Ask the Expert: Overcoming Integration Obstacles
Shari Matkin, Director of Implementations, on becoming “the conductor of the orchestra” to alleviate challenges of integration
From her experience as a Durable Medical Device (DME) sales rep with a clinical background to integration project management, Shari Matkin now brings her unique insight to Bridge Connector’s customer personas as she builds out our delivery team. Spoiler alert: If you are a customer or a potential customer who is considering the daunting task of managing a company’s integration project, Shari has “been there, done that.” She has felt most of our customers’ pain points and is here offer wisdom to combat the challenges of integration.
Below, Shari is interviewed as part of our “Ask the Expert” blog series, presented in a question-and-answer format, so you can hear directly from our in-house experts and partners, in their words.
Q: Hi Shari, first of all, welcome again to Bridge Connector. We are excited to talk about your unique experience and why you are such a great hire as our Director of Implementations. What did you study in school, and how did you land at a DME, eventually managing integration projects?
A: I graduated from The Ohio State University and received a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology. I was a student–athlete during my time there and am still a huge Buckeyes football fan! Out of college, I wanted to focus on occupational therapy. I got a job with a private spinal cord injury rehab facility, so everything started there. After around four years with them, I was contacted by a recruiter, who was looking to build out a sales team for a DME with some service representatives who had more of a clinical background rather than a sales background. I was their first service rep in that direction, and I assisted sales and did a lot of the busy work. It got to a point where I had to choose if I wanted to continue to be a sales rep, or did I want to grow and go down a different path? We had a consulting division, which I found intriguing, so I ended up going that route.
My job was to teach health care providers how to maximize ancillary revenue around bracing and durable medical equipment — we taught them how to bring the revenue in-house, bill for it themselves, comply with Medicare guidelines, and so forth. After some years in this division, we had a mobile application that was built for inventory management, and it expanded. This was right around the time when all the EHR incentive programs were coming out.
Our internal team quickly realized that we needed to be able to make our mobile application “talk” with the various EHRs. I took a new position at their corporate office four years ago, serving as a national training manager, providing solutions marketing for both the consulting team and the software, and I ultimately ended up taking on those softwares as more of a product manager.
As the need for integrations increased throughout our customer base, I was granted ownership to enhance our capabilities, create efficiencies, seek out partnerships, and ultimately scale the solution offering from 15 to 120 connections. This experience truly unmasked the challenges of integration and taught me the skills necessary to navigate those challenges.
Q: That is considerable growth under your leadership in a relatively short time, a completely new offering for the company on top of that. How did you help steer the integration processes for the organization?
A: I had been on both sides of our business, where I was selling and supporting our mobile application with EHR integration in the field. I knew what it was like to do work with the clients and talk through all of the processes, per project, with the various teams. This experience also gave me insight into the challenges of integration and how we needed to improve. With the outsourced integration partnership, we were able to simplify our solution, scale more quickly, and expand our offering into settings we previously weren’t able to access. But I realized very quickly that our partnership process wasn’t working in a desirable way for us as the vendor because it was removing the client experience from our control.
While our integrations partner was definitely the expert with integrations much more than we were, they were not an expert in client engagement as much as I had hoped. Because this process was new to me, I was probably taking too much of a “wait-and-see” approach. But at the end of the day, I owned our client relationship, and that integration subcontractor relationship existed, first and foremost, to serve our ability to deliver to that client. So I knew I had to “flip the switch” and took on more of the frontrunner role and drove the heck out of it. I drove our strategy, the scalability, and how I wanted to build our team to best work with the integration partner. So that’s kind of the “short” of the long story.
Q: The world of integrations was new to you, as you mentioned. How did you know where to start, how to find the right integrations partner?
A: We started our integration capabilities in-house. This was probably six or seven years ago, so there weren’t many integration partners out there at the time. It wasn’t really something that we even looked at doing — the idea of outsourcing our integration solution.
Then, a couple of years later, we had an opportunity with a large health system that was an Epic facility. In order to sit at the table with Epic, they weren’t going to listen to us as an integration solution offering with no previous Epic experience. They saw us as just some bracing manufacturer with a mobile application. What did we know? So we found an external vendor, an integration partner, to help us service the need to connect this one client, utilizing our mobile app, with Epic.
After about a year of stumbling through the integration solution, we weren’t making great strides with our in-house capabilities, yet we were starting to see more Epic facilities come through our pipeline. Here, new challenges of integration started to come to light. We were forced to look at our integration partner with more of a long-term strategy, to say, “Does this make sense to continue outsourcing our integration solution versus handling it in-house?” Internally, we were at an inflection point, that if we wanted to manage the project in-house — completely own the growth strategy, the ever-increasing complexities, and the expansion into more EHRs — we needed to staff it up. So we did a very quick ROI analysis on the single client that we had, continuing to build, support, and grow in-house versus outsourcing the majority of the work to our integration partner. It became clear, given these challenges of integration and ROI analysis, that outsourcing was just the right thing to do for us.
Q: Why was that?
A: They specialized in integration, and they had managed services, with support and maintenance. Probably around six months later, I started getting a lot of pressure from our leadership with the familiar theme we had already anticipated: “Is there really an ROI on this? Did we factor the same? Should we be passing the cost through to our clients?” It became a big deal. It can be hard to justify the ROI, because outside of telling our C-suites, “Hey, there’s this partner that we’re using, and they manage our connections,” how do you get them to understand the value proposition? It was very difficult to put into quantifiable terms, and that’s something we are helping to define more for our sales targets and clients — how we can accelerate time-to-value for them.
