new IT Director, Sharaz Khan, is faced with an array of challenges when started his role with STARS. The most prominent of which is the disjointed nature of the department that he now heads. It consists of seven full-time employees, one manager and several consultants.  The organization has utilized a type of outsourcing by irregularly employing outside consultants to tackle some projects and “in sourcing” by allowing other non-IT departments in the organization to perform tasks that otherwise would be IT functions.  Other departments also hired their own IT staff or outside contractors, often costing the company much more money. This has led to what the author calls   “Distributed Information Services” making it difficult for Kahn to determine initially the full scope of IT at STARS as well as determining IT operating expenses. In addition...
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