CombineNet Opens a New Chapter (Part 1)

I recently spent half a day at CombineNet's headquarters in Pittsburgh to catch up with the current management team. Much of the time was spent reviewing how the company has evolved its solution strategy over the years, looking at product demonstrations (and discussing the product road-map) and talking about the recent Alta buyout/investment and management evolution. My visit was prompted by a series of e-mails, comments and phone calls between CombineNet and Spend Matters.

Based on what transpired during our conversation and the outcome, I think both sides approached the meeting in as open a manner as possible, and I believe CombineNet went the extra mile to address a number of questions and concerns I had before the visit. In the following series of posts on what CombineNet shared and my analysis of their current solution and company positioning, I hope to offer some candid and useful insight surrounding what's been a turbulent period in the company's history. This post -- and the next in the series -- are largely background reading and context. We'll get into CombineNet's solution capabilities and direction soon enough, but I think it is critical to frame the discussion up front.

In this first post, I'll focus primarily on shining some sunlight on a past scandal. I'll start by clearing the air around the CombineMed UK investigation, which, while critical in the context of government contracting/corruption and procurement, has very little to do with the current instantiation of CombineNet as well as its current leadership. Frequent Spend Matters readers might recall a series of posts and comments that began early last year and have continued recently. The posts regarded an investigation into an entity that CombineMed, a former CombineNet joint venture company, had dealings with in the UK that stands accused of potentially manipulating vendor award decisions in the UK public sector by having interests on both sides of the contracting equation. Our current and historic sources for this story come almost entirely from outside of CombineNet and feel the information we're about to share below is accurate.

Going back to the UK tendering process, in the end, CombineMed was not awarded the contract and nearly all of the parties involved in the investigation are long-gone from the vendor (including former company executives and board members who worked with UPMC's Phil Green to help set up the joint venture in the first place). Hence, even though the investigation is ongoing at the national level in the UK (where it is a criminal investigation), our cursory analysis suggests the potential outcome will have no bearing on the current CombineNet operating structure or any employees remaining at CombineNet. It appears the potential wrongdoing is most closely linked with a UK entity not currently related to CombineNet that had a conflict of interest -- and undertook questionable behavior -- in the public sector tendering process.

Hence, even though the CombineMed saga certainly is worth watching as public sector contracting analysis goes, it should have no bearing on how companies look at working with or potentially evaluating CombineNet today. If another vendor is positioning CombineNet/CombineMed FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in considering CombineNet, please discount it, or reach out to me directly and I'll go into more detail on why an evaluation decision and the investigation should not be related anymore in any way. This is a complex situation with many parties involved that would be easy to misunderstand, especially if a CombineNet competitor were spinning it to their advantage.

So where does this leave us in relation to CombineNet? With quite a bit more to talk about as background, that's where, starting with CombineNet's new executive leadership (the previous and founding CEO is no longer part of the company). We'll begin our next post in this series by highlighting a bit of history behind CombineNet's product and services evolution, including how existing customer-focused team members within the organization have stepped into new positions of leadership to take over from the old guard on the management, services and development sides of the company.

Jason Busch

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