Microsoft and Sentillion: A Progress Report on a Crucial Health IT Acquisition
It was a big day last February when Sentillion, the Andover, MA-based provider of healthcare software, announced its acquisition by Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) was complete and that the company and its 110 employees (most of whom are in Massachusetts) would be folded into the technology giant’s Health Solutions Group. The deal (exact terms of which have not been disclosed) is one of the largest healthcare acquisitions in Microsoft’s history, and it plays a significant role in the Redmond, WA, software firm’s overall strategy in health IT.
At the time, Sentillion founder and CEO Robert Seliger said the deal would accelerate adoption of his 11-year-old, venture-backed company’s software around the globe. Sentillion’s main technology includes a single sign-on system to make it easy for hospital workers to access multiple software systems without having to log on to each application. And as my colleague Ryan McBride wrote at the time, “it’s clear that Microsoft is investing in this technology to make its healthcare software user-friendly and practical for busy doctors and nurses.”
As we close out 2010, I checked in with Seliger to see how the integration was going, both for him and for the company—and what, if any, new products or other fruits of the union we might expect to see. It turns out he has a new and expanded role in Microsoft, and while he remained guarded on how much he could reveal of what’s coming down the pike, I think his answers gave some real insights into how Microsoft integrates the companies it acquires, and at least some hints at what the future might bring.
Here are some takeaways from our conversation:
Most surprising thing about being acquired by Microsoft: “How hard it is to get to Seattle.” Seliger says he isn’t joking. The options are Alaska Airlines and JetBlue for non-stops, but he says there are fewer flights than in the past. “I enjoy being in Seattle, but don’t enjoy the gymnastics of trying to get there or home, and I would not have expected that.” (With offices in Boston and Seattle, we at Xconomy are well aware of these challenges.)
On the path of the integration: Seliger says he and a few other Sentillion executives became Microsoft employees on the day the deal closed in February. They worked closely with Microsoft vice president Peter Neupert’s team on structuring the integration, while the rest of Sentillion continued as a standalone entity and its employees conducted business pretty much as usual. Then, in July, at the start of a new fiscal year, what Seliger calls a “more protracted, structured integration” began for the rest of Sentillion’s people, products, and technologies. That integration is still in process, under the watch of Neupert, who heads up the Health Solutions Group (HSG).
On how well that integration has gone so far: “It takes at least a year before you can really answer,” Seliger says. Still, he says, “There’s been an amazing amount of team integration, which I think has been very positive. Our mantra has been, ‘One HSG’…and I think we’ve done a really good job of creating One HSG.”
“Now, we’re starting to get into doing really interesting things—innovating the technologies that Sentillion brought in along with the technologies that Microsoft Health Solutions Group already had. That process is locked and loaded, but it’s going to take time before the market sees the output of that.”
On whether Sentillion’s work has expanded under Microsoft’s ownership beyond its core single sign-on technologies: “Yes, but in ways I’m sorry I can’t comment on just yet.” Seliger did say that a “very exciting” collection of products and technologies has been brought together from the integration of the two companies, and that “there are some really interesting, leveraged uses of that underway.”
On the expansion of his own role: Seliger joined as a HSG general manager with the job of surveying the wide array of businesses and areas where Microsoft’s health technologies fit in—including the consumer and enterprise businesses and even life sciences—to try to figure out gaps in the product line and identify other areas to work on. “It was a great way to get to know many, many people, many, many topics of conversations,” he says.
Early this October, he was given the title of general manager of product management for all of HSG. “I oversee all of product-related strategy and requirements and definition of what it is we actually bring to the market in terms of products and services,” Seliger says. “It is every product in our portfolio—HealthVault, Amalga, things we’re working on that we haven’t talked about yet, everything.”
On maintaining and growing Microsoft’s strengths in a nascent market: “My Sentillion colleagues and I talk about this all the time—just how many incredibly smart and gifted people there are in Microsoft. And it’s clearly, clearly part of Microsoft’s secret sauce.” This produces an array of great ideas and potential products. But with so many great ideas coming forth, he says, “You have a different challenge, which is how to pick the ones that you want and harness them to take forward into the market.”