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Breaking the Mold

May 29, 2008
by Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief
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Staying on top in any industry means continually reevaluating everything you do

Any person or business can get into a rut, doing the same things over and over again because, ‘It's always been done that way.’ As I've mentioned to you before in this column, I've started looking at process improvement and management theory (Lean, Six Sigma, etc. — note our story on page 22). One of the core tenets in that field is this: being held captive to the past means ending up relegated to it.

With that idea in the back of my mind, I called an editorial meeting in early February to discuss our June issue — the HCI 100.

The June issue is our largest of the year, containing a ranking of the top 100 HIT vendors by revenue, along with (in the past) different types of company profiles. These profiles came in three versions — ‘Headliners,’ ‘Up and Comers,’ and ‘Others to Watch.’ The definitions for these sections was difficult even for our staff to articulate, thus selecting the companies for them had become a confusing exercise.

Additionally, the ranking had become of questionable value, as it relied solely on vendor-submitted data — those opting out received no mention at all, leaving glaring holes in our listing. Also, perhaps due to a poorly constructed questionnaire, some companies were submitting — and being ranked according to — total revenues, rather than only HIT revenues. This wreaked havoc in the ranking, to the amusement of some readers and the embarrassment of our staff.

In fact, Daphne Lawrence, our senior associate editor, came to me after our last ranking with some critical blog fodder that laid into the 100. ‘It's not that good, but it's the best thing that's out there,’ was the sentiment of the posting (Lawrence recently blogged about this:

What to do? The safe (but losing) bet is always to keep doing what's been done. But my books and magazines on finding success (my wife tells friends I'm trying to take over the world) tell me that's just not good enough. If you know it's broken, fix it. So we set about doing just that. (Read the details in our intro to the 100 package, page 52)

Profiles in confusion

After developing an improved methodology for the ranking, we turned our attention to the various types of profiles and quickly came to the realization that we didn't have to do them if we didn't want to. Sure that sounds simple, but I bet you can name at least five projects or processes you're bound to just because, ‘Things have always been done that way.’ Well, I am lucky enough to be in a position where 99 percent of the time, I'm not bound to anything that doesn't work.

We did want to do some type of feature, however, that would complement the 100 ranking. So we decided upon one major, in-depth vendor profile where we'd let the readers decide the subject. Leveraging the strengths of the Internet and our interactive Web site, we posted a simple question: ‘The vendor I would most like to read an in-depth profile about is ….’ With eight choices, the field was open. The results were clear: Epic Systems Corporation received 39 percent of the vote, with Eclipsys coming in a distant second at 14 percent.

The result was certainly not a shock. Epic has always been considered interesting, if for nothing else than the fact that company executives don't ‘talk’ much. The only time one hears about the company is in blog chatter when it's inked another deal. The predominant knock on Epic it that its products and services are very expensive, but also very good. The most interesting rumor — you don't pick them, they pick you.

Ironically, exactly what made Epic interesting as a profile subject also meant it would be difficult to pull off — namely, the fact that its executives don't talk. Specifically, the company's intriguing founder, Judith Faulkner, very rarely gives interviews, though we are proud to say she did speak to HCI a number of years ago for a short profile piece in the 100 ranking. It seems that rather than touting initiatives or customer wins, Epic prefers to stay out of sight. This goes doubly true for Faulkner. In fact, Internet searches yielded no photos of her.

After first thinking, ‘Forget it, there's a good chance we won't be able pull the story off,’ my journalistic instincts thankfully kicked in. ‘I don't care if they're not going to talk,’ I rebounded. ‘We're going to do a top-notch profile, with our without their cooperation,’ I told HCI Contributing Editor Mark Hagland.

Right before HIMSS, Hagland began contacting Epic, pitching the story and trying to arrange interviews with executives. Of course, an interview with Faulkner was the main, albeit elusive, goal. With a tepid initial reception, we put the project on hiatus and packed our bags for HIMSS in Orlando.