By Heather Seftel-Kirk, FedHealthIT Contributing Author
Axis Consultant Group: A successful move from small business to 8(a) status to prime
Two years ago, Axis Consultant Group received its SBA certified 8(a) Small Disadvantaged Company designation. The work didn’t just start then, however, and it hasn’t slowed down. Recently, we spoke with Wardell Waters, President and CEO, about the company’s history, relationships and its move to 8(a) status, to uncover his insights, lessons learned, and what keeps him awake at night.
Waters’ background, before and since Axis, has been as a developer, senior consultant and technical lead. He has partnered with key institutions across the country including Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, West Virginia University, and Detroit Medical Center. Key deliverables have included systems design, architecture, and software applications across a variety of functions. Axis was one of several partners involved on the VA’s My Healthevet Blue Button project, is experienced in MUMP/ Cache/ Ensemble Development and Out-sourcing Coordination, and has worked with DoD and CMS.
Axis Consultant Group recently entered into a joint venture with Visual Connections LLC to form Visual Axis. The pairing recently scored a 1-year $4M task as a Medical Review Contractor in support of CMS.
A foot in the door at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Waters says though they had done work with CMS before, getting in as a prime proved challenging. “We had a background in medical record review and billing, backed by a strong health IT background but it took persistence, tenacity, and constantly pushing and focusing on the goal to get here.”
That same perseverance was required for the company to earn its 8(a) status. Waters says though they have been certified for two years now, the work actually began a full two years before that. “A lot of people get into the space and don’t know how to use it, don’t have the teaming partners or relationships in place to maximize the designation. I had been given advice that basically said, wait, don’t rush, be sure you’re ready to participate before you make the move, and we did.”
Waters notes that current and coming IDIQs will give small business a fighting chance. Those who want to get in, are ready to work hard, and who are well prepared and understand the industry, will get the advantage.
Under its recent CMS contract, they will be completing valuations on medical records to determine correct billing, identifying trends to determine correct diagnosis, and other business intelligence analysis tasks. These, says Waters, will help with business decisions, focus, planning and will ensure the best use of resources to maximize dollar value.
How do you define Success?
This opportunity is the epitome of success, according to Waters, who defines success as the ability to really show his company’s benefit to clients, to help a client achieve their goals. “I can bring the best people to the table and know that I have done my job well, but the client has to know that we have served them and how we have provided them with a benefit.”
“One of the greatest challenges we face, and where we achieve some of our greatest successes, is in refining and honing the client’s statement task. Once we start down a road it can be hard to turn back. That means, before we start, we use tiger teams to maximize the experience of all the individuals gathered there. That means we make sure the client tells us everything they want, that we understand the outcome they want to see, and who they need to please.”
Lessons learned so far as an 8(a)
As a small company, Waters says it is key be out there, meeting people, marketing yourself, and making connections. “I had a mentor who told me that you have to have human relationships and partnerships in order to succeed in this space.”
He says there are so many components within most contracts, it is also important to understand that no company, like no man, is an island. “Partnership is key. Remember, it’s better to have 20% of something than 100% of nothing.”
Other key lessons include quality over quantity in building a team, and the importance of patience and perseverance. “It took me a while to learn to take the emotion out of the equation, and to learn to document everything. At the end of the day, you can’t stay with people who undermine you, regardless of who they are. I’ve seen a lot of situations go bad as companies grew and they held on to people that weren’t part of the team they needed.”
Waters says he’s had many doors slammed in his face in the past but through relationships and joint venture opportunities, through growing the company with expertise, and honing and refining specialties, and through hard work, they are seeing results. “People often don’t want to give small businesses a chance but we’ve found that working hard, not going home until a problem is resolved and the client is happy, is key.”
What keeps you up at night?
“As with any small business owner, waiting on contract decisions gives me insomnia. Owning your own business isn’t about doing what you want. I find I’m more subservient now than ever before, ensuring human resources are taken care of, that the financials are in order, that our proposals are accurate.”
Waters says he tells people who are considering their own business that they have to really want it and that means “being the first one in, and the last to go home. It means not being in it for the money, and being willing to do the work whether there is any money there at all.”
Wardell Waters is a native New Yorker who has spent the past 30 years in the IT field. He received his undergraduate degree at Morgan State University and completed his graduate work at Johns Hopkins University. While focusing on healthcare IT, he worked at some of the largest and well known institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, University of Maryland, Georgetown University, University of Pennsylvania, West Virginia University, University of California at San Diego and San Francisco and Detroit Medical to name a few. During this time, he worked with everything from system conversions to implementation as well as operations and application design within the Oncology, Pharmacy, Medical Billing and Hemiparesis departments.
Throughout his career he recognized that providing top quality innovative IT solutions would require top quality people with exceptional experience. With this in mind, he sought to create a company with core values of integrity and outstanding experience and professionalism that would provide superior service to all of its clients.
In 2008, Wardell founded Axis Consultant Group LLC (Axis). Axis is a SBA Certified 8a Minority Owned Disadvantage small business headquarters in Owings Mills, Maryland. Clients of Axis with clients in government, healthcare and technology and private sectors. Axis specializes in providing customized application development, open source technology, robust web-based applications, program management, and technical staffing solutions to the US government, healthcare and technology institutions and private sector clients.
The goal and mission of Axis is to provide optimal technologies and an outstanding level of support that enhance the systems and processes of its clients. They strive to deliver measurable, high quality and cost-effective results according to stakeholder requirements. To achieve these goals, the Axis Team comprises senior-level IT and business professionals as well as project managers that are certified and well accredited.
Currently, Axis has past performance with the Department of Defense, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Depart of Veterans Affairs.