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WHEN SHE STARTS her day at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida, Danielle Reed picks up a smartphone. It is part of a system provided by Voalté, a start-up created to modify smartphones for doctors and nurses. The phone allows Ms Reed to communicate quickly and easily with her fellow nurses either by calling them or by sending text messages, a number of which are preprogrammed. She can also open specialised apps: one allows her to look up different medicines and their side-effects; another helps her identify pills brought in by patients.
Ms Reed says that the smartphone has other benefits too. She no longer has to carry different devices for making phone calls and receiving alerts, and she can send group text messages, which makes it easier to communicate with all of her colleagues on a ward. The 300 or so phones provided by Voalté (whose name comprises the first two letters of "voice", "alarm" and "text") have also helped to make Sarasota Memorial a quieter place for both patients and workers. Before introducing them the hospital often relied on a noisy public paging system to send messages to nurses and other staff. This is now used much less.
Keep taking the tablets
Rob Campbell, Voalté's chief executive, says the company expected to encounter plenty of scepticism when pitching its service to hospitals because the medical profession is used to getting purpose-built gadgets for so many things. But it has been pleasantly surprised by the reception to the consumer technology. "There is so much momentum behind these smartphones that doctors and board members get it," he says. They get tablets too: Manhattan Research, a health-care research company, published a survey in May that estimated that 30% of American doctors were already using iPads and almost as many again were planning to get one within six months.
In spite of this momentum, Voalté has succeeded only because it has worked hard to adapt the technology that consumers enjoy to a hospital environment. Among other things, it has modified iPhones and BlackBerrys so they can handle calls over hospitals' Wi-Fi networks, because cellular coverage can be poor inside some wards. It has also installed robust security software on the devices and ensured that they can gain access only to a hospital's network. And it has developed a gadget that recharges up to 40 phones at once while connecting them to Voalté's servers, which update their software. Ms Reed says a single charge is perfectly adequate to keep the phone running for her shift, which can last up to 12 hours.
Social networks are a case in point. Facebook, in particular, has proved wildly popular for sharing everything from videos of Lady Gaga to photos of a drunken night out. But these networks' public nature makes them unsuitable for exchanging sensitive corporate material—and probably those photos too. This has opened the door to firms such as Salesforce.com, Socialtext, Yammer and others that have created tailor-made networks for businesses, behind corporate firewalls. Like the big public networks, these custom-made ones typically allow employees to see who else is active, set up project groups and exchange stuff among themselves. Firms that use them say they have made it easier for staff to find important information and to collaborate with their fellow workers.
Your colleague is your friend
Bajaj Finance, an Indian consumer-lending firm that has been using Chatter, Salesforce.com's social-networking system, for over a year, says it has led to much smoother communication between its sales staff and underwriters. In the past, explains Rakesh Bhatt, the company's chief information officer, the assessment of which potential customers to take on involved lots of bilateral e-mails and instant messaging. Loan documents were exchanged on a separate electronic network, adding a layer of complexity. Now all of this happens on its social network. Mr Bhatt says the network has helped the firm make speedier and better decisions about which risks to underwrite.
Another popular set of corporate apps supplies data to people on the road. Aflac, a big American insurer, has developed several apps that allow members of its sales team access to customer data and claims records without having to log in from a desktop computer. Some companies are even holding competitions among their employees to see who can come up with the best apps—a practice copied from the consumer world, where contests among app developers are common. Researchers at Gartner predict that by 2014 around a quarter of business apps will be created by workers who are not part of IT departments.
Other apps will be built by companies. Deloitte, a firm of consultants, has created one called Bamboo to help it with disaster-recovery planning. The app allows the firm to update employees' emergency plans automatically by pushing new information to their phones, which are among the few things that people tend to take with them in a sudden evacuation. Deloitte is planning to roll out the app across all of its offices and has also developed a service based on it that it is selling to its customers.
Firms are also developing apps that let employees unlock some of the data that are held in head-office enterprise systems more easily. MeLLmo, a start-up, has created an app called Roambi that takes data from big financial systems and presents them in graphical format on smartphones and tablets. Santiago Becerra, the firm's boss, says Roambi is popular with finance types and other road warriors who need information on the move, but can be used in other settings too. One big manufacturer has even issued iPads with the app to staff monitoring its production lines. Now they no longer have to return to fixed PC workstations to consult production data—a trip that could take eight to ten minutes each time in the firm's huge factories. Germany's SAP, America's Oracle and other companies that create big IT systems are rolling out software to make it easier for firms that work with them to develop their own mobile apps.
Several of Roambi's developers come from the computer-games industry, where expertise in producing great graphics on small screens is plentiful. Avaya, which creates communications tools for businesses, has also borrowed know-how developed for games for a product called web.alive, which allows people to hold meetings and conferences in a virtual environment, using avatars. And numerous firms, not to mention the armed forces, are using videogame-like technology for training.
