Microsoft has signed a global strategic agreement with iSOFT, which will see the two firms work jointly to enhance iSOFT’s healthcare application, Lorenzo, and support joint development work on new products.

A key part of the agreement is said to involve Microsoft providing support to iSOFT "to specifically package its solutions for delivery by third-party service organisations on a national scale". 

As a result of the agreement, which has been under negotiation for several months, Microsoft will commit unspecified resources globally to enhance the development of Lorenzo, to allow it to be more easily deployed by third party distributors, and to enhance its flexibility and scalability. 

The global agreement is thought to be only the second of its kind signed by Microsoft in the healthcare sector.  The Redmond-based firm has an existing agreement with Eclipsys Corporation in the US.  Both Eclipsys and iSOFT share General Atlantic Partners as a strategic investor.

Tim Whiston, chief executive of iSOFT told E-health Insider: "Microsoft has a particular interest in the healthcare sector where they want to promote their technologies as widely as possible. They’ve looked at the international healthcare market and identified ourselves and Eclipsys as the leading exponents of their technologies." 

"It does include investment in terms of technical and financial commitments from Microsoft to invest in our products," said Whiston, but he also confirmed Microsoft will not be taking a stake in iSOFT.

Whiston said the agreement had two main aspects. The first part covers Microsoft helping iSOFT package its applications. "To get as much in the box as possible and support their deployment by third parties."

In the case of the English NHS the agreement will principally relate to better enabling local service providers to deliver Lorenzo to different regions of the NHS and improve iSOFT’s ability to achieve increased scalability to meet the needs of national deployments.

Commenting on the NPfIT in the UK David Lubinski, Microsoft’s global head of healthcare told E-Health Insider: "This announcement really reinforces Microsoft’s commitment to developers to help them build great applications."

The iSOFT CEO made clear, though, that the agreement with Microsoft had a wider international strategic scope, and that the next stage of iSOFT’s growth would come from expansion in international markets.

Whiston explained: "The healthcare IT market is moving to much bigger deployments of solutions and realising the value that can be achieved from deploying systems and services on a large regional or national basis. The national programme is probably the best example to date of systems being purchased and packaged for delivery to an entire healthcare community."

Lubinski stressed that healthcare organisations around the world are struggling with similar types of issues, creating opportunities for both Microsoft and iSOFT.  He said that Microsoft had met with 60-70 countries and their governments worldwide discussing how IT can help modernise their healthcare systems.

Asked whether the alliance with iSOFT might include targeting the US healthcare market Lubinski said: "The US may not be the best market to do the best work in health… And I’ve said that to the Bush administration and Congress. It may not be the greatest market to show world-class technologies."

Commenting on developments in the English NHS by contrast, Lubinski said: "I am in awe of the UK and what Richard Granger [NHS IT director general] has put in place."  

The second part of the agreement with Microsoft provides the basis for the two firms to enter into joint development work on new products. "We will be looking at new types of application services, and hope to be announcing specific developments in the coming weeks and months."

iSOFT, which merged with rival Torex last year, has won up to £300 million in NPfIT contracts in recent months to supply clinical software applications to LSPs delivering NHS IT modernisation.

iSOFT is currently the preferred clinical applications provider for local service providers in three of the five English NHS regions under the national programme for IT (NPfIT): the North East, and Eastern regions where Accenture is LSP; in the North West and West Midlands where CSC is LSP.

Lorenzo, the suite of clinical applications to be delivered by iSOFT under the NPfIT, is being developed based on Microsoft’s .Net platform and technologies.

iSOFT and Microsoft say that the combination of Microsoft’s platform and .NET technologies will enable a high degree of software integration and interoperability through the use of security-enhanced, standards based, Web services. 

The two firms say the use of a .NET framework together with Microsoft’s smart client development tools, will provide users with "rich, intuitive access to information within both connected and offline scenarios on multiple device types", making it suited to the complex networks of disparate systems and devices servicing different organisations within healthcare communities.

Commenting on the agreement, Sanjay Parthasarathy, corporate vice president, Platform Strategy and Partner Group at Microsoft, said; "This alliance highlights Microsoft’s commitment to its industry partners, and to ensuring that they have the tools needed to develop and distribute interconnected, more easily managed applications."

Parthasarathy added: "We place enormous importance on our relationships with partners like iSOFT, as they bring sector-specific knowledge and expertise to the healthcare industry, and give greater depth to what our platform can offer."

Patrick Cryne, executive chairman of iSOFT, said. "This agreement extends our ability to harness leading edge technologies and offer applications to our partners which can be deployed across modern healthcare communities with ease."