Actually, when I spoke about our experience at an interoperability event last year, this was one of the challenges of integration that a lot of people were talking about — how do you justify integration partner costs to your C-suite who doesn’t really understand what you do, what you need, versus what it would take to accomplish the same in-house, and staffing it appropriately to drive growth and expansion of the solution.
Q: So you had to make — and win — the case for outsourcing. Yet you also talked about keeping the client experience within your control, that there are things that are going to arise that maybe you’re not happy with. How did you balance these needs, knowing you owned that client relationship and needed to make them happy?
A: What was unique about our situation: it was a mobile application that we owned and built, and our integration partner played a role in one piece of what the overall implementation process included. They weren’t involved in our consulting. They weren’t involved in the end-user implementation of the actual software. So if I wanted to truly control the outcome, the timeline, the communication style, and the experience, I knew I had to become the conductor of the orchestra, rather than sitting back and letting our partner drive.
I also figured out, from an efficiency standpoint, I needed to gain a full understanding of their process — from connectivity to an integration configuration and “build,” to testing, “go-live,” and support. By becoming an expert in what the start-to-finish process looked like, I knew how to deploy resources with different tasks at different times, so that we could make it faster by working in parallel rather than sequentially. We weren’t their only client, so if I wanted to help put them in a position to get our work done faster, then I knew I needed to take more control.
We were selling a client on products, consulting on their full ancillary service line, and leveraging an integration partner was just an enablement within the larger scope to make us go faster.
Q: It sounds like you really drove this initiative. You drove scalability, how to build the teams. What did that process look like, and who did you comprise on your team? What advice would you give to somebody struggling with their first run at an integration project?
A: One thing that was critical was understanding what solution was sold versus what was delivered. I’m referring to taking communication back full-circle to sales to say, “This is actually what we implemented, and conceptually, what you should be explaining to future clients so we can drive more of the value proposition of an integration solution. Here’s where you should get comfortable saying, ‘Yes, we can do this,’ and, ‘Yes, we can do it quickly.’” Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Really understand what you’re selling, what your solution is, and keep your scope clear and concise.
I got to a point where our sales team was very comfortable, where they didn’t have to keep coming back to me or our integration vendor to say, “Hey, I need help on this technical call to close the sale.” They could get far enough along on their own to obtain a signature on the contract.
We never said “no” to anybody, but we achieved the clarity and confidence to say, “This is where we know that we’re really strong, and here’s the solution that we believe fits the mold for most people. If you have needs that you want outside of that, let’s talk about it.”
So it’s good to keep the simplicity — anything in that cookie cutter model would be repeatable very easily.
As far as building up the team, I honestly didn’t have much of a team. That was a struggle, as a non-software company, to secure the dollars and the resources that have to be allocated to drive an integration solution successfully. I had to leverage our integration partner as much as possible, because I knew that I had limited development resources to expand our solution offering.
I also knew that as much as I ramped up implementations, I needed to ramp up production support as well. Understanding that piece of it, I really tried to focus on repeatable use cases where I knew it was easily plug-and-play. Certain EHRs where we had built adapters and where we knew the APIs, where we became very familiar with them, I would stretch those and push those use cases, making sure that our sales team was comfortable with that solution offering.
I had to become more efficient — how can I teach our account managers or somebody else to do this, if you don’t have enough, or any, full-time employees allocated to your team. It becomes, “How do you get creative with your resources to best utilize your time?”
As for scalability, with everything that we did, we tried to ask ourselves, “Are we doing this for one client, or are we looking at this for a hundred, a thousand?” Anything that you’re doing and touching, you should be thinking, “OK, well what if I have another client that comes in and has the same system, what does that repeatable use case look like?” Look at the full life-cycle of an implementation and figure out what’s the same on every single one and what differs. Based off of what differs, who needs to own that, and where can you put it in the process?
Q: How did you find out about Bridge Connector, and what you are eager to accomplish here?
A: Interoperability interested me as a whole, and it was intriguing to hear about what Bridge Connector was doing — no-code integrations? Tell me more about how you’re able to do this to deliver so much more quickly and cost-efficiently?! I had worked with Brian Cappy previously, who went on to work at Salesforce. He joined Bridge Connector prior to me, and is now our VP of Sales. This was yet another way that I’d heard about what Bridge was doing, that he was coming over from Salesforce, and it also piqued my interest. Speaking to the leadership team who was at HIMSS last year showed me the passion behind Bridge Connector and the mission and vision of the organization.
My new role as Director of Implementations has provided me the opportunity to basically take everything that I’ve learned over the past three years, and I get to do it again. I get to say, “When I was in your shoes, what’s something I wish somebody had told me? Watch out for these pitfalls, and do these things. I know you’re only focusing on three projects right now, but you’re going to have 100 a year later, and I want to help you think through your processes, long-term, in that way.”
Not very often in your career do you get the chance to hit “replay” and use your lessons learned. The energy and potential of the company is palpable, and I love knowing that my experience can be well-utilized to help fuel a better client experience than is occurring elsewhere. “If I knew six months ago what I know now, what would I do differently?’ I can directly impart my learnings and experiences to help grow our company to deliver unparalleled service.”
Q: Do you have a favorite quote that you like to refer to professionally?
One of my favorite quotes is from Abraham Lincoln: “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” I’m always striving for excellence. And certainly, being in my last role for over a decade, some of their cultural values and beliefs have carried over, including, “Experiences create beliefs. If you don’t want somebody to hold a certain belief, change their experience.”