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One-on-One with KLAS President Kent Gale, Part II

July 21, 2008
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Gale says looking at vendors as the enemy will result in a war with no winners.

It’s rare that a company occupies a truly unique position, but that seems to be the case with Orem, Utah-based KLAS. The organization is one of the most respected sources of information in the healthcare IT industry, producing reports that CIOs pay major bucks to possess. In fact, a number of CIOs have told HCI that KLAS reports are one of the main tools they use when starting down the path of vendor selection, at the very least, giving them a baseline of who’s who in the market. But nobody’s perfect, and KLAS has had some rocks thrown its way. In the following interview, HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra talks with KLAS President Kent Gale about all of the above, and more.

AG: That seems so counterproductive, for vendors to spend energy to game a report rather than improving products and services. They’re almost hiding from themselves the truth of the problems rather than fixing them.

KG: That is just the obvious black and white of it, and there are a number of vendors who may have started off with a marketing view of KLAS and later ended up using it as a way to get better. There are some vendors who sell strictly on price and commodity-level product, and they don’t care what the KLAS ratings are. In that case, even the providers don’t really care how the vendor scores, because they bought it for a particular purpose, low cost.

AG: So you work to manage any weaknesses in the reporting, where you could anticipate people trying to game the system, you keep an eye on it, you try and manage it. Is that the hardest part of doing what you do?

KG: Our biggest concern is making sure there is no bias, that the data is real. Yes, there’s a little gimmick to this, for example if the first time we talked to a vendor, we say, “Oh gee, we understand you have this product, how many customers do you have?” and the first thing they’re going to do is puff out their chest a little bit and say, ‘We have 240.’ Then a little while later we say, ‘By the way, we’d love to measure you, can you give us a client list,’ and all of a sudden you get a client list of 30. You say, ‘Wait a minute, you said you have 240. You must have given us a cherry-picked list of 30.’ Now, we have a way to manage this and it’s kind of interesting.

The other situation is if they give us a list of 30, while we’re on the phone the first thing we say is what other customers of XYZ Company do you know of, and right away a list of 30 becomes 90 and then 130. Then it is real easy to chase down the other people, and then you can compare the list given to you by the vendor with the data we get from others and see if there was cherry-picked list, and see if there is a difference between how happy those customers are versus the ones that are not on the list. So it’s kind of a fun game on our end, and it’s pretty easy to see the vendors that are honest and the ones that aren’t.

AG: It definitely seems, like every business, that what you do is something you are continually refining, working on, tweaking and improving.

KG: That’s true. We just had a vendor that’s very mad at us and they gave us a big list of things they didn’t like. On the list, let’s say they gave us 10 things, on the list we found three things that we didn’t like about ourselves, we didn’t even notice, something like the print on the front of a report is small, the parameters of the report needs to be bigger so people can tell what the competence level on this report is. We love those kinds of complaints, ‘Gee you guys are hiding this,’ well we didn’t realize, and we thought that print ought to be a lot bigger, that’s an important piece we haven’t highlighted.

So we get a lot of feedback that helps us become better, just from energized, typical vendors that are looking for flaws in what we’re doing.

AG: What do you think is the state of the relationship between providers and vendors today? I would couch that by saying; perhaps on one end of the spectrum you could say it’s an adversarial type relationship; on the other you could say it’s a real partnership. Do you see any trend that tells where things are today and where they might be going?