IBIS-PH stands for Indicator Based Information System for Public Health. The "System" consists of web applications that are intended to meet most of the recognized public health assessment data dissemination needs which includes: tabulation of vital statistics data, tracking of progress on Healthy People 2020 goals, and the displaying of data for local communities. The design goal is to provide 80% of a department of health agency's data dissemination needs with 20% of the hard costs when compared to other solutions.

IBIS-PH Displays Five Types of Data Content:

  1. Health Indicator Profile Reports (typically referred to as Indicator Profiles or Indicator Reports). These report pages provide charts, maps and full contextual information for specific health indicator data like Low Birth Weight, Diabetes Prevalence, etc. The intent of these pages is to provide the data and context to cover the majority of what a typical data researcher would need. These reports are dynamically generated from data that is maintained/entered into a database.
  2. Community Reports. These type of reports provides a quick snapshot of all health indicator values for a given community and comparison reports for a given community. For example a user can view all health indicator values for a selected county. A user can also view how a county is doing compared to the state. These report pages are dynamically created and are based off of the indicator profile data.
  3. Health Dataset Query Reports. These reports provide maps, charts, data tables, and some contextual information for a specific public health dataset. These reports are more specific when compared to an indicator report and allow a user to define their own filtering criteria and data grouping. An examples of a dataset query is looking up Smoking Cessation Attempts for college educated, married males, in years 2011-2015. Dataset queries utilizes SAS (which uses SAS datasets) to generate the resultant data.
  4. Static Web Content Pages. These are traditional web pages that are typically used for welcome, contact us, and other general information pages. The content is hand coded HTML which provides maximum flexibility/full web page capabilities. Only the body of the page (main text) is required. Headers, footers, navigation etc is all handled by the application.
  5. Health Topics. Health Topics provide general overviews and contextual data for a given health topic (high level overviews). They typically provide further navigational links to any associated indicator profiles, community profiles, and/or health dataset queries (discussed above). These pages are static content type pages so that they are very flexible in what to present to the user.

Primary Features Include:

  • Free and open source. IBIS-PH is 100% free open source software. Adopters can use and/or modify the IBIS-PH code and content without licensing or fees.
  • Built specifically for the dissemination of public health data.
  • Provides web interface to real time querying of SAS datasets (SAS software is not included as part of the IBIS-PH suite).
  • Provides web interface to topics, health indicator reports and community reports.
  • All reports have context, data tables, interactive charts and interactive maps (if applicable).
  • Provides web interface to static pages and other files/content.
  • Provides web interface to centralized management of indicator profile data with decentralized data maintenance.

IBIS-PH Pros (compared to other solutions):

  • Your site, your data, your way. 100% control over how your pages are laid out, how navigated, and can be extended with custom programming. The data and software is on your server(s) - you control it and own it all (Adopters may choose to host all or part of their applications and data in the cloud e.g. with a third party service provider. In some instances it is easier and cheaper than using their state IT environment.).
  • Feature Complete. Software provides the most asked for features which includes static content, indicators with context, real time dataset querying, and basic comparisons.
  • Integrated. Same look and feel and features throughout the site.
  • Searchable. Because the site uses standard URLs, it is easily crawled and indexed by basic search packages and by most web crawlers (Google).
  • Securable web data/requests. Any request within the site can be protected. In addition some requests can have row level data security.
  • Low hardware cost. IBIS-PH is fairly lightweight when considering the impact on server and networking resources.
  • Low software cost. In the case where no real time SAS dataset querying is desired and with open source server software the entire software for the server(s) are 100% free.
  • Low IT cost. The IBIS-PH applications are data driven and fairly simple, so no special training or dedicated IT support is needed.
  • Open Source (commercial support is available). You can modify the code any way you want. For adopters that do not have IT support or a large staff to help maintain datasets, commercial senior engineer support contracts are available as well as excellent community support.
  • Self Contained with High Availability. With the exception of the optional SAS query interface, the public facing IBIS-PH view application is 100% self contained. There are no dependencies on GIS map servers, database servers, data warehouses, business intelligence servers, or any other server or cloud based service. The applications are light weight and simple with high availability.
  • Can Consume and Integrate with non IBIS-PH systems. Because IBIS-PH is an open platform outside data can be consumed or integrated with other web services etc. Note that as of 2016, adopters have not identified nor funded any external data interfaces.
  • Data is easily shared and/or consumed outside of the IBIS-PH applications via RESTful XML data requests.
  • Being a part of a passionate, growing health data dissemination community.

