CIMIT, Induct Software Roll Out New Collaboration Platform for Healthcare

Collaboration is all the rage. So is innovation management. Throw in “cloud-based platform,” “improving quality of patient care while reducing cost,” and “translational research,” and it sounds like the perfect storm of IT-meets-healthcare buzzwords and memes.

So here’s the news. Boston-based nonprofit CIMIT, the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology, has teamed up with Induct Software, a Norwegian startup with a Boston-area CEO, to unveil a new Web-based collaboration platform today. The software, called CoLab, is aimed at helping healthcare institutions worldwide speed up innovative approaches, share information, and eventually work together to improve patient care. Although there are beaucoup de buzzwords involved, CoLab looks to be tackling some pretty important (and longstanding) problems in medicine.

First, some background. CIMIT started back in 1998 as a consortium of technology and clinical institutions; it has a dozen members, including most of the big Boston hospitals, MIT, and Draper Lab. Its main goal is to help scientists and engineers work together with doctors and medical staff to accelerate R&D for healthcare—particularly in areas like medical devices, procedures, and clinical systems. It does all this through a sprawling array of programs, grants, and initiatives.

Meanwhile, Induct Software is the latest calling for tech exec David Burns, the company’s Boston-based CEO. Burns was formerly CEO of Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) Inc., the U.S. operating company for FAST, the Norwegian enterprise search firm bought by Microsoft for $1.3 billion in 2008. (Induct has a lot of DNA from FAST and is following a similar playbook, roughly speaking, but in the innovation management sector.) Before that, Burns worked at Lycos, Data General, and a number of other tech companies.

At its core, CoLab isn’t a new idea. Henry Chesbrough, a business-school professor at UC Berkeley (and an Xconomist), literally wrote the book on “open innovation” about a decade ago. He’s the original inspiration for Induct, as well as the head of its academic advisory board. But Web-based collaboration in healthcare has taken a while to catch on, for cultural, logistical, and technical reasons. The hope is that together, CIMIT and Induct will be able to persuade other institutions to use the Web interface, open up, and share best practices. Indeed, Chesbrough says in a statement that CoLab “will allow CIMIT to scale up its innovative offerings to address healthcare needs all around the world.”

It sounds like CoLab is trying to help hospitals and disease foundations handle workflows (such as admissions processes) more efficiently, as well as communicate, collaborate, and gather ideas outside their walls—from patients, vendors, and other institutions. The Web interface includes features like dashboards, user-generated documents, and Facebook-like discussion threads.

As a journalist, I’m partial to broad, sweeping analogies and labels. So is CoLab the “Facebook (or Yammer) for healthcare”?

John Collins, CIMIT’s chief operating officer, humored me but resisted the temptation to crush my question. “It’s a collaboration process engine,” he says. Pieces of the technology exist separately now, he explains—customer relationship management, document management, ways to track ideas and grant proposals, and so on—but CoLab does it all under one roof. In any case, CIMIT’s main focus is on research, not software development, he says.

That said, CIMIT has been testing CoLab internally and with partners across the U.S., Europe, and Asia for the past year. And the consortium plans to begin selling CoLab to other institutions in the coming year or so. “We’re hoping to build the network of people using it over time,” says Collins.

On the software front, I talked a bit with Burns, the Induct CEO. Healthcare is just one of many industries his 40-person company (he’s the only one in Boston) is going after, but CIMIT is one of its biggest customers. What Induct brings to the table is Web-based software to “really manage innovation,” Burns says. That means things like soliciting ideas, ranking them, getting peer feedback, and, crucially, following the whole implementation process through—keeping track of who’s responsible for next steps, what information they need, how they should get that information, and so forth. “Most companies fail in implementation,” he says.

It sounds like CIMIT and healthcare institutions have their work cut out for them. But perhaps managing innovation in the right way is the key to making the whole industry run more smoothly.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Editor in Chief. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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