The Journey: Celebrating HCIM’s Past 15 Years

HealthCare Information Management, Inc. (HCIM) is celebrating its 15-year anniversary this July and we couldn’t be prouder. How did we make it this far? Well, let me start at the beginning. Do you remember Y2K? If you do, you probably recall the widespread panic relating to all things tech due to the Y2K bug that was sure to bring every computer system to its knees on New Year’s Day in 2000. Well that’s how HCIM’s co-founders met. In 1998, Tom Streeter and Jeff Hall were brought on as consultants to work on a Y2K remediation project for a large healthcare payer organization in the SF East Bay. Once that project was completed, they were asked to join that client’s implementation team for a new managed care claims system. There they met Michael Wilson, who was the Lead Implementation/Project Manager for that effort.

After discussing how they had previously worked for consultancies that were all about the bottom line and cared more about billable hours and maximizing profits than they did about their own employees and clients, these three talented visionaries decided to join forces and start their own company with pooled resources of about a thousand dollars in seed money. They had one client and two consulting contracts between them to jumpstart their corporate dreams of creating a legacy company, built on a solid foundation of honesty, integrity, and openness. “We weren’t just going to build a company that looked good on paper so we could sell it off, as was the trend in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley at the time,” said Hall.

Their common goal was to build a well-respected consulting firm that provided implementation, reporting and other consulting services to the healthcare payer industry, with a corporate culture focused on providing a robust experience for both great employees and great customers. An integral component of that culture was to become strategic partners with clients, addressing the operational and business needs of their customers with unique and innovative solutions. That’s where HCIM’s flagship SymKey® product originated – as a solution to a problem that a client was experiencing in 2002.

Years after Wilson saw the rudimentary running of a business process automation program, he took his claims operations management experience and worked with Streeter to develop the tool he always wished he had – an automated claims processing engine that could post claim edits and automate routine manual workflows within the client’s existing claims transaction system. The SymKey® solution was a big hit and evolved through the years as it was able to fulfill the needs of HCIM’s clients in unprecedented ways. One HCIM client in particular coined the phrase “How did we ever live without SymKey®?” The co-founders are proud of how their business process automation solution has quickly become such an integral part of so many of their clients’ claims operations.

“I’ve had the great privilege of seeing SymKey® grow way beyond the original version that I programmed so many years ago,” said Streeter, HCIM’s Senior Vice President, Product Solutions. “Our current SymKey® 3.0 version is light-years ahead of where it began, thanks to our talented team of developers that continue to advance the product. I’m excited at the prospect of where we will be with SymKey® technology 5-10 years from now, as we’ll be expanding to several different claims systems, with additional modules and valuable interfaces to 3rd party systems.”

And what of HCIM’s consulting business? From that one client in 2000, HCIM has had dozens of clients, a multitude of contracts past and present, with 15-20 highly skilled consulting staff engaged at any given time. What’s the key to all that success? “We are devoted to finding the right resource and solution for a client’s specific need. We don’t just take an order…we find the right fit. If we’re not able to do that, we pass on the job because it’s not about the money – it’s about meeting the client’s needs and in the end, it’s HCIM’s name that’s on the line,” said Hall, who as HCIM’s Executive Vice President, Professional Solutions, is adamant about being physically present to introduce a new consultant to the client and then makes a point to return 6-8 weeks later to follow up face-to-face.

“We’ve developed a reputation as being experts in the field and well-resourced, choosing only the best of the best to represent our company,” said Wilson. “We never wanted to be a resume mill or a body shop. Instead, we have purposefully assembled a small group of highly talented consultants that know the business inside and out, who can provide industry best practices to our clients. That’s our recognized value in the marketplace.” And that staunch commitment to quality was recognized last year when HCIM was selected as CIOReview Magazine’s 20 Most Promising Healthcare Consulting Providers for 2014.

In the beginning, the co-founders rotated positions within the company, taking turns as President until it became evident who was best suited for each position. They all quickly found their niche, with Wilson assuming the position of President & CEO in January of 2005. Beginning in Junior High, Wilson kept the books for his father’s small business, which birthed in him an entrepreneurial spirit. He always insisted that he was not a salesman, but his claims shop management experience and passion for optimizing operations through business process automation made him the perfect fit as HCIM’s “closer.” Known by clients as “the SymKey® guy,” Wilson was the one to seal the deal until HCIM could hire a devoted Director of Sales. Now he is responsible for guiding the ship and ensuring that the vision and goals of the co-founders are achieved.

The co-founders would all agree that it’s their strong corporate culture and dedication to forming long, enduring relationships that has kept them in business for 15 years. The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009 sunk countless small business. So how did HCIM stay afloat? It was the founders’ commitment that saved the company. There was a time in 2007 that the three of them went without pay in order to keep the company solvent, pay employees, and continue providing services to their clients. There were lean times, including the latter half of 2009, when all HCIM staff took a 10% pay cut in order to make ends meet, but Wilson’s Our Iceberg Is Melting philosophy and sense of urgency enabled the founders to steady the ship and carefully proceed with an eye to the future. HCIM’s conservative fiscal approach of operating on a cash-only basis with no outstanding debt gave them the opportunity to survive where so many others couldn’t.

Wilson’s new motto is “one bull’s-eye, one bullet.” Many times you only get one shot, so you need to make it count. This year, HCIM will be completing its goal of $5 million in 5 years and Wilson foresees growth to $10 million of annual revenue in the next three years. This will involve many more consulting engagements, expanding HCIM’s products footprint by developing SymKey® on new platforms, acquiring complementary products that deliver the same value as SymKey®, leveraging strategic partnerships with claims system vendors, developing additional value-added-reseller partnerships, and continuing to hire new colleagues to manage and propel that growth.

The future is bright for HCIM, especially with the increased demand for automation and artificial intelligence technology due to pressures to reduce operating expenses from sources such as the Affordable Care Act. With life expectancy increasing and a growing number of baby boomers reaching retirement age, medical costs are skyrocketing. Business process automation and streamlined operations are the key to ensuring financial solvency.

It’s an exciting time for the company and with that success, HCIM’s co-founders are honored to be able to pay it forward to their communities. Wilson’s favorite moment of his 15 years at HCIM was last year when the entire company came together from all over the U.S. to volunteer their time at the Ozanam Inn men’s shelter in New Orleans. After the work had all been done, he had the honor of presenting the director of the shelter with a sizable donation to further their cause. “We were able to leave New Orleans better off than when we arrived,” said Wilson. “Our success as a company isn’t just measured in dollars and cents. It’s evidenced in our ability to maintain a Corporate Culture built on trust and sustained by purposeful leadership and purposeful work, with a heart to improve our communities through our charity donation matching program and Annual All-Colleague Give Back Events.”

For HCIM’s co-founders, colleagues, and customers, it has been about the journey, not the destination. And the journey’s not over yet.