An Internet technology company launched a year ago by Ernst & Young is about to "re-start," in the words of its new president, after paying the price for being "a little ahead of the market" for its wares.
Introduced with much fanfare at last year's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society convention in San Diego, an Atlanta-based firm called ConnectedHealth.Net attempted to get a head start on taming the unruliness of the Internet as a communications medium.
But the developers apparently got too far ahead, dreaming up all sorts of services the market couldn't relate to and didn't much want yet. So, like Bill Murray's character in the movie "Groundhog Day," the company is starting over with the knowledge of what went wrong the first time.
Healthcare's annual information systems convention is a chance to witness hundreds of companies trying to stay at the leading edge of technology while meeting emerging marketplace needs.
A common complaint is that companies will make announcements about hotshot new products before they're ready for the marketplace, hoping to attract enough interest to keep potential buyers waiting for a work in progress rather than choosing a competitor's product.
At the HIMSS convention in March 1996, for example, Shared Medical Systems introduced the Novius information systems line in a splash that included a mammoth billboard facing the pedestrian path to the Atlanta convention site.
But like the Olympic pavilion the billboard overlooked, the product line was in an early construction stage. In fact, Malvern, Pa.-based SMS announced just last month that the first five components in the integrated set of new-technology systems are generally available after two years of tests at a few selected healthcare sites.
In the case of ConnectedHealth.Net, its services were ready for the market, but the market was not ready for them, said Michael Sachs, the company's new president and chief executive officer.
"There was a lot of enthusiasm around Internet applications, and a lot of companies saw the Internet as a vehicle to link a lot of different organizations together," said Sachs, who agreed to become majority partner in the venture with Ernst & Young, a worldwide accounting and consulting giant. "(Ernst & Young) saw that the industry needs to be brought together and have a platform to link professionals."
Pivotal to the service was the installation of software on computer "desktops" through which ConnectedHealth.Net would deliver customized news via the Internet. That desktop program and its screen presentation would serve as the delivery mechanism for a laundry list of other information services, from access to medical libraries to product reviews and best-practices information.
In addition, provider organizations could create their own channels to distribute corporate news and deliver exchanges of information selectively to categories of their caregivers.
But the Internet-based software and communication services are no good without an Internet-based network to deliver them to computer users. And with the exception of academic medical centers, "the Internet is not used as universally as one might expect in the healthcare industry," Sachs said. To receive and route Internet-based data, provider organizations first require intranets, or internal Internet-style connections among personal computers.
As a unit of Ernst & Young, the fledgling company's offerings also were important to several consulting divisions with services to promote, and there was pressure to add features to the product list at the outset. That complicated the marketing pitch, said Dan Nutkis, the first president of ConnectedHealth.Net, who left recently to start an information services venture (See story, p. 36).
Ernst & Young's venture with Sachs is recognition that there is "a definite advantage to having a completely separate company" without conflicts in objectives, said Jay Toole, a partner with Ernst & Young and national director of its Atlanta-based healthcare consulting practice. He added that Sachs brings a demonstrated ability to predict a healthcare need and "to catch it at the right time as it matures." Sachs also is president of the Sachs Group, an Evanston, Ill.-based healthcare information company.
For now, Sachs is using technology created by Ernst & Young to market intranet development and deliver Internet-based news and information from existing wire services and industry publications.
Though the "re-started" company's services don't distinguish it from a number of other companies getting into the intranet-development business, the services are more consistent with what the market wants today, Sachs said.
He doesn't fault ConnectedHealth.Net for trying to get an early lead, though: "Sometimes pioneers do well. Sometimes pioneers are out in the wild."