SAHO Getting
New Computer System

By Gord Brock
Leader-Star News - February 6, 1999
Relief is finally on the way for the Saskatchewan health sector's potentially crippling payroll headache. A $4 million replacement is on order for the 20 year old computer system that, even if it were new, would be ill-suited to the province's
reformed methods of delivering health care.

"This is just nuts," SAHO president Arliss Wright said in an interview. Relying much longer on the outdated computer system could cause "a catastrophe" in some health districts, he added.

One senior health district official said the existing payroll system is costing his administrators extra time on the job. And SAHO estimates users will cut down on related costs by $38 million over 10 years.

Once the new system is in place next fall, the provinces's 32 health districts, plus affiliated hospitals and other institutions, can access a new payroll and human resources system being bought from SAP Canada by the SAHO.

SAHO is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that provides labour related services for its members and affiliates in Saskatchewan's health system, in exchange for user fees.

Its payroll system covers about 29,000 employees and is used by 31 of Saskatchewan's health districts, plus affiliated users such as hospitals and other insitutions.

SAHO is also working on the province's labour adjustment strategy and provides bargaining. It announced the technology purchase in the midst of contract talks with Saskatchewan's health-sector unions.

By some accounts, official word that SAHO has purchased new equipment is long overdure.

Health districts created early in the 1990s, followed by health labour reform in the last two years, were meant to get the most from a health system that last year cost the Saskatchewan government $1.6 billion.

But for the people in charge of accounting and efficiency in the province's health districts, SAHO's payroll system has fallen behind the pace of change.

Under one major shift, health-sector employee's may now find themselves working for more than one of the health districts or affiliates that distributes service throughout the province.

But SAHO's computer tracks workers according to institutions rather than as individuals. So accounting for payroll and benefits has been confusing. It has also cost employers money, through lost productivity and miscommunication.

Dale Schmeichel, CEO of the South Country Health District is south central Saskatchewan, said the aged technology used by SAHO has hampered efforts to get more value from Saskatchewan's health-care dollars. "To take advantage we needed a more effective system," Schmeichel said. "I think we would have been better to have it in place and functioning from the time that the recommendations were implemented."

SAHO has estimated thenew equipment will drive up the users' cost by 60 per cent. Payroll operations brought in about $1.7 million in 1997 - 17 per cent of the organizations revenues.

Still, Schmeichel said his health district needs what the new payroll system offers and SAHO went through a rigorous selection process before settling on SAP. "If there was a more effective central supplier, this district would consider it," he said.

For SAP, an international company with 200 installations in the health-care sector alone, the deal gives it another foothold in the Saskatchewan market.

While is already has customer's in the province, SAHO is SAP's first client in Saskatchewan's health-care sector, said Wayne Regehr, who heads the company's western region office in Calgary.

And SAP hopes it can be more than a supplier to SAHO. Their agreement allows SAHO to offer its payroll services across Canada - except for Quebec - to health-care organizations with operating budgets of less than $50 million. "SAHO is a unique opportunity for us," Regehr said, saying his company is more than a vendor. "It's more of a partnership with us," he said.