Savings in the virtual sky
Cloud computing, which began with consumer-focused e-mail services such as Hotmail, has also caught on in the business world. The companies leading the charge here are Amazon and Google, which have already developed popular cloud services aimed at consumers, such as Kindle e-books and Gmail. Amazon has built a huge business renting cloud-computing capacity and services to companies and Google boasts over 4m customers that use Google Apps, a range of cloud-based software including e-mail and document-sharing. Used to Google's free consumer products, many workers take to its corporate ones easily.
This and the prospect of cost savings have encouraged more organisations to embrace cloud-based offerings. Last year the city of Los Angeles, which faces a big budget deficit, adopted a series of apps designed by Google for governments. Kevin Crawford, an IT manager for the city, thinks it will save more than $1m a year over the next few years simply by not having to run and support its own in-house systems for things such as e-mail. Firms that have ended up with a hotch-potch of different IT systems as a result of mergers have also taken to the cloud. MWV, an acquisitive global-packaging company, switched to Google's e-mail app rather than try to integrate ten different e-mail systems that it inherited from various deals.
Drawing on consumer-inspired technology can produce intangible benefits too. Employee app developers are more likely than external ones to have a good idea of what they need to do their jobs well and will relish the opportunity to create their own software. And internal social networks are an aid to co-operation in what management types like to call the "white space" between a company's various divisions, by making it easier to find and collaborate with knowledgeable colleagues in far-flung parts of a company.
Some of those who have been promoting the use of consumer-inspired technologies inside companies say that executives used to a command-and-control world are still reluctant to embrace them, just as they are resistant to allowing employees to bring their own gadgets to work. "This is not how managers were taught in business school to operate," says Marc Benioff, the boss of Salesforce.com. But as consumer technology becomes ubiquitous, these benefits will be even harder to ignore.
SARASOTA - Voalté Inc., the local company that customized the iPhone for medical communications, has formed a strategic partnership with a much larger, Chicago-area company that is the industry leader in outfitting hospitals with nurse call systems.
Rauland-Borg Corp., based in Mount Prospect, Ill., will work with Voalté so that the bigger company's latest nurse call systems can connect directly to the Voalté One iPhone.
Patients will be able to speak directly to the care-giver, rather than having their requests and needs passed along by a receptionist.
Formed in 1922, Rauland-Borg has more than 300 employees and specializes in communications systems for schools and hospitals.
"They are the leading company in nurse call," said Rob Campbell, chief executive officer of Sarasota-based Voalté.
"Probably twice as big as the next one. What we are hoping is that we will get lots of referrals, co-selling opportunities."
For Rauland, which serves more U.S. hospitals than any other company in its field, the move provides a way to quickly add smart phones to the menu.
Rauland sells its systems through more than 100 distributors and resellers. At present, one of the most important sales initiatives at Rauland is to convince existing hospital clients to upgrade to the latest version of the Rauland system, called Responder 5.
Voalté will be able to tag along on those sales. That in itself is an entree to hundreds of hospitals.
In addition, "We hope anyone who already has Responder Five and is thinking of upgrading to Smart phones will see the benefit of Voalté," Campbell said.
There are other marketing advantages.
For example, Rauland is a participant in February's HIMSS11 Healthcare IT show in Orlando, one of the biggest shows of the year for this niche market.
"We will be featured in their booth," Campbell said.
Similarly, inside Rauland's 250,000-square-foot headquarters, the company maintains a simulated hospital suite to demonstrate its equipment to visiting hospital executives. The Voalté One iPhone will become part of that demo, Campbell said.
Starting up in the spring of 2008, Voalté became the first to adapt the iPhone, using its Wi-Fi capability, for use in health care settings.
Voalté (pronounced "volt") then established pilot programs at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and a hospital in California, allowing the company to field-test its gear while refining its system to meet nurses' needs.
Last fall, an eight-hospital Indiana chain became Voalté's fifth hospital client. That deal put Voalté in close contact with Meru Networks, a fast-growing company that outfits hospitals with industrial-strength Wi-Fi systems.
They have since formed a strategic partnership similar to the one with Rauland-Borg.
Voalté has recently come out with a similar system that runs on the Blackberry smartphone.
Campbell indicated Tuesday that more announcements of "wins" are on the way.
Voalté has about 25 employees.
Campbell said its biggest challenge remains "recruiting and finding high-impact talent."
Sarasota Memorial Hospital nurse Alissa Rottingen uses the Voalte system to help her communicate better with colleagues. Pictured in the foreground is Oscar Callejas, an executive editor with Sarasota-based Voalté.
As a group, nurses aren't gadget people. They tend to choose empathy over technology.
But a group of nurses at Sarasota Memorial Hospital are going gaga over a new gadget they have been using on the job for the past month. The gadget at hand, literally, is an iPhone application called Voalté One, which is pronounced like "volt" and is derived from a communications trio of voice, alarm and texting.
