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Microsoft Buying Sentillion Just for Its Health?

Doug is out today, so covering for him is Jeff Schwartz, editor at large for Redmond magazine and executive editor at RCP magazine:

The controversial health care bill seems to be progressing its way through the Senate, and while anything can still happen, it's looking like something might reach President Obama's desk after all.

So when I saw Microsoft's announcement yesterday that the company is acquiring Sentillion Inc., it served as yet another reminder of Redmond's effort's to capitalize on the need to provide technology that will provide better care and lower costs.

Microsoft this year placed a key stake in this area with the release of its Amalga Unified Intelligence System (UIS), a platform that ties together clinical, administrative and financial data from different systems. It's intended to make information available by practitioners, technicians, nurses and administrative workers. Among the 115 hospitals using it, according to Microsoft, are John Hopkins, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Novant Health and Seattle's Hospital.

What Sentillion brings to the table is single sign-on (SSO) software and technology, deployed in more than 1,000 hospitals, that provides provisioning, context management and strong authentication designed for clinical systems.

Redmond's interest in Sentillion doesn't surprise. Microsoft signed a deal to license its technology back in June. It would seem only natural that Microsoft would want to make sure Amalga has strong security and access management technology.

But could it be that Microsoft's interest in Sentillion transcends trying to bolster Amalga -- or, for that matter, its other health care offerings, including HealthVault? Or, looking even broader, could it be that Sentillion could bolster Microsoft's overall federated identity management (FIM) technology, called Windows Identity Foundation and now in test mode?

I wasn't the only one apparently thinking this. "While the emphasis on the acquisition is health care-focused, I'm sure that Microsoft will want to roll some or all of the Sentillion technology into their FIM/identity management product line eventually," wrote Jackson Shaw, senior director of product management at Quest Software, in a blog posting.

But on further reflection, Shaw later opined that while it might make sense to integrate Sentillion's technology into Microsoft's FIM stack, it raises a number of questions, perhaps most notably:

If Sentillion will be exclusively run by the Health Solutions Group, this could lead to a split identity management strategy at Microsoft and that would not be good. Imagine having to speak to the FIM sales guys about FIM and the health care sales guys about Sentillion/ESSO.

He also points out that Sentillion's technology is focused in user provisioning:

Can Microsoft afford two user provisioning solutions? Even if one is for health care only? Will FIM replace ProVision? Will Microsoft keep any of Sentillion's IDM [identity management] stack at all other than the health care-specific "context switching" stuff?

Finally, Shaw raises another interesting question:

Why did Microsoft acquire Sentillion versus leveraging FIM? I can guess at a whole bunch of reasons why this didn't happen: Time to market of a FIM-based solution for the health care people; FIM being a more general-purpose solution versus Sentillion's health care focus; or the health care people simply focusing on their market and Sentillion being a market leader was the obvious play.

This led Shaw to conclude that maybe this wasn't an identity management acquisition, but one intended to bolster Microsoft's play in health care.

Will the Sentillion technology ultimately show up in Microsoft's FIM stack down the road? What's your take? Drop me a line at jschwartz@1105media.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on December 11, 2009 at 11:53 AM


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