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Behind the Curtain

May 29, 2008
by Mark Hagland
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Epic's unwavering commitment to its unique values has created an unusual recipe for success. What's behind Epic's gains in the clinical IT sphere?

It's a “jungle” in there

As it turns out, one good place to start peeling back the layers of the Epic onion is by touring its expansive new headquarters, set on several hundred acres in Verona, a suburb of Madison. That is just what this reporter and his editor-in-chief did this year on a gray, windy day in mid-March. The new campus, which has been evolving over the past year-and-a-half, is set on a hilly landscape in what was not long ago farm country. With 3,000 employees and continuous growth, consolidating what had been multiple sites had become a practical necessity, says Judith Faulkner, Epic's founder, president, and CEO, as she gave us a tour of the main building. What's more, she says, it's important for the culture to have everyone physically together. That not only applies to the gathering of employees into one core corporate headquarters, but also Epic's unusual requirement that all employees live and be based out of the Madison area.
EPIC Headquarters

Photo: Anthony Guerra

EPIC Headquarters

EPIC Headquarters

Photo: Glenn Loos-Austin

EPIC Headquarters

EPIC Headquarters

Photo: Anthony Guerra

EPIC Headquarters

Walking through a variety of corridors, foyers, and conference rooms in the main building here takes one through imaginative street scenes and other trompe-l'oeil settings, from a New York subway station to a north woods lodge, to a World War II-era airplane hangar, to a New York street scene, to a vine-draped tropical jungle.

All these areas were created by theater set designers, Faulkner notes. “We didn't want to spend a lot of money, but we wanted to make the headquarters engaging … with an emphasis on surprises, innovation, and art,” she explains. And what better way to accomplish that than by engaging the visual sense as employees walk from one section of the headquarters to another? In fact, Faulkner notes, she has art pieces moved at regular intervals so employee vistas are always changing. Around virtually every turn at Epic's headquarters, there is a new scene, a new tableau or set piece. And Faulkner, who created Epic with two others in 1979, continues to be involved in every aspect of the interior decoration.

It was also Faulkner's decision that all Epic employees should have their own offices, in contrast to the cubicle jungle in place at most corporations. “I read a study somewhere that found that there is something like a 40 percent loss of productivity when employees work out of cubicles,” Faulkner says. She also notes, “We're competing with Microsoft and Dell for employees,” and cites the individual-office benefit as a lure for potential employees.
EPIC Headquarters

Photo: Anthony Guerra

EPIC Headquarters

Singing the same tune

Despite the fact some sun-lovers may consider Wisconsin a less than ideal climate, Epic executives report that they are able to be extremely selective in choosing the best and the brightest from among young IT professionals nationwide (with all job candidates being subjected to a wide battery of intelligence and skills tests).

More fundamentally, what Epic is and how it operates reflects to an extraordinary degree the personality, perspectives, and goals of one person, and that person is Faulkner. Judy Faulkner is unusual among healthcare IT founder-CEOs in many ways, not least of all in her inherent shyness and aversion to media coverage and attention in general. Indeed, her two stipulations in agreeing to be interviewed for this article were first, that HCI would publish no photos of her; and second, that the magazine promise this article not be a personal profile. How many other vendor CEOs might conceivably shy away from such attention? One strains mightily to come up with their names. So of course, readers will wonder — what is Judy Faulkner like? And what does she look like? A slender, 50-something brunette with lively eyes and an engaging manner, Faulkner is impressive in person. Completely in command, and clearly holding the respect of her staff, she exudes an aura of quiet intensity. Reluctantly admitting to having an “ABD” (all but dissertation) in work she had done years ago towards a doctorate in computer science, Faulkner is clearly exceptionally intelligent. At the same time, she consistently tries to draw attention away from herself and towards her team, and becomes impatient when asked about the “Judy-centricity” that seems to attach to every rumored story that floats through the industry about how the company operates.

  • Cerner 6.78%

  • Eclipsys 13.56%

  • Epic 38.98%

  • GE 11.86%

  • McKesson 8.47%

  • Meditech 10.17%

  • QuadraMed 0.0%

  • Siemens 10.17%




hmmmmmmm.....are we sure you're not talking about MEDITECH?? these two "cults" sure are mighty identical.....

Having worked with the Epic software for a number of years, this is an accurate representation of my experience with Epic and their employees. The beauty of Epic has been the ability to "personalize" the product, as mentioned. My recent concerns have been with the implementation of their Model System, some of the personalization may be lost, and customers will be pushed to implement the Model System, as is. I am nurse who does Epic consulting work. I've noticed that hospitals who chose to use the Model System don't seem to know the application as well as they did prior to the Model System being offered. Granted, the Model System provides the client with a "starter set," but my recent experience with Epic employees is that they present the Model System as the only way to go. Workflows documentation, both current and future state, were key in determining the build when I began working with the Epic product. Recently I've heard Epic employees say that workflow analysis is not important, which concerns me a great deal. While Epic does hire the best and the brightest, I've been frustrated by several experiences with Epic employees who have never stepped foot inside of a hospital, and therefore have no idea how things operate, but present like they do, which is misleading to customers. I frequently remind customers that their implementation is their implementation and not Epic's and that they can push back if something doesn't feel right to them. I worked closely with an Epic Application Manager at one point who saw the value that consultants can bring to Epic implementations. She acknowledged that she didn't have hospital operations experience, but recognized that I did, and wasn't threatened by me or my knowledge. I, by no means had the software knowledge that she had either, but working together we were a great team. It was one of the best experiences that I have had with an Epic implementation. I valued her expertise and vice versa. Epic has always gone the distance in making sure that the customer gets what they need.

Nice looking campus.

Obviously the Epic culture works...working with their product and in the industry, I only have high regard for them. Other employers could learn a lot from their corporate is a relaxed environment of talented people who are empowered to be creative and to work to their full potential. They utilize young talent who know the meaning of "cutting edge" and have the "I can do anything" attitude. When you visit the campus you just say, "wow-I wish my company was like this." Who wouldn't like a sunroom and fireplace to help them feel more productive? And there is plenty of brain food with the large offering of organic and health food available on the "green" campus...they take care of their world, employees, and clients while making money doing it. I would say that should be a lesson learned for all.

whats that all about?
care to explain?
i'd be curious.