Archive for the ‘Madison Magazine’ category

The Epic Epoch, Cont’d

March 10, 2021

Ya got me. I haven’t updated my story archive in the longest time. But a Wisconsin State Journal story detailing Epic employee unrest related to equity and diversity got me off my keister.

For the October 2020 issue of Madison Magazine, I examined the staff unrest at the Verona-based Electronic Health Record behemoth and considered what the future might hold for Dane County’s largest private employer. You can read the story here. Here’ what I concluded:

I did not speak to a single health care source who felt Epic’s EHR dominance was in danger now or in the immediate future or even 10 years from now.

Epic’s bond with its clients is just too strong. And even if there are unhappy campers, dumping Epic would mean repudiating a huge investment. The Kaiser Permanente consortium spent a reported $4 billion implementing Epic’s software. The Mayo Clinic got in for $1.5 billion. The Duke University Health System for $700 million. Eight- and nine-figure acquisition fees are common for Epic clients.

How do you walk away from that? Especially when no other EHR vendor offers a major hospital “50 different modules for 50 different departments” as good as Epic’s, as Bluetree’s Schwach told me.

Well, it could happen if you follow John Neis’ worried thinking: Failure is an option.

Neis, who has been doing early-stage health care investing since the mid-1980s, quietly argues that Epic is not invulnerable. He says the core problem remains: EHRs are an imperfect solution. Doctors find them “soul crushing.” This dysfunction haunts health care.

“The cost of leaving Epic for something else is enormous,” Neis acknowledges. But “switching does happen.” And sometimes outright revolutions happen in technology, too. Seared in Neis’ memory is a long-ago conversation in Rochester, New York, with a clueless Kodak executive who confidently told him that digital photography would never replace film.

Neis argues that a tech company with unlimited resources could blow up the existing EHR model and build a far better one. He feels “the Three As” — Amazon, Apple and Alphabet’s Google, all well practiced in disrupting entrenched industries — are the most likely Epic challengers.

Could they afford to spend a billion or two devising a “leapfrog” EHR that both pleases doctors and improves their diagnostic skills with data-crunched insights? We both laugh at the absurdity of the question; $2 billion is coffee money for the tech giants.

“The challengers would need to spend serious money,” he says. “It can’t be just for some incremental improvement. It has to be a huge leap forward in both data analysis to help guide the physician to the right decisions and secondly to greatly improve the software’s interface with the physician.”

At this point, Neis offers — practically in a stage whisper over the phone — an unexpected fourth candidate for disrupting the existing EHR hegemony: the Epic team itself. No one is better situated to lead the transformation, he says. They know the customer better than anybody. They understand what the problems are. They get how complex the solution needs to be. And because Epic is private, it doesn’t have to worry about Wall Street freaking out over a bad quarter or two.

Neis’ advice: “Epic should figure out the transformation before someone else does.”

Will the post-Faulkner Epic be agile enough to reimagine its business?

That’s the cosmic question. Northwestern’s Jennifer Pendergast, who directs the John L. Ward Center for Family Enterprises at Kellogg School of Management, knows little about Epic’s operation but is very familiar with strong-willed founders like Faulkner.

“Are they kidding themselves to think they can control the future from the grave? Yes. Often to great detriment,” she says. “The goal is to be flexible, resilient, to be able to pivot given the current environment. What you want is an organization that has the capacity to think and adjust on its own.”

As for an organization that is tightly fit to its market, Pendergast says it “will be really successful until the business environment changes. And then you’ve got a problem.”

Now For Something Entirely Different

June 29, 2013

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If I lived an alternative life in journalism, garden writer could be it. This piece in Madison Magazine concerns one of my favorite flowers. It begins:

 I have a penchant for advocating lost causes: Miles Davis’s electric period, Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, horseradish Havarti cheese. But none more disdained than ditch lilies.

These are the orange daylilies—formally called Hemerocallis fulva but also known as tiger, roadside or tawny lilies—that you see happily blooming in mid-July in just about every yard in Madison’s older neighborhoods. The experts snicker.

Oh, you might as well wear white shoes after Labor Day or extol the virtues of two-buck chuck wine as grow ditch lilies. They are the Rodney Dangerfield of landscaping: They get no respect. You can’t buy them at garden centers. Glorious Olbrich Gardens doesn’t even display them. Worse, they’re branded with the plague label.

Invasive species!

To read more, please go here: 

Gov. Walker At One Year

January 7, 2012

Madison Magazine was nice enough to ask  me to write an assessment of Gov. Scott Walker’s first year in office. Here’s how it begins:

On Nov. 19, 1955, the modern age of conservatism began with young Bill Buckley publishing the first issue of his new magazine, National Review. Famously, Buckley said in the mission statement that the magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop” to the liberalism that had dominated American government for the first half of the twentieth century.

Almost fifty-five years later, inspired by the same beliefs as Buckley, Gov. Scott Walker stood athwart Wisconsin history and yelled Stop to a century’s worth of progressive policies, as he announced his plans to break Wisconsin’s public employee unions as a way to rein in government spending.

