In my day job I work in a small team developing an Electronic Patient Record system suitable for use in remote/rural Scottish hospitals. One of our biggest problems is paper. There are many stages in a patient’s episode of care where a paper printout is required, either to be given to the patient, or sent to their GP, or stored in files in medical records. This is a huge problem because we have absolutely no control over these paper printouts once they leave the printer, and sometimes staff will update the paper record by writing on it thus rendering the electronic data incomplete or out of date.

This concept of “snapshots” is discussed by Confused in a recent blog posting. Although he doesn’t mention paper, he’s describing the same sort of problem. And of course NHS systems have the integration problems too – we’re not alone in that, pretty much every large public or private sector organisation in the country must be experiencing similar problems. SOA is part of the answer, but there’s more to it than just that (which I’ll hopefully get to in a subsequent post.

As a result of the writeable web, information has become more liquid, it flows better. Static information required snapshots, and that’s what we’ve been doing for 30 years (or maybe more). Learning about snapshots.

The snapshot analogy led to a plethora of sins, to the way we designed databases, to the way we “inserted”, “amended” and “deleted” data. As we tried to force the snapshots to move around between systems, we hit DRM version 1. Enterprise Application Integration. Otherwise known as paying to bury our data, paying to dig it out again, and then, just in case we haven’t had enough, paying to move it around. And we could do so many wonderfully silly things as a result. Hire armies of people to write code to synchronise things, then hire more armies of people to write code to reconcile the data. Sometimes we missed out the “writing code” bit and just hired the reconcilers direct.

And the platform vendors prospered. And the database guys prospered. The storage guys prospered. The EAI guys prospered. The code writers prospered. The reconcilers prospered. Everyone prospered.

Except the customer