And one “Saint” in particular whose HIS career alone would be a miniature history of our industry:
Larry Ferguson , president of SAI from 1985 on, who appears on this dusty cover of “Healthcare Computing and Communications, and kindly took time off from his busy golf schedule to tell the tale
Another Man’s Story
The story of SAI actually belongs to another man, who sadly passed away just a few years ago: Jack Weil
(Another reason why these stories must be told now : many of the original “HIS Heroes” are passing on – hell, I start getting Social Security checks this month!)
Like so many HIS industry pioneers, Jack started his HIT career in the 60s, along with a high school buddy, Mason Chrisman (SP?), high school classmate from Charlotte.
Just like almost everyone else in the business, Jack and Mason cut their IT teeth working for IBM in the early 60s.
Jack left Big Blue to be DP Manager at Norcom National Bank in 1964-1965.
System Associates, Inc.
In 1966, Jack & Mason left the bank and formed their own computer company, SAI , originally do do contract programming for banks or any other industry.
(shades of early Meditech and McAuto’s GSD…)
They first wrote programs for IBM mainframe and mini systems, but soon branched out when they encountered their first hospital client: Charlotte Memorial Hospital .
Charlotte Memorial was a Burroughs shop, running their early HIS software:
“ BHIS ” (Burroughs Hospital Information System)
Aside on Early “Pilots…”
(If you’ve been following this HIS-tory series, you may have noticed the pattern that so many pioneering systems were first developed at “pilot” hospitals:
McAuto’s “ HFC ” at the Order of St. Francis in Peoria, IL
IBM’s “ HIS ” at Monmouth Medical Center in NJ
Lockheed’s “ MIS ” at El Camino Hospital in CA
Meditech’s “ HCIS ” at Cape Cod Hospital in MA
Dynamic Control at Variety Children’s in FL
So it always pays to be the first wildebeest at the watering hole, right?
Not so fast, we’ll cover a number of sad stories where being first customer meant you found out what might be lurking in the water…)
Another Government Grant
Another HIS-tory pattern is government grants , to whit:
Walt Huff and his grant at OSF to build HFC, post-Medicare
Jack Weil too found another “pilot” that had received a government grant to build a Pharmacy system: Duke
Jack noticed the pattern that hospitals seemed to have the money, so SAI soon concentrated an healthcare, gradually expanding the Charlotte Memorial and Duke applications to encompass the full suite of HIS apps (translated into 2011-speak in red for you newbies):
Financial apps like ADT ( Access ), Billing & AR ( Revenue Cycle ), Inventory ( Materials ), Personnel ( HR ), General Ledger ( ERP )…
Clinical apps were rudimentary by today’s higher standards ( BMV, eMAR, Med Rec, CPOE… ), but in those days, just having Order Entry and Results Reporting applications was huge!
Sales Successes …
SAI named their HIS “ SAI NT ,” punning on the first 3 letters, but it was just that to scores of small hospitals who loved:
Turnkey Approach – just like Compucare , DCC , JS Data , etc., all you had to do was buy it and turn the key!
Service Ethic – small start-up companies like SAI had to keep their clients happy to sell more.
Affordability – the bundle of apps, minicomputer hardware and installation was cheap!
“ Total HIS” – note the quotes – it was no MIS or PCS, but it covered most bases: financial & clinical.
A Rose By Any Other Name…
Technically, SAI had one oddity: its hardware platform.
At a time when every other turnkey mini road the coattails of a hardware manufacturer, such as:
Compucare on DG , Meditech on DEC , everyone else on IBM
SAI broke all the rules and picked an odd little box made by Point Four corporation, with great price/performance, but with very little name recognition.
SAI actually covered up the Point Four name with a tag of their own name, telling clients “what does the manufacturer matter, it’s a mini!”
Pictured on the left is the last surviving Point Four gear I ever saw at a 100-bed hospital in upstate NY circa 2000
What Might Have Been …
I actually jump into the SAI story for a minute, er, week, as you’ll see…
In 1980, I had joined McAuto in St. Louis as a turncoat from SMS ,
And was given the assignment of helping hire 20 new sales reps to boost McAuto’s sales efforts.
I was helping Charlie Kean in the South, and came upon the resume of a hot young rep for SAI named Ferguson.
I filled Larry’s ears with all my SMS marketing charm, got him to St. Louis for interviews, and he joined us in 1980!
Within a week, Jack Weil countered, hired him back, and the rest, as they say, is HIS-tory, as Larry soared at SAI !
Larry was an enormous success as a salesman at SAI , so much so that in 5 years, by 1985, he become CEO.
When Larry joined SAI in 1980, the firm’s stats were ≈
$5M in annual revenue ( told you SAINT was cheap! )
25 hospital clients ( most small, 100 beds or less )
50 FTEs (7 in sales), including many HIS notables:
Daryl Bowles, Tony Baretta, Liz Tsumas, plus several I had the privilege to know personally:
Harold Key – an SMS turncoat like me, who brought all of their sales savvy with him…
Karl & Beth Friedman - a dynamite husband and wife team that went on to form their own vendor consulting company ( healthITmktg )
Under Larry’s leadership and the hard work of those early employees, SAI grew enormously to $50M annual revenue and about 250 SAINT hospital clients at peak.
True to form among early HIS vendors, SAI’s explosive growth caught the attention of one of the “biggest fishes” in the US pond: American Express
AMEX was looking to diversify beyond its core credit card transaction business
AMEX also bought a Visa/Master Card transaction processing vendor named First Data Corporation in Iowa
SAI was re-named FDC , and starting acquiring HIS firms.
Minnow Swallows Whale!
In an amazing bit of irony, tiny SAI with FDC/ AMEX’s enormous capital, started shopping for other HIS vendors to buy, so the new IT division would shine internally.
And who did they target?
By 1990, the parent airplane giant was shopping HSD around, and FDC got a steal for a paltry$77M (annual revenue ≈$100M)
McAuto by then was in a bit of turmoil, with a wide array of often-competing products on disparate platforms: