Versus Technology Doesn’t Need to Develop RFID in Northern Michigan, But Wouldn’t Dream of Doing it Anywhere Else

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

Versus Technology is located at the base of the pinky on Michigan’s mitten, where Lake Michigan laps its tongue into the shining waters of the Grand Traverse Bay. Versus develops products that track patients, staff, and equipment for hospitals across the country, so it does not really need to be at this inconveniently located corner of the Great Lakes State.

But. Damn. It’s so beautiful up there. So, there is no place the 50 employees of Versus would rather live and work than Traverse City, MI.

If you look at major technology centers like Silicon Valley, Austin, or Research Triangle Park, says Versus CTO HT Snowday, “the thing that they have most in common is that they are really great places to live.” So, yes, travel expenses are greater than if Versus were in a major metropolitan area in the center of the country. Nevertheless, Snowday says, “We’re not going anywhere.”

More about the company’s Northern Michigan location later. First, let’s talk about what Versus does. In general, it uses radio frequency identification (RFID) and infrared (IR) tags on people and objects, along with sensors placed throughout a healthcare facility, to track, in real-time, exactly where everything in that facility is. Think of it as “GPS inside a building” with no false positives, says Snowday. “When Versus says something’s in a room, or someone’s in a room, they are there. There’s no doubt about it,” he says.

But that’s just the base, Snowday says. The real point of Versus’ system is to bring process automation to healthcare. Take, for example, the auto industry, where the Toyota production model, or lean manufacturing, is the goal. Those systems work because everything can be documented all the way down the assembly line. Transfer that to a hospital setting, and that’s where Versus comes in. Once you know where exactly everything, and everybody, is at any time, you can then begin to streamline the process.

Let’s say a doctor needs to spend 7.5 minutes with each patient. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it’s hard to pull off if the doctor needs to see 30 or 40 patients in a day. The biggest problem, Snowday says, is a doctor interacting with a patient at the wrong time. If a doctor pops into a room before vitals are taken or other prerequisites done, it’s a waste of time.

With the Versus system, he says, “you know exactly where every patient is, exactly when they’ve checked in, where they are in the process, and who needs to be seen next by a doctor, regardless of what order they came in the building.”

The system really makes a difference for hospital administrators, who can save money, and hospital staff, who are no longer required to enter data into a system because it’s entered automatically for them through their RFID badges. The attitude among nurses and clinicians, Snowday says, is not that it’s an intrusion, but that “you can have my badge when you tear it from my cold, dead fingers. This helps me with my day, makes me more efficient, and helps make sure I get to go home at 5 instead of 8.”

One of Versus’ many dealers is Farmington Hills, MI-based Dynamic Computer, which sells the RFID system to hospitals and clinics to ensure hand-washing compliance. A sensor in the soap dispenser can tell whether a worker has washed his or her hands. Sounds Big Brother-ish, but hospital-acquired infections are a huge problem right now, costing the industry a lot of money. Better hand hygiene is a simple way to attack it.

Whether it’s for specific tasks like hand washing or more general process tracking, Snowday says, Versus’ systems are installed in more than 500 hospitals across the country.

Which brings us back to Traverse City. Why is Versus located in this out-of-the-way resort town in Northern Michigan, when its customers are scattered far and wide? It’s about quality of life, Snowday says. Traverse City is an all-seasons kind of place with water sports in the summer, snow sports in the winter, and a good school system in a small-town atmosphere. “The cost to the company by being here as opposed to somewhere else is not huge and the benefits by being in a place that’s a great place to live for folks that work here, I think, outweigh that.”

Traverse City is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a technology hub. But Snowday doesn’t see why it cannot become one. He mentions a couple of other tech-oriented companies in the city: VOIP provider Appia Communications and eFulfillment Service, which helps ecommerce merchants fulfill orders. “Those guys aren’t doing business in Traverse City,” Snowday says. “I mean, they’re just here because they like to be here.”

Right now, area tech companies are starting to talk to one another at the “cup of coffee” level. But, he predicts, as more tech companies discover Northern Michigan, those coffee discussions will turn into real talks about what Traverse City can do for them—especially when it comes to infrastructure and resources like more choices for wireless and 3G connectivity.

“We’re just starting,” says Snowday. “But I’m very much into championing this concept of Traverse City as a technology center.”