Vendors' pricing models are lacking. Better tools are needed to sift through piles of data. Trying before buying is key. Those were sentiments expressed by a range of technology buyers from healthcare and pharmaceutical companies on a panel hosted by Ernst & Young at last week's Bio-IT World conference.BOSTON - Vendors' pricing models are lacking. Better tools are needed to sift through piles of data. Trying before buying is key.Those were sentiments expressed by a range of technology buyers from healthcare and pharmaceutical companies on a panel hosted by Ernst & Young at last week's Bio-IT World conference.At CareGroup Health System, IT priorities center around safety, reliability and security, said John Halamka, CIO of the network of five Boston-area hospitals. On the safety front, Halamka is focused on shoring up medication-dispensing processes "from the doctor's brain to the patient's vein," he said. That means implementing bar codes for medication and other automation efforts to ensure the right dosage of medication is dispensed to the intended patient at the proper time.CareGroup's reliability efforts are aimed at reducing downtime - an issue Halamka battled in late 2002 when one of the CareGroup hospitals\u00a0suffered network slowdowns and interruptions for more than three days. Halamka's current expectations are to exceed 99.9% availability, although the notion of any downtime at all is unacceptable to hospital administrators, he said.Security is an ongoing battle: The Harvard University domain is attacked once every 7 seconds, said Halamka, who also serves as CIO of Harvard Medical School. Intrusion detection is key, and his staff includes two employees who are dedicated to keeping systems secure.Infinity Pharmaceuticals doesn't have the burden of many legacy systems because the company built its core infrastructure from the ground up over the past three years, said Andrew Palmer, senior vice president of operations at the Cambridge, Mass., drug-discovery company. Its primary IT focus is on improving the quality of decision-making with the use of computational analysis tools, he said.Barrie Hesp, a retired Pfizer executive, singled out one area where innovation is lacking. Technology to help navigate the sea of intellectual property would be useful, Hesp said. "Anything to help avoid the use of patented technology would be a very big advantage" in drug discovery and development, he said. Vendors' licensing models was a hot topic among panelists.For Biogen Idec, licensing preferences are rapidly moving away from named user licenses to more flexible models that can accommodate periodic users more economically, said Rainer Fuchs, vice president of research informatics at the Cambridge biotechnology company. "Anything that is not a floating license or a site license is not of interest to us anymore," Fuchs said.Halamka doesn't like surprises. "I need highly predicable pricing models," he said. "A company not to emulate is Microsoft." Halamka said he has to dedicate one full-time employee just to figure out Microsoft's prices. "Per-server licensing works pretty well for me, per-user licensing does not," he said.Palmer lamented a lack of pricing flexibility that would let Infinity invest minimally to try out a product and increase spending incrementally as the technology proves its worth. "Vendors that earn our business are willing to share risk," Palmer said. "An incremental approach that grows is the right way to go."However, per-user licensing does have its use, said Monte Dean Brown, vice chairman of the department of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a CareGroup property in Boston. The opportunity to start with a per-user license lets Brown give a product to a few key end users to try out without going through the formal capital budget approval process. If a technology proves to be effective in a small rollout, it stands a better chance of being approved for a site license, he said.Limiting free software trials to one user doesn't go over well. Give the product to as many people as possible, Fuchs suggested. It's much better to get five people excited about a new product than only one, he said. "To limit it to one person makes no sense," Fuchs said.Palmer agrees. "Don't charge me every time I want to give it to one scientist," he said.