How to Succeed in Healthcare IT

By Lisa Terry — February 16, 2012

You know you’re succeeding in a vertical market when you try to exit the business—and the market doesn’t let you.

That’s the experience of EDI, Ltd. (www.ediltd.com), a leading healthcare IT consulting and design firm whose 25 years in the healthcare market was built on good timing and a comprehensive market approach. EDI’s success in the niche it created—consulting with hospitals on the IT aspects of construction—can be credited in part to these five critical steps to succeeding as a vertically oriented solution provider:

1. Offering a unique value proposition
2. Evolving with your chosen markets
3. Active participation in key industry groups
4. Designing processes for staying close to customers
5. Attaining insider status—a critical step to success in healthcare

Inventing a New Value Prop
EDI’s roots are not in IT; the company started out in 1986 as Donald Kinser & Associates Consulting Engineers, launched from the basement of current EDI chairman, president and CEO Donald Kinser with two co-founders. EDI’s original mission was to consult with architects and electrical engineers on the physical aspects of IT—allowing room for cabling, etc.—in their building designs. A few years later they began marketing directly to customers, and enjoyed some real growth.

But soon the firm came up against what many engineering-driven start-ups face: the need for stronger management. In 1989 EDI implemented total quality management and conducted a market survey. “We learned we had ‘engineers’ disease’ and needed to listen to and communicate better with our customers,” according to the company’s website. After two more name changes, in 1991 the company began expanding its array of IT skills by hiring an executive with data/voice cabling design and security—as well as its first salesperson—and finally became EDI, Ltd.

EDI’s real break into healthcare came, believe it or not, through UPS. “In the early 1990s in Atlanta, it was a really big deal when UPS decided to move their corporate headquarters from Stamford, Connecticut to Atlanta,” says Kinser. “We were successful in winning that job—to design all the technology infrastructure, cabling and security in UPS’s new headquarters, which was a little bit of a different take on how that got done back then.” Business press coverage of the install prompted a call from Jackson Hospital and Clinic, which was about to build a new facility in the footprint of its old one in Montgomery, Ala., and EDI won the contract.

“That was a pretty complex project because of all the phasing, dealing with the existing conditions and keeping the hospital functional while you are in essence replacing it on itself,” Kinser recalls. “We learned that hospital projects are interesting, complex, large undertakings. There was a tremendous need for what we did starting to grow in healthcare.”

Sucked Back In
Not that EDI fully recognized the opportunity at the time. “I don’t want to give the impression we had a great crystal ball and we were so strategic in our decision making,” says Kinser.  “In the late ’90s, we made a strategic decision to abandon the healthcare industry. Fortunately for us the healthcare industry didn’t let us do that. These projects kept coming in the door, and then we realized this is something we’re good at and we really changed our focus.”
EDI had essentially invented a new service category in IT design for acute care hospital construction, and the healthcare building boom that followed made the vertical an easy choice, so that healthcare is now more than 85 percent of EDI’s business. Over time, the company has enriched its array of IT skill sets, today encompassing: medical communication technologies, information systems infrastructure, security, audio-visual systems, and data center—as well as workflow and process engineering to ensure results. Most recently, EDI unveiled REDI Room, a fast, streamlined alternative for creating biddable construction documents for hospitals’ audio-visual system needs.

Healthcare’s Slow Warm-Up to IT
Of course, marrying healthcare facility design to IT needs is an entirely different process today than it was years ago. The attitude was this, says Kinser:  “If you are not from inside healthcare you don’t know anything about our business. The fact of the matter was, in the IT world in mid-’90s if you were inside healthcare you didn’t know anything about IT.”

As a result, EDI had to develop strategies to leverage their experience outside healthcare—but recast it in the healthcare terms they picked up along the way. That skill has served the company well over the years, as EDI worked to straddle the worlds of healthcare and technology. They also had to work out things such as how to allocate tasks locally versus on hospital construction sites across the country, develop methodologies to make their work product consistent, and learn the dos and don’ts of marketing
in healthcare.

Forging—and Reinforcing—a Reputation
One lesson was: attaining insider status is critical to success in healthcare. The first thing healthcare executives do when referred to a vendor is check out that vendor with other healthcare customers. “If you screw up everybody knows about it,” says Kinser.

EDI execs are elbows-deep in key healthcare IT initiatives. Kinser is active in the Georgia chapter of Healthcare Information Management System Society (HIMSS) and has served on many committees for the American Society of Hospital Engineers—even helping to write proposed codes and standards for technology in modern healthcare buildings. Those are just two among several industry groups EDI is active in, along with the expected marketing and advertising activities.

EDI also holds events such as a recent Executive Forum, inviting C-level officers from the Atlanta healthcare community to talk about where they see opportunities, what their real challenges are, how they perceive EDI the marketplace, and how EDI could capitalize on some of the challenges they are facing. “It was a very useful and beneficial undertaking,” says Kinser.

A Rich Vein of Opportunity
These efforts help shape EDI’s strategic direction, which despite the recent spotlight on electronic medical records, is steadily focused on the company’s engineering-centric niche. EDI remains focused on the infrastructure that will be critical to deliver data to and from the point of care in the way the hospital wants to do it. For example, while broader IT trends embrace cloud, EDI knows that healthcare’s privacy and proprietary concerns—as well as a deeply ingrained do-it-yourself mentality—will make on-site hospital data centers a reality for some time to come. In fact, 18 months ago the company expanded its data center services.

“As hospitals automate, they are beginning to finally realize, ‘we’d better fix this house of cards infrastructure that we’ve built this system on now that our clinical delivery absolutely depends on our ability to communicate electronically and access digital information’,” Kinser says. “EDI is focusing more energy and beginning to develop new service offerings around workflow and process at the point of care, which is really not so much an IT skill set. It is an industrial engineering skill set with an IT mentality.”

Hindsight is 20/20, but EDI’s path in healthcare suggests a legacy of fortunate timing blended with the good sense to take advantage of it. “I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve reached 25 years and we’ve got a great reputation in the healthcare market,” says Kinser. “It’s quite gratifying to know that you are helping to improve the health of lot of people through what you are doing.”

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