Akimeka consolidated more than 10 million records from hundreds of military organizations — into one user-friendly database.
It doesn’t take much prodding to get Vaughn Vasconcellos to reenact his most memorable fishing expedition. Casually inquire about the striking, lacquered objet d’art in his office. Then, Vasconcellos will give you a play-by-play of the two hours (and numerous calluses) that landed him the 184-pound marlin whose two-foot snout now sits atop his desk like a trophy.
That particular trip marked his first attempt at reeling in anything larger than an ulua, Vasconcellos insists. But so far, catching the big fish hasn’t proven much of a problem for the president of Akimeka LLC, a Hawaii-based information technology and management small business.
Last October, Akimeka was awarded a multimillion-dollar contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to streamline and maintain its Joint Medical Asset Repository (JMAR) database, a 5-year-old project that provides real-time tracking of all of the department’s medical assets. Facilities from Naval ships, military hospitals, warehouses and bases around the globe have saved lives by accessing that information in time-critical situations.
The project is one of several for Akimeka, which has already earned a reputation for developing health care information technology since its founding in 1997.
“Let’s say you’re in Japan, and you need AB-negative blood, you can go into JMAR and do a query looking for that blood type in facilities around the world,” says Cmdr. Dave Stratton, JMAR’s program manager. “It could be as local as the next military hospital, or it could be Korea, Guam or even San Diego. With that data updated almost hourly, JMAR saves time and money in making arrangements to transfer supplies where and when you need them — and there are a lot of examples of that.”
The need for a comprehensive database of the military’s blood, equipment and pharmaceutical supplies became apparent during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In that two-year period, time and pharmaceuticals were often wasted when units ordered supplies that were already available at nearby sites.
“We had a lot of material in theater, but there wasn’t any good visibility as to what was there,” says Stratton, who is based in Fort Detrick, Md., where the JMAR project is managed by the Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support System (DMLSS) Program Office. “As a result of that, the military services got together and decided they needed to come up with something, some Web-based project to increase the visibility of their assets.”
JMAR was launched in 1997. Last year, Akimeka was enlisted to consolidate more than 10 million records — from hundreds of military organizations using 30 different types of systems — into one user-friendly database.
But U.S. troops aren’t the only benefactors of this initiative. In case of an emergency or catastrophe, the system can track down supplies in nearby facilities to assist in rescue efforts.
“It all came to light after Sept. 11 last year, when blood was in short supply,” Vasconcellos says. “Not only does the system apply for system subscribers in active duty or combat, it has that rescue component, as well. Since Sept. 11, there’s been a 200 percent increase in the number of queries because of the awareness of this system.”
The system provides information to more than 250 registered users, Stratton says. All data is stored on a classified server at the Maui High Performance Computing Center, one of the world’s top supercomputers.
“JMAR will always be a vibrant, data-gathering system to collect information from all the systems out there providing us with files,” Stratton says. “And at DMLSS, we manage the file, evaluate and cleanse it, and use that data to develop our own queries so people can pull out the information they’re looking for. And they can splice the data a million different ways.”
The nonstop evolution of the JMAR project not only ensures continued work for Akimeka, it provides a long-term source of employment, economic stimulation and national prominence for Maui. Helping to develop the county’s high-technology industry has long been a priority for Vasconcellos, who grew up on Hawaiian Homelands on Molokai.
“We’re proud of the system we’re helping to develop for JMAR,” he says. “This project is intended to provide a permanent entity here on Maui.”
A graduate of Kamehameha Schools, Vasconcellos earned his engineering degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and his master’s of business administration in strategy from Northeastern University. For 15 years, he served in the Army, retiring as a major in 1992 before beginning his business career.
Akimeka’s ability to garner federal contracts is boosted by its certification under the U.S. Small Business Administration 8(a) program. That program offers various benefits to small businesses that qualify as socially and economically disadvantaged. Akimeka is one of 23 Native Hawaiian-owned 8(a) companies in the state.
“First and foremost, a small percentage of federal requirements are set aside for only 8(a) companies to compete for, and this allows companies like Akimeka to compete on a level playing field against other small companies of similar size and capabilities,” Vasconcellos says. “Second, most large federal procurements require large companies to subcontract with 8(a) businesses, hence providing opportunities for 8(a) firms to form business relationships with large defense contractors.”
Akimeka’s 2001 revenues were $4.5 million. Vasconcellos expects to close out this year with $6 million. Revenues from the JMAR contract for fiscal year 2002 are around $3.6 million.
Although most of Akimeka’s revenues come from federal contracts, the company has explored commercial waters, as well. This year, the company rolls out the second phase of a paperless patient-record system developed for the Mobile Care Health Project. That 5-year-old program is a medical and dental heath system for underserved populations in the Big Island. Through the use of fully equipped and staffed roaming vans, the joint project between the Catholic Church in Hawaii and St. Francis Healthcare System provides affordable and accessible health care.
Since Mobile Care’s inception, the number of serviced locations has grown from three to 10.
“Because the serviced population was growing, we couldn’t store all of our patients’ records in the vans and we were having to warehouse records,” says Project Director Kaye Lundberg. “And since our patients could come to any of our locations, I guess you can the see the problem we were having.”
Enter Akimeka in 2000. That year, the company installed the Web-Based Telemedicine Solution (WBTS) for the project, an application that stores dental and medical data and images in a centralized server. WBTS allows roaming vans and community health centers to access patients’ records from any computer with Internet access.
“Say I have a dentist coming in from Oahu for just one day, and I have a patient that lives in Kau and I (the health care provider) live in Hilo,” Lundberg says. “So the patient calls me and says he needs follow-up care after having dental working done. I can contact the dentist — who can view the X-rays and patient records without having to get any paperwork in the mail — and she can consult with the patient and add post-supplementary notes to the record, without having to write anything on paper.”
The Mobile Care Health Project — funded by individuals, foundations, and private corporations like HMSA and Hawaii Dental Services — does not have access to high-speed Internet access on the Big Island.
But Lundberg says the nonprofit program manages fine with standard phone landlines.
“As far as electronic transmittals, we’re pleased with the system Akimeka was able to design for us because it met our unique needs,” Lundberg says. “This is one of the reasons we chose a local company even though we got bids from Mainland companies. Not only did we want to keep the dollars in the technology industry here, we knew that Akimeka would give us good personal service even after the software was installed.”
Vasconcellos is quick to credit his 27 employees for his young company’s achievements. Akimeka’s honors also include receiving the Technology Agency Award from Government Computer News in 1999. In 2000, Vasconcellos was recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration as its Entrepreneur of the Year for Hawaii.
With the solid reputation Akimeka has built in just the past five years, Vasconcellos doesn’t doubt his company’s ability to net future contracts.
Vasconcellos says, “Akimeka is committed to being a good community partner and providing educational and employment opportunities for Hawaii residents.”