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Microsoft HSG Bets Future on Amalga

Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group (HSG), which has straddled the fence with consumer-facing (HealthVault) and corporate-facing (Amalga), is increasingly moving to the corporate side of the fence. Not that surprising considering that the consumer market continues to struggle (Google Health is in virtual mothball state, consumer adoption of HealthVault is nothing to write home about) and that HSG has now moved out of R&D and is now under the business solutions group, Dynamics. At the end of the day, HSG head Peter Neupert has to show that he can deliver the goods and Amalga is the horse he’s betting on (Note: Sentillion is there as well, but think of Sentillion as the gate-keeper to accessing Amalga).

Yet Amalga has gone through its share of birthing pains with some in the industry beginning to question its value.

Amalga has suffered from two significant problems, both inter-related. The first is that Amalga is an extremely powerful set of data aggregation and analytical tools, but it is more of a toolset then a product and this leads to long implementation time-frames and subsequently an inability to extract value quickly (ROI for Amalga is measured in years). For example, in 2009 Golden Living signed on to adopt Amalga and HealthVault. At last week’s Connected Health Conference, (CHC) Golden Living presented some remarkable results of how they are transforming long-term care through the use of Amalga. But in their presentation, Golden Living also stated that they knew full well when signing on to Amalga that this was going to be a multi-year effort and their implementation team has been given 5 years to put Amalga in place. Five years to fully implement a software solution is a very long-time and similar to the installs of the largest EHR systems. Unfortunately, many early Amalga customers did not have the foresight of Golden Living. In recent conversations with Microsoft, Chilmark has been told that significant resources are now being dedicated to improving time to value for Amalga. We’ll have to wait and see as the CHC sessions we attended on Amalga and HealthVault Community Connect, did not make this readily apparent.

Secondly, the flexibility of Amalga led Microsoft to pursue a number of different strategies and markets. One apparently aborted strategy was for Amalga to become a Platform as a Service (PaaS) when it announced at the 2010 HIMSS its partnership with Eclipsys wherein specific Eclipsys modules would run on top of the Amalga platform. Well a platform is not a platform if it does not support an ecosystem of third party applications. To date, Microsoft has announced no additional partnerships similar to that of Eclipsys for Amalga so this strategy has stalled.

This was also looking to be the case for Microsoft’s HIE strategy. In the profile we did of Microsoft for the HIE Market Report we questioned whether or not Microsoft would stick with this market as they had not had a significant HIE win in nearly a year. In a conversation with a CIO of a large academic medical center at CHC, he also brought up the question of whether or not Microsoft was committed to supporting HIE functionality within Amalga, so clearly we were not alone in our opinion. Those fears were put to rest last week when Microsoft announced the Chicago HIE contract win, which is a monster representing some 70% of the healthcare facilities and a population of 9.5 million in the Chicago metro area. The Chicago HIE is a very visible win for Microsoft and a clear signal that they intend to be a major player in the HIE market.

It was also clear at CHC that Microsoft HSG is very focused on Amalga. The majority of sessions were dedicated to various aspects of leveraging Amalga (clinical decision support, care transitions support, comparative effectiveness, etc.). Virtually all users we spoke to at CHC were there to learn more about Amalga. And maybe the most telling sign was the list of exhibitors. Unlike CHCs of the past, there was not one EHR company, very few third party software vendors (~14%), and only a couple of exhibitors with clear connections to HealthVault.  Consulting and service firms, however, were there in force representing over 50% of exhibitors.

While the Chicago HIE win is a strong vote of confidence in Amalga sending a clear signal to the broader HIT market, Amalga is not out of the woods yet. Broader adoption of Amalga will be highly dependent on Microsoft’s ability to further “productize” Amalga to insure faster installs and accelerate time to value. In today’s market, where senior IT executives of healthcare organizations are literally swamped in various initiatives (e.g., 5010, ICD-10, EHR/meaningful use), the last thing most want to adopt is an Amalga toolset. Developing Amalga to address specific use cases will go a long way towards seeing broader adoption of this potentially powerful solution.

John Moore is an IT Analyst at Chilmark Research, where this post was first published.

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Does anyone have a clue how many organizations are using Amalga right now?