Visual Advance Systems
Amy Every, Josh Vance and Ted Morahan.
Three high school friends. In 1993, they became partners in a
business that has consistently doubled in size every year for
the last three---and they're still friends. Furthermore, Josh
and Amy are husband and wife and recently became parents for the
The company is Visual Advance Systems Technology (VasTech), a
provider of staff scheduling software for a variety of industries,
primarily within health care. VasTech's core product is "Nightingale,"
an integrated system developed for nurses but recently discovered
to be applicable to the hospitality and event management industries
as well. Ironically, a gambling casino that operates 24 hours
a day has the same type of scheduling and staffing needs as a
hospital. "It's making sure that people fairly rotate from one
job to another and matching the skills and requirements of the
people to the skills and requirements of the shifts they need
to fill," says Josh. "What we have found---it's kind of an advantage
in the marketplace---[is that] if you can do nursing, you can
do anything. But the converse is not actually true at all. Nurses
are the most challenging group so far."
Josh, the founder of the company, has a background in engineering,
computer science and business, with masters degrees in business
administration and electrical engineering. VasTech began as a
moonlighting, shoestring operation out of his garage while he
was working for a defense contractor.
Ted's background is all related to business. His undergraduate
degree is in management and marketing, and his masters is in business
administration. He worked in banking directly out of college and
then for KPMG Consulting, where he performed systems, technical
and financial consulting. He also has experience with numerous
software applications and programming languages. In addition,
Ted is a School of Nursing faculty associate at the University
Amy's degrees are in health care administration and nursing. "Usually,
people start in nursing and then get a management or business
degree," she says. "I did the reverse, which was actually a very
interesting approach because I had sort of a business focus going
into a clinical setting, which was different from most people."
While working as a clinical nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Amy
saw how they were doing scheduling, how time consuming and frustrating
it was, not only for management but for the staff as well. Josh
had done physician scheduling for Duke University Medical Center
and had said to himself, "There's got to be a better way to do
this," and, says Amy, "it truly started that simply. We took it
from there in terms of taking some sketch ideas to IT people at
Hopkins and using them for alpha and beta testing. I think that's
part of our success, having the direct connection between the
users, the clinicians and the development people."
Of VasTech's 15 employees, five are nurses. "We all try to keep
some clinical element," says Amy. "My background was in intensive
care and oncology, so I might work once a month or a weekend once
every three weeks." This way, the nurses are able to stay up to
date with what is happening in the field.
Another registered nurse, Nancy Zimmerman, is also on the management
team. She and Amy are primarily responsible for all implementations.
The fifth member is Joe Matassa who brings a sales and marketing
background to the table and serves as VasTech's marketing director.
In the beginning, the group did software development for several
businesses here in Annapolis to bring in needed revenue. "Without
that," says Ted, "we would have been in a lot of trouble." Josh
notes that they were approached by an outside investor but resisted
the temptation to go the way of the dot coms. "We're happy now,"
says Josh. "We don't have to answer to anybody."
With the Internet as their only sales representative, VasTech's
second health care customer came to them from Dublin, Ireland.
Due to their success with Mater Misericordiae, the second largest
hospital in Ireland, Ted says, "We were international, basically,
before we were national."
Interestingly, VasTech's software was used by Special Olympics
Summer Games in June of this year, also in Dublin. "The planning
for that event started two years ago," says Josh. "They have approximately
30,000 volunteers that they schedule across hundreds of venues
throughout the city and country. They needed software that could
manage those volunteers and put them in the right venues at the
right time. Then they used the Nightingale system to schedule
people within shifts in each one of those venues.
"The challenge was to develop something powerful, flexible, and
easy to use," says Amy. "For the staff, it's all of those things.
Via the web, they can actually put in their request for the dates
they want to work, the days they want off, etc. Our system then
takes all of that into consideration with the needs of the unit
and automates the process to fill all the holes. That automation
actually has a patent pending." Amy estimates that automated scheduling
takes about 70 percent less time than manual scheduling. And with
the time they have saved, nurses can return to the bedside. "The
nurses' focus is supposed to be on managing patients," says Amy.
"They are not IT experts."
About 20 percent of client training is now done at VasTech's Annapolis
headquarters in Eastport. Mid-level managers come to town for
a two- to three- day course. They, in turn, go back and train
their staff in about 15 minutes. "Given the location of our office,
it's a perfect place to bring clients," says Amy. "They want to
do their training on the water, go out to lunch at Davis' Pub,
see the Naval Academy and other historic sites. Work can be very
stressful, but we have the atmosphere---and you can bring your
dog to work."
VasTech is growing at 100 to 150 percent a year, and the members
of the management team believe they need to find a smarter way
to manage that growth than each of them working 70 to 80 hours
a week. "I guess our long-term goal is to take a vacation," says
Amy, who is technically on maternity leave and recalls Josh's
cell phone ringing 10 or 15 times in the labor room of the hospital.
"We're getting closer. This year was a little bit easier than
last year. We might let Ted take off for his honeymoon."
The bottom line? "You can be successful in business without the
90s model of going out and getting a million dollars in venture
capital money," says Josh. "You can start with an idea and you
can put the product before the marketing and still succeed. It's
common sense business."
Callaghan is a freelance writer and native Marylander who
enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren.