Monday, January 12, 2009

Israeli programmers design management system for Palestinian Hospitals

David Shamah
January 12, 2009
Israel 21C

While the news is full of stories of war, missiles, and bombings, an Israeli company is developing a new system that will enable Palestinian Authority (PA) hospitals to more easily and efficiently take care of patients. It's a twist to the story we usually hear about relations between Israel and the PA. And here's an even bigger twist: The program is being developed by a Bnei Brak company whose staff is made of ultra-Orthodox women. It sounds like a co-existence fairy tale, but that's exactly what's happening at i-Rox, an Israeli software development house that has built applications for dozens of clients in Israel and abroad. In its latest project, i-Rox is developing a medical administration program for the PA, to be installed, in its first stage, in hospitals in Ramallah and Bethlehem, and later on in other hospitals. "Hundreds of thousands of PA residents will be able to benefit from this project," Yehudit Suissa, CEO of i-Rox tells ISRAEL21c. "There's no question that this is a step forward in coexistence."

The package is fairly typical, as far as medical administration goes; the i-Rox application will feature a database that will allow hospital personnel to add information to patients' files, and the database will be accessible across the network of PA hospitals using the system.

Information will follow a patient from hospital to doctor, and will be shared by the relevant organizations that help pay for medical care - including Israel's Health Ministry, which in many cases foots the bill for medical care of PA residents. The system will also enable doctors to keep case histories, prescriptions, medical history, etc.

What's atypical, of course, is the fact that i-Rox is an Israeli company, developing this system for the PA. The PA appointed an agent to hire a company to build this system Suissa says. "We were contacted by their agent, a software developer from east Jerusalem, and after showing him what we could do, he hired us to do the job," Suissa says. The PA did not hold a tender, she says; the agent did, and he considered a number of other contenders before deciding on i-Rox.

Ready to deliver within a month

"After passing our proposal onto the PA authorities, the agent told us we were hired, and supplied us with the full specifications. We went to work, and are set to deliver the system within the next month," Suissa says.

The deal is a feather in i-Rox's cap. "If we didn't have a quality product the agent would not have presented our work to the PA. Clearly they thought we could do the job, and we intend to live up to that expectation," Suissa says.

While politics is never far behind when talk turns to Israel-PA relations, Suissa says that his staff and the Palestinians with whom they work "don't go there. We don't discuss politics, just shop." Especially during times like this. "There's no question the Gaza operation is like the giant elephant in the room that nobody wants to mention, but both of us have an interest in avoiding pitfalls. So, we leave politics out of it."

As far as the PA's canceling the contract in protest over the IDF operation, Suissa says it's unlikely. "They need this system and we can deliver it; they are just as interested in our getting the work done as we are. Besides, we have already started, and we have a contract," she says.

What makes this deal so unusual is that the people doing the work are a crew of dozens of ultra-Orthodox women.

Haredi women workers are often chief breadwinners

"The women who work here are all from the ultra-Orthodox community, nearly all from Bnei Brak," Suissa says. "All our programmers are college-educated, and some even have advanced degrees."

i-Rox is owned by a Haredi businessman who decided to take advantage of a large, little-known pool of talented tech workers. "Many of the women who work here are the chief breadwinners for their house, with their husbands in many cases learning or teaching in Yeshiva," says Suissa. "It's a perfect solution for members of the ultra-Orthodox community, who would not feel comfortable working in a secular environment."

"A few years ago, you had maybe 20 women a year who graduated from programming training course. But today, because of i-Rox and a few other companies who employ Haredi women, over 160 women will get degrees in programming this year," he adds.

All in all, Suissa says she likes the idea of breaking stereotypes - both among Israelis and the Palestinians. "I think companies like ours should be on top of the government's list of examples of coexistence. We exemplify 'kiruv levavot,' the enhancing of positive relations among people, both inside and outside Israel," Suissa says.

No comments: