Profile: InterSystems Demonstrates the Benefits of Good Health
Delivering an application platform and database to vertical markets such as health care has propelled InterSystems to a long history of revenue growth.
- By Peter Varhol
Sometimes you are so focused on the big names in the industry that you fail to recognize smaller, but successful, players whose products might be just what you're looking for. InterSystems Corporation is one of these players. Its Caché database offers a unique blend of both object and relational models, and its experience in health care and other services industries has enabled the company to deliver value specific to those types of businesses.
"Probably 80 percent of our business comes from the health-care industry," explained InterSystems Vice-President of Strategic Planning Paul Grabscheid, who has been an executive at the company since 1986. "Most of the rest is in financial services and telecommunications." These types of customers have enabled InterSystems to grow steadily while keeping pace with the latest technological advances.
InterSystems was founded in 1978 by Phillip T. (Terry) Ragon. Ragon had sold his interest in another company focused on IT for the health-care industry—the company that became IDX Systems and was recently acquired by GE for $1.2 billion. Because of his interest in health care, Ragon's new company, InterSystems, also focused on this industry, although it provided generic features for other types of applications as well.
According to Grabscheid, the company has had a remarkable run of steady growth over the past two decades. "In 1985," he pointed out, "we had 35 employees, and sales of $4 million dollars. In 1997, we had sales of $40 million. Today, we have 530 employees, and sales of over $200 million." This success attests to the staying power of the technology, as well as the focus of management on steady incremental growth.
The company remains private, and Ragon isn't in a hurry to go public or cash out of the business. Grabscheid explained that Ragon remains an active executive manager and is happy with both his role in the company and the income it produces. As long as the company continues growing and satisfying its core customers, management appears content to take the steady route of gradual expansion.
Technology Focus and Products
InterSystems makes a database and application development platform for building high-quality and high-performing applications in selected vertical industries. In many vertical industries, companies acquire or build specific and customized systems, rather than mass-market applications, so their choice of an application platform is considerably more open.
InterSystems sells its tools to a small group of application partners (equivalent to Microsoft's Independent Software Vendors). These application partners tend to be specialists in the field in which they sell, and they also have a functional understanding of technology. They make up for any lack of formal training in software development with a dedication to producing the best applications for their market. Because of InterSystems' heritage in the health-care industry, application partners targeting this market feel comfortable with InterSystems technology and how it can be used to build applications.
Caché is an exceptionally interesting product from a technical standpoint. First released in 1997, it is normally accessed as an object-oriented database. You can use it to create database objects and populate those objects through a one-to-one relationship between code objects and database objects. Alternatively, you can use SQL access to database objects, using a SQL-mapping scheme and object-relational mapping provided by the database.
InterSystems also produces an integration framework called Ensemble. Ensemble enables you to extend applications with a browser-based UI, adaptable workflow, rules-based business processes, executive dashboards, and more, while also connecting people, processes, and systems.
Jalapeño was introduced in 2006 and provides you with a way to use plain old Java objects (POJOs) with Caché so that the POJOs persist automatically. Once you define a Java class and derive objects from a class, Caché automatically creates database objects corresponding to the class. This provides two significant advantages. First, you don't need to understand how to create objects in the database. Second, you get a direct mapping between programmatic objects and database objects, so you don't need to be concerned with constructing SQL statements or mapping from an object structure to a relational one.
Late in 2006 InterSystems also introduced Zen, a framework for dynamic Web applications that enables behavior similar to AJAX. Zen provides scripting support for Web applications built with InterSystems technology to provide for a rich user experience.
Next Steps for Health Care and InterSystems
The successful relationship between InterSystems and the health-care industry inspired the company's beginnings, with Ragon's prior experience at IDX Systems. This longtime relationship also serves to define the company's future strategy.
InterSystems' HealthShare product is an information sharing platform for the health-care industry. HealthShare consists of a set of features, including adapters for disparate health-care systems, security and privacy features, consent management, patient identification, and consistent terminology. It enables both application developers and systems integrators to build and integrate large-scale health-care information systems across different providers and geographic regions.
Grabscheid sees the integration of health-care information to be a pressing need in the coming years. He said, "Doctors' offices, hospitals, specialists, and insurers don't speak the same language, and use different and often-incompatible systems. And they are not likely to do so in the near future. The only hope of making information available when and where it is needed is through comprehensive integration of both applications and data."
Grabscheid also described how trends in health care are driving this integration. He said, "Health-care services are increasingly being outsourced. For example, there used to be at least one clinical lab in every city, and couriers picked up samples at each hospital and office every evening to take to those labs. Today, and increasingly in the future, there will be only a few labs, and the courier is being replace by overnight package delivery services. That has significant implications to how patient information is received and made available."
InterSystems is taking a leadership role in defining the applications and information in the health-care industry, and how they are controlled. Health care has unique requirements regarding such functions as security, access, and data management, and InterSystems has the historical perspective to provide future solutions that meet these requirements.
InterSystems Corporation World Headquarters
One Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02142
Peter Varhol is the executive editor,
reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software
developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees
in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university