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Special Report: Nashville's eMids Technologies launches 'FlatWorld' initiative
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eMids' Saurabh Sinha says only customers know the truth about their needs and about how eMids compares

Updated June 11, 1008 CT

In a move that seems bold for the local scene, Nashville-based and majority Indian-owned eMids Technologies has decided that the best way to address customers' uneasiness about using offshore tech services is to talk about it.

eMids Technologies develops and manages software applications, and currently targets the healthcare sector. Since eMids' founding in 1999, the company has risen to about $10 million in annual revenue and roughly 300 employees in the U.S. and India. Today, five years after eMids began marketing here, the company says it employs nearly 40 in Nashville. A handful of additional staff are in Boston, New York and other cities, with the majority of eMids' workforce in Bangalore.

Many observers believe executives' fears about offshoring have subsided, as companies have learned to harness domestic and global resources for competitive advantage.

However, some resistance remains: For instance, when Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga recently outsourced its entire IT services department, offshoring was a factor. Erlanger chose Dallas-based hospital IT specialist PHNS (Provider HealthNet Services Inc.) over EDS and Perot Systems.

Erlanger Interim CIO Laurene Vamprine told VNC yesterday that while Erlanger might have chosen PHNS in any event, PHNS' willingness to rule-out offshoring Erlanger staffing probably gave PHNS some advantage over other bidders. Vamprine said Erlanger had been concerned about data security and about the possibility that nearly 60 Erlanger IT employees who were to become employees of the new contractor might lose their jobs if the contractor was free to send work offshore to India, the Philippines or other nations. Vamprine said PHNS also had the best experience outsourcing hospitals' entire IT departments. (VNC research produced instances in which PHNS officials have said hospitals should consider offshoring.)

According to eMids Co-Founder and President Saurabh Sinha (above) and Vice President Mike Hollis (right), these days most executives' apprehensions about offshoring can be alleviated by placing eMids staff on-site in U.S. clients' offices, waiting until both parties are comfortable the work is moving along well, before off-shoring tasks to India. Sinha said that when offshoring to eMids in Bangalore begins, "we want this process to be completely painless for them."

In addition, eMids recently launched FlatWorldCafe.com, an electronic watering-hole for people who want to explore business requirements, technology, new ideas -- particularly ideas about the "flattening" of the global competitive landscape, a phenomenon chronicled in the acclaimed 2005 book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat.

"Flat World" themes have now been adopted by companies and institutions worldwide, including at least one eMids competitor, the Indian company Infosys Technologies Ltd., the headquarters of which was the setting of some of Friedman's pivotal interviews. Friedman has warned that -- regardless of the gains of other nations -- sustaining U.S. living standards requires Americans to improve dramatically education, infrastructure and the economy, generally.

Sinha said the FlatWorldCafe.com idea belongs "entirely" to Hollis. He was first to brew the idea of maintaining a steady interactive dialogue with customers and prospects, over a virtualized cuppa java, as a way to demonstrate eMids' commitment to building trust among customers. Hollis explained the idea flowed naturally from eMids' successes in discussing key issues with customers and prospects over breakfast and other informal settings.

As a veteran of IT sales and marketing, Hollis is no stranger to offshoring issues. Prior to joining eMids a year ago , Hollis played a similar role with Brentwood-based LBMC Technologies. During Hollis' tenure at LBMC, the company reportedly considered a strategic alliance with Infosys. (There's been no word of an Infosys-LBMC alliance since Hollis' departure, but in April the Nashville Technology Council announced that Infosys had become a new member.)

In May, eMids' saffron-colored FlatWorldCafe.com tent debuted in a prominent floor position during the Technology! Nashville conference. Hollis said eMids' appearance during that event represented FlatWorldCafe.com's "soft" launch. A more intense formal launch is scheduled for this fall.

Hollis explained that FlatWorldCafe.com serves as both a gathering-point and a two-way educational platform for eMids, its customers, prospects and potential employees. Such customer engagement is crucial, according to Sinha, because when it comes to customer requirements, only customers and prospective customers really know their priorities, concerns and perceptions of eMids relative to its competitors.

By fostering dialogue, said Sinha, "we get an audience and we talk [about what we do and how] and they tell us what they think and how they view us vis-a-vis competition." He said the initiative is grounded in realization that selling offshore services involves selling "an intangible... You sell a model [and] the benefits of that model will be available to the consumer 6 to 9 months down the line -- in some cases, years down the line -- so what you're [ultimately selling] is credibility."

Because of the timelag inherent in software development, customers want to see evidence of a contractor's maturity and wisdom, beyond what is reflected in technical certifications and competencies. "They want to see that we 'get it'," Sinha added.

Demands for new products and services sometime emerge from the eMids dialogue. Sinha provided three examples: First, eMids' adoption of PeopleSoft in response to customer demand. Second, there's eMids' continuing exploration of the possibility of providing laboratory-level software testing and certification. Lastly, the company's periodic involvement in helping startup ventures that need tech solutions and advice. ♦

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Tags: EDS, emids, eMids Technologies, Erlanger Health System, Flatworldcafe.com, Health IT, India, information technology, InfoSys, LBMC Technologies, Mike Hollis, offshoring, Perot Systems, PHNS, Saurabh Sinha

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