Thursday, July 22, 2010

Intuitive Caller ID

During many of my phone interviews with CEO’s “Please excuse the noise” is often referring to airport pages, bustling people, or highway traffic. This particular late Friday afternoon, Todd Plesko, CEO of Extension, was referring to his family – namely a gaggle of children preparing to head to the lake. Making family a priority is a challenging thing to do when you are running a start up (from the voice of experience) but he has chosen to set priorities according to his values. He sneaked in an hour of time to talk with me about his company's rise from concept to actual.

As we chatted about industry changes and his appliance style “Red Box” (which makes me think of movie rentals.....) I kept thinking how is this software different from any other Integration Software on the market – or is it just another “Me Too” application to ride the wave of Cisco’s movement (did I say movment - oh I meant potential Tsunami) into the market. Then almost in passing he said something about “Caller ID” and I thought "Did he really just call Integration Software Caller ID?" To reduce the solution to that seems is to reduce value and make it appear like something that a call manager could do.

However, as I listened the story became really clear.   What Todd and the team are claiming is not "Caller ID" like you would get from a simple SIP interface, it's multiple pieces of data compiled into one. Think about it - here is a team that started as a ReSeller of GE Centricity, created a hosted solution, and has a strong foundational knowledge of HL-7 and medical records. This is not a integration software company focused on alerts - this is a healthcare company focusednon information - or to use Todd's words Aggregate Data.

I think that better terminology is "Intuitive Caller ID." Intuitive because of the ability to garner information from the medical record and build a messaging structure that includes not only an alert but decision enhancing data. Their strength appears to be more data rich message need such as Lab. The challenge will be communicating that to the marketplace and delivering on the workflow design.  The product has a lot of flexibility to the "what" it can become challenging to determine how much is needed when and how.  

I think it sounds interesting, but I haven't seen it in action therefore it wouldn't be fair for me to note it as a solid solition. However, Todd claims 25 installs in the United States and he claims all as raving fans so if you are looking at the product ask for the list and call. (A little word to the wise make sure you talk to a Clinician and an IT person and if possible BioMed)

All of these incredible points about the platform weaves a great outlook for their product, however it has two very notable weaknesses. Integration software companies are easily assessed by their ability to integrate to telemetry and the quantity of available output points. Extension is really limited in both areas - they have no current telemetry integrations. A strong Telemetry relationship is important as that information point can be critical to a hospital’s mobility plan. Though there are many work around design models, at some point it needs to become a cog in the workflow communications plan.  Second, current state they only integrate to Cisco VOIP wireless phones. Though Ciscos presence in the marketplace can't be ignored - they are the Golliath of every industry.  Nor can you think little of any company hitching their wagon to them - it is Cisco. The handset has a lot of challenges with durability and the integrations I have seen the user interface for alarm messaging can take several button pushes to get to the information. The biggest benefit Cisco VOIP phones have - brand and recognition by everyone as a leader in every aspect of IT.

Todd and the team at Extension do have a strategy to begin to expand their output device capability as they plan to launch an intuitive message platform for the Iphone, Droid, and Blackberry in September. They are targeting Doctors with the ability to use their personal phones to obtain data about their patients and interact with it in a meaningful way. While I see it as a response to the Voalte, Amcom, and Connexall solutions their plan is to raise the bar by offering a FDA Class 3 certified solution. I look forward to seeing it.

Thanks again to Todd for the great conversation.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Workflow and Growth

I have found with a start up there are several rules – I think of them like the If / Then statements we use in developing our software.

The three that I have found to be critical are:

1. IF you don’t have enough Capital THEN you are hosed.

2. IF you don’t make the right relationships THEN you are hosed.

3. IF you don’t create replicatable processes where every move isn’t hinged on you THEN you are hosed.

The third item I noted is one of my favorites – hence the reason for writing the Sphere3 Workflow Tool aka our software program. I don’t like to do the same thing twice, and it kind of drives me nuts to watch someone else do repetitive processes. (Once I have figured out the puzzle you might as well garage sale it because it’s not like revisiting an old friend for me, it’s just dull.)   I think that’s why I like to look at workflow – while there are patterns there are also variables around those patterns keep things interesting.

I recently found a kindred spirit in this vein, Tony Marsico, CEO of PCTS. Tony stopped by our office on a recent trip to Kansas City to get the “Grand” tour. Tony has a graduate degree in documentation of complex processes and corporate training. (No, I didn’t make that up, and yes I did laugh when he told me.) Which makes him perfectly suited to run PCTS, a analytic software firm that provides business intelligence for hospitals via an RTLS system.   He is an investors dream with his ability to clearly document and communicate process back out to his team.

PCTS provides real time business intelligence for Operating Rooms and Emergency Departments with “air traffic control” like screens, mobile buttons, and integration to systems and medical records. The really interesting thing about their product is its ability to run workflow rules and associate them with other rules. (That’s an over simplified way of describing that) Breaking down processes to physical movements, allowing for interaction levels and not only the “time association stand point” such as “IF the RN is in the room for X period of Time THEN do XYZ” obtaining information from other systems to validate the entry and interaction with patient specific information. All of which I have seen in “Demo” mode.

As I have said before I usually don’t believe it until I see it and PCTS was gracious enough to take me on a site visit and let me watch their team in action at Cook’s Children’s Hospital. This was an asset tracking project, so not nearly as complex as the workflow in an Emergency Department or OR, but interesting and exciting. The team was incredible, and the processes appeared to provide real time value to staff.  Including the ability to better locate, identify, and collect recalled pumps and modules.

It’s important to note – while PCTS is dependent on RTLS they are NOT an RTLS company. However, they do provide RTLS products. Tony’s explanation made a lot of sense.   Analytics based on workflow using RTLS is not simple and the validity of the information is a direct correlation to the installation of the RTLS product.    His challenges, similar to many companies I have talked to, is who to hitch his wagon to. He is in need of companies who understand analytics, understand workflow, and understand the relationship to hardware. (That last point may sound “easy” but take it from the voice of experience it’s not)

My assessment – Tony Marsico is an Investors dream - he could "McDonalize" processes within a company.  He has also surrounded himself with good people - which I have found to be the key to building a successful people.  (Yes, that's my secret - I hire people smarter than me.)  He is driven, intelligent, and has an eye for creating better workflow inside his firm and outside.

Tony’s Most Recent Read: Inside the Tornado – which I read the following week and it was a really interesting read. (Note to audience: Just read the first couple of chapters and you will get the gist of the entire book)

Sphere3 celebrated our first birthday in May. Though there was no noted celebration there was a strange, we have arrived moment – meaning that the phone has been ringing a lot and business is definitely starting to move. That momentum has really increased my travel - which has noteably decreased the blog posts. Stay tuned there are good posts to come later this month: Chad West, CEO of Ascom Wireless and Todd Plesko, CEO of Extension