IBIS-PH Cons (compared to other solutions):

  • No user friendly options for the creation of normal web pages. IBIS-PH provides for HTML content pages but these pages are in the form of a specific IBIS-PH XML file. This allows the page body to be completely defined without having to code headers, footers, and site navigation. It is possible to integrate with a Code Management System (CMS) but to date this option has not been seen as a priority and thus has not been funded.
  • No user friendly options for the creation of the query selection pages. IBIS-PH uses specific XML files to control query selections. These XML control files can be quite involved depending on how an adopter chooses to implement their dataset and selection options. It is possible create a GUI to create and maintain these XML files but to date this option has not been seen as a priority and thus has not been funded.
  • No user friendly options for the creation of the backend SAS control files. IBIS-PH uses specific text files to control backend SAS dataset access options. These text control files can be quite involved depending on how an adopter chooses to implement their dataset. It is possible create a GUI to create and maintain these text files but to date this option has not been seen as a priority and thus has not been funded.
  • Limited "What If" Processing. IBIS-PH stores its data in XML (indicator data is in a RDBMS that gets published as XML). IBIS-PH does not currently have any mechanism to do adhoc queries across the indicator profile data and the SAS datasets. Version 3 will allow for data discovery but will be a closed set of search criteria.
  • Limited Visualizations. IBIS-PH only provides certain charts and choropleth mapping visualizations. It is possible to create new dashboards and advanced graphics but due to limited funding these are not yet developed.
  • Needs initial development and IT involvement. IBIS-PH software can be deployed to any standard Java web application server. However, every adopter will want their own look and feel. Current adopters are health data experts and not web developers (to date none have had an "on staff web developer") and thus has contracted with a company named Software Technology Group (STG) to help determine the requirements and to implement the adopters state web site requirements. Also, most adopters will want STG assistance in working with their state IT group to get their website setup.
  • Steep Learning Curve. IBIS-PH is a mature product that has been serving health data for over 15 years. As such there are many options that are not implemented/mastered in a day.
  • Documentation. IBIS-PH does have its core code base and control files documented. However, due to limited funding some of these are not 100% up to date. Some adopters have produced documents and videos that are free and readily available upon request. It should be noted that most home grown in house alternatives do not have any documentation.
  • Developers getting hit by a bus. There are two senior software developers and one senior support engineer that know about the internal workings of the IBIS-PH software. This is a common risk for any custom software project. The learning curve is steep and while the technology stack is based on open, industry standards there are real world issues that make it difficult for a new developer to be quickly plugged in.

IBIS-PH Alternatives:

  • Static Content / Content Management Systems. On one end of "presenting data on the web" continuum is the use of static web pages or a CMS along with a desktop graphics package. This solution is great for contextual content and very simple/straight forward to understand and maintain. It provides great flexibility, robust tools, and is typically very cheap when considering hard costs. This approach is typically easily mastered. The downsides are that is very expensive considering the soft costs; labor to produce charts, maps, and updating the ever changing datasets. This solution does not provide any type of query capability (although query capability can be added using by integrating with another software package). When considering presenting lots of datasets or datasets with real time data access this type of solution quickly outgrown. CMS UI customization are typically limited.
  • The data warehouse with some sort of business intelligence front end. This represents the other end of the "presenting data on the web" continuum. This type of solution "can" provide it all (if setup correctly and sufficiently funded). Advantages include ability to process disparate datasets, provides powerful user defined "what if" tools, provides rich user defined complex reporting, provides robust complex data processing. These types of solutions are rapidly evolving with rich analysis features, improved speed (historically these have been slow), and better usability. The downside to these solutions are that they are typically slow, complex, hard to learn, can be difficult/expensive to modify, expensive (skilled IT support, high initial purchase and yearly maintenance fees, needs fast and large computing resources), and can have high soft costs (data stewards and end user training, in addition to the standard effort needed to maintain the data and content).
  • Hosted / Web Service / Cloud based data dissemination sites. This approach involves putting your data into online data presentation tool(s). This type of solution can be very powerful and has little impact on current IT, are typically easy to use, can be very flexible in terms of changing the user interface as well as the data reporting capabilities, and can have large support which means that the service provider has funding for support and active software development to keep things current. There are a few downsides to these solutions which include not owning the application and must maintain the subscription(s) to keep your site. Robust real time data querying is typically not provided. Software changes are also typically not possible or are limited by what the software provides. Many do not provide a mechanism for secure datasets and if they do handle secure datasets your secure datasets are under their control.
  • Mix and Match. This approach involves using different products to handle different needs. The pros to this include ability to use the best solutions. The cons to this approach are consistent look and feel, integration challenges, complexity.

