Call it the technology paradox: The more interconnected and complicated the back end is, the more important it is that the front end be simple and intuitive.
The middle is, therefore, a demanding place. But Sage Technology Solutions is thriving there.
"I've been with the company since 2001," says Jim Van Fossen, general manager of the Mount Joy-based company. "We've kind of quadrupled in volume since then."
According to Business Journal records, Sage had 46 full-time employees and revenue of $11.8 million in 2012.
The company has been in Mount Joy since 1993. President Daniel L. Rohrer says he started the office, which was then a branch of a D.C.-based company, in his guest room. It moved to a permanent location — formerly an automotive testing facility — which then had to be expanded as the workforce consistently grew by a couple of employees each year.
These days, the parking lot is full and the building is packed out with cubicles, assembly and parts areas. The walls are liberally adorned with certifications. Many of the seats, however, are empty.
"Most of the time they're not here," Rohrer says of the engineers. Systems integration can be a long process, sometimes finishing only years after an institution first starts exploring its options, and it requires a lot of on-site assessment, modeling, installation and training. Engineers tend to become fixtures at the site of major projects.
Given those dynamics, relationships are a key part of Sage's business model. The business is family oriented, Rohrer says, both in that team members get along really well with each other and that they like to be home at night.
"We try not to go real far, where there would be lots of overtime or overnights away from home," he says. That effectively defines Central Pennsylvania as the company's market. However, Sage has recently begun offering consulting services, via teleconferencing, outside its geographic area.
The Central Pennsylvania market is a great one, according to Rohrer.
"It's steady. It may not be boom town, but it hasn't been bust either. It tends to be conservative. People think and are thoughtful before they act," he says. "We do a lot of institutional work, and they're just really good people to work with."
Rohrer does sense budget constraints. There are technologies ready to be deployed in both education and health care that he thinks will have a positive impact, but right now "there's a lot of uncertainty and hesitation to spend, because of the uncertainty in Washington and state budgets."
However, that doesn't mean Sage is playing to a reluctant market.
"People know what they want, or at least what they want to accomplish," Rohrer says. "They may not know how best to do that, and they're already making the case for the budget behind it. Often they're coming to us and saying, 'I know this is what we want to do. I don't know how. How can we do this?'"
In the beginning, Sage clients were mostly schools. Today, education is still a mainstay for Sage, but health care is about 50 percent of its business and growing.
"For K-12, we did paging and clock systems, telephone systems, security cameras, access control, perimeter security, sound reinforcement systems for auditoriums and gymnasiums, video delivery systems," Rohrer says.
There were also media management systems that allowed users to pull information that was centrally located in the media center, he says, and they're a good example of how educational technology is moving into health care.
"The patient would interact with this through the pillow speaker," he says, demonstrating.
Tied into a patient's electronic health records, the program can customize the TV screen's welcome message for the age of the patient; include the names and photos of the patient's doctors and nurses; and include educational material relevant to the patient's condition. For example, there might be a short video about heart disease that ends with an interactive quiz.
"We know how much of the video they watched, we know whether they watched it and didn't answer the questions at the end of it," Rohrer says. "Or, if they've answered the questions, they've gotten three out of five wrong."
Sage also does quite a bit of work in nurse call systems. Looking forward, says Mark Lizambri, senior sales engineer of health care solutions, the continued evolution of telemedicine, systems to aid aging in place and similar technologies will likely become opportunities for Sage as hospitals increasingly assume responsibility for patients' health.
Given that Sage prides itself on the development and integration of multiple systems, Rohrer says, finding qualified employees has been and likely will continue to be a challenge.
"It's very rare to find someone who's directly in our field," he says. "Usually, it's a closely related field and then a lot of training."