The move ignited a cataclysm of protests that remain unabated today. And they helped frame the three paradoxes that mark Scott Walker’s tumultuous first year in office.

Go figure…

  • For years, Scott Walker had been a likable and gifted politician—a conservative rock star who could convince Democrats to vote for him for three terms as county executive of decidedly liberal Milwaukee County. Yet today, after pursuing a political agenda that is either remarkably courageous or spectacularly suicidal (maybe both!), the affable Walker finds himself dangerously underwater in the polls, disliked by most Wisconsinites and blamed for the state’s political turmoil.
  • Even if Walker is ignominiously recalled from office in 2012, he seems certain to be judged by historians as a transformative governor who changed the political DNA of Wisconsin. In short, public employee unionism will never be the same after Scott Walker, even if liberals sweep to power at the Capitol.
  • Walker is an unabashed pro-business governor who has proved surprisingly inept on key development issues. Bereft of savvy business advice in his inner circle, this corporate cheerleader fumbled the crucial venture capital issue, wasting months, and seems prisoner of a simplistic eighties-style of economic thinking. Meanwhile, his brash pledge to oversee creation of 250,000 jobs in his first term could be the petard on which his own political career is blown up.

Make no mistake: the paradoxical Mr. Walker is difficult to explain. The old Kris Kristofferson line —“He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction”—comes to mind.

Count me among the people who underestimated Walker….

To read more, please go here.

I also asked a cross-section of  Madisonians to offer their advice to the governor. Here’s what they had to say.

Former UW-Madison Chancellor had more to say than most people, and  this is it.

I’ll Have What She’s Having

July 24, 2011

Here’s something different–a story about the most delicious peach in the world. It begins:

When approaching a ripe donut peach, one must temper lust with mindful restraint. First, assume a wide stance, slightly flexing your knees to maintain balance. Then gently grasp the saucer-shaped fruit with your thumb and middle finger, careful not to squeeze too tightly. Thrust your head forward, eyes closed, chin out, mouth open and prepare to swoon.

That first bite will release a wave of sugary goodness slobbering down your chin and, you hope, not on your Tommy Bahama camp shirt or Eileen Fisher cami. Spritzing is always a danger. Envious friends and family who have leaned in to take a close look may get a sudden jet of peach juice to the face.

They too may fall to the ground, writhing in pleasure.

“It’s a fruit you would have expected in the Garden of Eden,” says a close friend who shall remain nameless to protect her professional  reputation. “It’s fleshy and practically obscene with sticky sweet, dripping juices. If I were Eve, I would have tempted Adam with a donut peach.”

Psst. I can get you some….

Tempted?  To read more, go here.  Among other things, you’ll learn  that, according to Daoist mythology,  a single bite of a donut peach can bring immortality.

I’ll Drink To That

March 19, 2011

This Madison Magazine piece was fun to write–an encomium to Restaurant Magnus mixed with New Urbanist reflections on the making of  great urban spaces. The story begins:

Apparently I’ve lived too long. I’ve outlasted another bar, and at my age that’s trouble. Like true love, a good bar calls for a lifelong relationship. But Restaurant Magnus, after a thirteen-year run on East Wilson Street, has died and left me befuddled like some widowed geezer. Me, date again?The always comfortable Harmony covers my east-side needs. But I’m in search of a new downtown hangout. Will it be Johnny Delmonico’s? Capitol Chophouse? Sardine? Genna’s? The soon-to-be-open Tempest Oyster Bar? Or Natt Spil? I don’t know, I just don’t know.

What I do know is this: As a freelance writer I need a Magnus-like place to meet sources. I spend most of the day in sweatpants, torn T-shirts and bunny slippers staring at a computer screen and working the phone in my daughter’s old bedroom (my office!).

To read more about drinking, hanging out and journalism, please go here.

Something different

March 23, 2010

Ah, yes, I like a well-prepared drink. Here’s my Madison Magazine piece on the art of the twist, including some cocktail history from the marvelous mixology chronicler David Wondrich.

Madison’s lakefront dreams

July 28, 2009

Funny how long some stories gestate. This Madison Magazine piece on the city’s  long-sought connection of the Capitol Square to Lake Monona goes back more than 25 years. Back then, while I was at Isthmus,  I edited several insightful cover pieces on downtown planning by a fine writer named Bruce Webendorfer who tied together the visionary plans of John Nolen, Wesley Peters and others to improve  the city’s lake access. That history stuck with me over the years.

The drafting of an updated downtown plan seemed like an excellent time to point out how lakefront access has bedeviled the city for 100 years. Time and again, Madison has fumbled historic opportunities to capitalize on its extraordinary assets as a lake city.  This story for Madison Magazine allowed me to highlight the new plans to make Law Park a destination for visitors, downtown residents and boaters.

As you’ll read,  there’s a lot of history here. But curiously enough, the real object lies 110 miles to the east at  Chicago’s Millennium Park.


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