Where Does IBIS-PH Fit (in relationship to the alternatives):

IBIS-PH tries to sit somewhere in the middle when compared to the alternatives. It provides an integrated, fully owned and controlled solution built specifically for public health data dissemination. IBIS includes basic support for contextual content, indicators, communities, topics, and real time access and statistical reporting of dynamic datasets. The applications are lightweight which means fast response, with minimal IT support, and minimal server resources needed. IBIS-PH allows for an adopter to pick and choose which data, how their website looks and functions, and allows adopters the platform to add other features as needed. IBIS-PH offers lots of flexibility and features but it works best when staying within the standard design features. IBIS-PH does not provide robust user friendly tools that a non programmer can use to build pages or maintain their query definitions. These could be built someday but to date is not a priority so there has not been any development funding provided. Also, the realtime data query feature uses SAS which means that the datasets must be maintained by hand or require the use of the SAS desktop software. All site content must be managed with all IBIS-PH work products requiring a fairly steep learning curve on how the IBIS-PH software works as well as an understanding of the limitations. While an adopter has the ability to add new features they will also need to create said new enhancement using fairly low level programming tools like Java, HTML, Javascript, XML, and XSLT. The flip side to the "cons" are that most adopters simply procure a support contract so that all they have to do is pickup the phone or send an email to get their change implemented.

The Technology:

The system was designed using currently-accepted modern system architectures for complex software systems (loosely-coupled components and data-driven processes) and is based on open standards using free open source packages and tools where applicable. The software was written in Java (the IBIS-Q SAS query interface is written in C), with most of the content stored in XML. The content is displayed with XSLT and CSS, making the look and feel easily customized. SAS datasets are queried using an Apache web server using CGI technology. These elements provide a system that is easier to build, easier to maintain, easier to extend, more flexible, and has better longevity when compared with systems built without these characteristics. IBIS-PH has strong potential for adaptability to other states, localities, and government agencies. Plus it runs on virtually all modern hardware and operating systems and is FREE (click the "Browse Source" tab, above).

Core IBIS-PH Web Applications:

  • The public View application allows users to view static content type pages, Indicator Reports and to perform realtime SAS data queries. IBIS-PH View is the application that the public uses and is most commonly associated with the IBIS-PH software.
  • The Admin application, a web-based, centralized indicator profile data repository that allows staff throughout the organization to maintain their indicator profile numerical and contextual data.
  • The IBIS-Q dataset query system allows queries to be made to a SAS dataset with only the base SAS software and a couple of modules (no need for SAS Server, SAS Intrnet, SAS BI etc.). The system is data driven with all of the pages being dynamically created. To maintain or extend the system simply requires someone to maintain the actual data to be displayed. There is no need to maintain hundreds of HTML pages, nor is there a need for extensive technical or programming expertise beyond maintaining the SAS datasets.


  • SAS - is a commercial software suite developed by SAS Institute for advanced analytics, business intelligence, data management, and predictive analytics. This software is needed if an adopter requires real time data queries. It is licensed and priced based on the size of the server it is being deployed on. Most adopters purchase the software and on going maintenance.
  • Operating system - either free Linux or MS-Windows or Apple etc.
  • Java Application Server - free app servers like Tomcat or commercial ones like IBM's Webshere etc.
  • Java JVM - free.
  • CGI capable web server - free CGI capable web servers are like Apache (only needed if using the query system).

What IBIS-PH Will Not Help With:

  • RESOURCES & COSTS - PUTTING YOUR DATA ON THE WEB IS EXPENSIVE. Agencies will still need staff to update and maintain the site's content and data. This is refered to as "soft costs" or labor costs and is typically the majority of the overall costs. This effort exists no matter which method of presenting your data on the web is used (static website, IBIS, cloud based commercial app etc). Presenting data on the web is an enterprise level activity and requires a lot of time and resources to keep current and accurate.
  • Agencies will need to host the web applications so IT infrastructure and all of the associated costs are present.
  • Advanced features like user defined data studies, complex data mining analysis tools, unlimited data drill downs etc.. IBIS-PH is designed to meet 80% of the general data dissemination needs - it is not all things to all users.

Want More Information? More information and examples are easily found by visiting one of the IBIS-PH adopter sites like New Mexico's IBIS. If you would like to adopt the IBIS-PH system (or any of the components) or if you have any questions about the system please email one of our adopters or feel free to join the monthly IBIS-PH Community Of Practice call.

Last modified 6 years ago Last modified on 03/31/17 15:05:48