A modest, windowless room tucked into the basement of Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina houses the “customer contact center” that handles in-house emergency calls for the entire Fairview Health Services system.
The room’s operators sit in front of monitors staffed 24/7 that allow them to find doctors needed for emergency consultations, to direct medical teams to patients in distress and to consult directories to find out who’s on call at any particular moment.
All of the communications are done almost instantaneously.
“Every second counts,” said Amanda Souba, director of contact center operations for Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis. “The faster we can relay information to the right parties, the better job we’ll do.”
The software platforms designed for Fairview to help in its crisis communications were developed by the Eden Prairie division of a company that just renamed itself Spok (pronounced ‘‘spoke’’).
At Spok, the mantra is “it’s about second and minutes.” The goal is to whittle down response time in crisis situations, such as health care emergencies, said Brian Edds, vice president of product strategy.
For Spok’s clients, every bit of time shaved off communication with a medical professional or a first responder can mean the difference between life and death.
“Our team manages about 2 million calls a year,” said Fairview’s Souba. “Sometimes there are multiple emergencies at the same time. It can be stressful. What pops up on the screen is more than caller ID. It tells you where the call is coming from and what information is critical to relay for that particular emergency.”
Health care market
Spok’s strength is in the health care sector. More than 75 percent of its business is with hospital systems, including premier clients such as the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.
“We’re very good at critical communications,” said Spok President Colin Balmforth. “We have a physicians advisory board and we do a lot of listening.”
The company also markets its technology to other fields ranging from law enforcement, to government agencies, to hotel security.
The Eden Prairie division of Spok, formerly known as Amcom Software, was acquired by Spok’s predecessor, USA Mobility, in 2011 for $163 million. The former Amcom unit has 110 employees now and is expected to grow to 120 workers by the end of the year.
The purchase of Amcom gave USA Mobility, a wireless provider, access to Amcom’s software products that help emergency call centers quickly send personnel to the scene of a crisis. Amcom also has software products that, for instance, allow 911 operators to direct an ambulance crew to a specific room on a specific floor of a specific building — not just the general address — when trauma occurs.
Messages can be delivered individually or in combination by pager, smartphone, tablet and other Wi-Fi-connected devices.
Since its purchase, the Amcom division has seen its revenues jump nearly 20 percent. It has also grown internationally with clients in the Middle East and Australia and new market opportunities in the United Kingdom.
Earlier this month USA Mobility and Amcom changed their name to Spok.
“We wanted something fresh,” said Balmforth, former president of Amcom, who will continue to operate out of Amcom’s Eden Prairie offices. “We wanted to get everyone unified and on the same page. We chose not to use the existing brand so we dropped the USA and Amcom.”
Spok is the brainchild of Minneapolis marketing and advertising agency Gabriel deGrood Bendt, which was retained a year ago to develop the new corporate identity.
“Spok, in respect to a wheel, is a very integral part of the greater whole,” Balmforth said. “It’s about speed, mobility, reliability and strength.”
At first glance, Spok appears to be a company facing economic challenges. It reported 2013 revenue of $209.8 million, down 4.5 percent from $219.7 million in 2012. Company-provided guidance for 2014 places revenue in the range of $183 million to $201 million for the year.
However, growth is strong on the software side. Revenue from software sales, separate from wireless sales, rose from $51.3 million to $60.3 million from 2012 to 2013 and is projected to be as high as $66 million for the current year.
Looking for acquisitions
Despite the weakness in wireless revenue, the company remains profitable, debt-free and cash-positive. Its stock price has risen nearly 28 percent since Amcom was acquired in 2011.
The only securities analyst who follows Spok, Andrew Zamfotis of EVA Dimensions, has a “buy” recommendation on the stock. He did not respond to e-mails. But Spok has some marquee investors. BlackRock, the big asset manager, holds a 14 percent stake and is Spok’s largest investor.
With $91.1 million in the bank, Balmforth said, Spok is looking for acquisitions.
“We’re looking for an organization that can move the dial for us,” Balmforth said in an interview last week. “We’d love to get something yet this year, but it’s a slow process.”
With the nation’s top large hospital systems among its clients, Spok likely will seek business from smaller hospitals by offering cloud technology.
“We’re in a wonderful position with our marquee brands,” said Balmforth. “We’d like to now penetrate the midsize and small hospital markets that don’t have the IT infrastructure by offering cloud-based solutions that can be purchased out of their operating budget instead of the capital budget.”