The technology behind Voalté was created and marketed by a Sarasota-based startup under the same name. The premise is simple: Give harried nurses a way to send and receive text messages, make voice calls and receive critical care alarms in an efficient, easy and safe way.
"Nurses are a tough audience," says Rob Campbell, Voalté's chief executive. "They want to make sure everything they do is driven toward patient care."
The Voalté One system works by acting as a central desk for all incoming and outgoing messages. Nurses can also text info and data to each other or update a shift supervisor on a patient care issue, tasks that can eat up a day using traditional communication methods.
In fact, the technology behind Voalté has been so good, it's turning some nurse technophobes into big fans. Such as Alissa Rottingen, a nurse on Sarasota Memorial's sixth floor respiratory unit. Rottingen says she has rarely used an iPod and doesn't own a cell phone.
But Voalté allows Rottingen to work her shift without hearing the constant distraction of an overhead page — a big improvement over the previous setup.
Rottingen's colleagues share her enthusiasm for Voalté, which Sarasota Memorial is using under a pilot program with the company.
Campbell and Voalté's co-founder, Trey Lauderdale, are likewise enthusiastic about the company's long-range prospects. "There are 7,500 hospitals in the United States," says Campbell, a Silicon Valley veteran who worked for both Steve Jobs at Apple and Bill Gates at Microsoft. "And we think everyone of them would like to have a Voalté system."
Campbell is predicting success for Voalté over the short-term, too. He says the company, which has survived so far on about $1.5 million in outside funding from angle investors, will hit $10 million in revenues next year. He also expects the company, working out of an office on Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota, to double its employee base to 25 people by the end of 2010.
Not bad for a technology firm with a core product — a software application — that relies solely on another company's technological breakthrough, in this case the iPhone. But the industry of apps for iPhones and smartphones isn't a fad, most technology industry players say.
Indeed, a recent BusinessWeek magazine cover story on the fledgling industry predicted that apps "will determine technology's next big winners." The industry, which barely existed two years ago, now has more than 100,000 apps on the market, from video games to radio stations to cooking recipes.
It's that kind of get-in-early excitement that attracted Campbell to the technology and to Voalté specifically. Campbell, who previously worked on teams that developed PowerPoint and FileMaker, had been living the life of a semi-retired technology executive in Sarasota from the mid 1990s though late last year.
But then Campbell, a guest lecturer at the University of Florida's business school on entrepreneurial topics, got a phone call from a friend who mentioned what Lauderdale was working on. Campbell remembered meeting Lauderdale when he was speaking to a class in Gainesville and Lauderdale was a student in the business school's entrepreneurship program.
Campbell says he was so jazzed about Voalté after speaking with Lauderdale that he decided to join the company. Campbell likens the startup to the heady 1970s, when he was working for companies that were trying to turn the microcomputer into a change-the-world product.
One current challenge, Lauderdale acknowledges, is the cost of hospitals fully implementing a Voalté system isn't cheap. That's partially because the process involves buying as many as 300 retrofitted iPhones at a cost of about $600 each — or close to $200,000 for a two-year contract.
That's not going to stop Lauderdale, 27, from trying to generate some big sales. He says he's close to signing a deal to bring Voalté to a pair of hospitals in California, and he's hopeful Sarasota Memorial executives will sign on for real after the pilot program there ends. He also has appointments to pitch Voalté to as many as 35 hospitals over the next few months.
"Hospitals tend to be very conservative," says Lauderdale, not unlike the nurses that work there. "No one wants to be leading edge."
SARASOTA - Voalté Inc., the local company that has converted the iPhone and other smartphones into a comprehensive communication device for nurses and hospitals across the country, has hired a new chief nursing officer.
Teresa Anderson "will oversee the alignment of best nursing practices and principles with Voalté's corporate objectives," the Sarasota company said Tuesday.
"Nursing is the heart of our revolutionary communications solution," said Rob Campbell, Voalté's chief executive. "Having someone who promotes transformational leadership in health care will help take us to the next level by better aligning our strategic initiatives with those of nursing."
Anderson has 30 years of nursing experience, including in academia, staff development, advanced practice, nursing leadership and quality performance improvement activities.
She is a member of the American Organization of Nurse Executives, the American Nurses Association, the Nebraska Nurses Association, theNebraska Organization of Nurse Leaders and Sigma Theta Tau International.
Anderson received her bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Lincoln and Omaha campuses.
She is completing a doctorate in health care education from the College of Saint Mary in Omaha.
Voalté's smartphone product allows nurses and doctors to communicate using high-definition voice calls, to receive nurse calls and to monitor alarms. It includes the ability to rank and categorize notifications for "presence, receipt and escalation."
The company, based on Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota, recently received a $250,000 performance-based incentive grant from Sarasota County to create 50 new jobs in the next three years as it expands.
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