What I learned (and this was no surprise) is that in computing terms Taiwan is all about the hardware.
Taiwanese like firm leadership above them, which Microsoft and Intel are happy to provide. Taiwanese have no idea how much power they could have if they entered the application software space.
Which makes the Cipher Lab booth (right) so special.
Cipher is not much different than other Taiwanese OEMs, in terms of what they make. The make scanners and tablet PCs, the latter under the Advantech brand.
But look closely at the booth. The sign reads “Intelligent Medical Gallery.” Inside are rooms labeled pharmacy and lab. There’s even a tiny operating theater with a mannequin on the table. And all the salesmen wear white lab coats.
Salesman Stanley Chen and engineer Jimmy Yeh show me how a bar code on a wrist can be read to provide input on patients and their medicine, and how the Advantech tablet can be used by a doctor on rounds or in an operating room.
All that is missing, I notice, is the software. I try to ask the two men how hospitals might get these solutions, how they might tie together.
It’s not the language barrier that separates us. It’s the industry barrier.
Both men return blank looks which, it turns out, is an honest answer. Because this company, like nearly all Taiwanese and Chinese OEMs, is looking to Value Added Resellers (VARs) and software companies to provide all the good stuff. They’re just making tools, like everyone else.
Even when the part is a tablet PC, in medicine, it’s not the machine. It’s just a part. The machine is the software system it works with.
Stanley and Jimmy do know one word of software, it turns out. “Windows.”
It’s a magic word at CompuTex. It means that Microsoft’s developer universe can buy your gear and add it to what they’re selling. That Advantech tablet may retail for just $500, but will probably cost the hospital which buys it $4,000 or more, after the VAR and the software “solution provider” take their cuts.
If companies like CipherLab can provide full health IT solutions, whether by buying U.S. software companies or taking a dominant role in partner relations, it will hurt our health IT industry a lot. It could be devastating.
But it will help our patients even more, by dramatically lowering the cost of care.
Booths like that of CipherLab are the first steps along on a long road.