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Building a Better Product

Written by Charlie Harp

October 10, 2017 at 11:59 AM

Clinical Architecture recently hit three significant milestones:

  1. We have been in business 10 years
  2. We hired our 50th team member
  3. We released Symedical 2.0

I am extremely proud of my team and appreciative of our fantastic customers who are all responsible for these wonderful accomplishments. I am a lucky guy.

Symedical 2.0 is pretty amazing.  It is the product of customer feedback, new and innovative approaches, and adaptation to new technical architectures. This latest release represents not only a complete platform for healthcare enterprise scale data governance, but also a community that will focus on best practices and high value information.  But this is not a press release or a marketing brochure... you can follow the links if you want those.  As I reflect on the last ten years, I want to share something I have learned. I have learned what it takes to make a great product.

It all started with Symedical

We originally released Symedical in 2009.  In its infancy, it was a clinical mapping tool. It embraced a new cognitive approach to semi-automated matching, intended to reduce the burden on clinical resources that were toiling away on something that software should be able to do much faster and more consistently. That foundation continues today, and we have evolved our mission to include improving the quality, value and latency of information in healthcare, while minimizing the impact on human resources.

What makes a product?

The first version of Symedical was all about innovation.  We had an idea and we operationalized it. We took our shiny bauble, showed it to people that had related needs and ultimately found someone who believed in it. Viola, it became a product. (All the sudden I have the 'I'm just a bill' schoolhouse rock song stuck in my head..."Oh yes!")

Now that Symedical was a product, we had something better than an idea, we had a customer. Let's talk about this mysterious entity called a customer for a minute.

What is a customer?

To some, the most basic view of a customer is as a stream of revenue.

I think a customer is much more than that. If you are paying proper attention, your customers will tell you how to make your product better, but is goes even deeper than that. The relationship between a product and a customer is a mutualistic symbiosis. The success of the product and the customer are intertwined. This is not just true at the 'customer' level. Companies do not purchase products through osmosis, a person at that company often puts their credibility on the line to advocate for the product. Therefore, it is the obligation of the organization selling the product to make them look like a rock star. This may be contrary to the 'it’s business, not personal' mantra but the last time I checked, most businesses are comprised of people. One of the greatest compliments to a product is when a person involved in its use moves to another company and advocates their new employer use the product.

We have a product and customers whose fates are intertwined in a dance of evolution and mutual satisfaction. We have a piece of technology and people bound together...but wait, that's not right either.  This is because that technology was built by people. And, in the case of Symedical, some of my favorite people.

Product is people

That's right, products are built by people. I have found that most people care a lot about what they do and how it impacts the people that use it. The product is a proxy for the people that create, maintain and support it. The customer, in paying for the product, is paying the people that build the product so they can support their families, eat at Denny's, donate to worthy causes, and buy fancy coffee.  The organization that builds the product, and the organization that purchases the product, are really proxies for the people involved in the products ecosystem.  The more vested the people are in the process, the better the ecosystem thrives. How's that for metaphysical?

The bottom line is, products are personal. It is the exchange of success (in terms of revenue) for success (in terms of value) where the people on both sides benefit accordingly. If the product does not deliver value, does not evolve based on the needs of the customer, or if the product is not driven by the success of the customer, it will eventually fail. Depending on the switching barriers, this may take a while but, mark my words, it will eventually fail.

Now this is a two-way street. The customer must engage with the product and the people who are involved in its care and maintenance to derive full value. I can't complain that I did not lose weight if I don't use the treadmill. No product is magic - you need to put it to use to get the value. There are people behind products you buy, and they want you to be successful.

In summary, a great product is a reflection of the people that collaborate together in its evolution. To build a better product you just need to have people on both sides, the creators and the consumers, that believe you are invested in their success.

I want to thank everyone that have helped Clinical Architecture get to this point. Together we can continue to make healthcare IT work better for the people that are entrusted to its care.