At Spok, crisis communications is 'about minutes and seconds'

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2014 - 6:38 PM

Communications software company develops technology to whittle down response times in crisis situations.

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Colin Balmforth is president of Spok Inc., which until this month was called Amcom Software. “We wanted something fresh,” he said of the change.

Photo: Jerry Holt • jerry.holt@startribune.com,

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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.

Name change

Earlier this month USA Mobility and Amcom changed their name to Spok.

  • related content

  • Beth Mena-Carrion, a customer service representative, talked with a client from Fairview Southdale Hospital. Fairview uses communications software designed by Amcom Software, now called Spok.

  • Jerrica Green, a customer service representative, talked with clients at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina. Fairview uses communications software designed by Spok.

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