The scale of Epic Systems Corp.’s annual gathering of customers — like the perpetual construction at its headquarters here — has become a tangible symbol of one of the state’s most stunning success stories.
The event drew almost 9,000 people this year, and the company’s 11,400-seat auditorium was full on Tuesday morning for an overview on the company’s software for electronic health records and what’s ahead.
The event, which requires busing in people from hotels as far away as Wisconsin Dells, began when Epic was a much smaller company. It’s designed to let customers share ideas on how to make the best use of the company’s software.
Epic scheduled 700 sessions for this year’s event, and nine out of 10 of those sessions will be presented by customers.
“While you are here, learn a lot, have fun, make a plan and, when you go home, take action,” said Judy Faulkner, Epic’s founder and chief executive officer.
Epic, which had $1.8 billion in revenue last year, is one of the two dominant companies selling software for electronic health records. Its customers include most of the country’s prestigious medical centers.
The scale and sophistication of Epic’s software has increased almost exponentially as the company continues to add new features.
Those features can range from modules for behavioral health or long-term care, tools to engage patients and predictive analytics.
The annual event, known as the “user group meeting,” isn’t all work.
Each year’s gather has a theme, and this year’s was a tribute to classic television shows, from “I Love Lucy” to “Cheers.” And the dinner on Tuesday evening, partly held in a massive tent, was to include such activities as Retro Makeovers, Mary Tyler Moore Hat Toss and Lassie Petting Post.
During the day, Epic employees were riding “icicle tricycles” — custom-made freezers attached to bicycles — offering Drumsticks and other ice cream treats to attendees.
Attendance this year was down slightly. But last spring, Epic held its first “expert group meeting” for analysts and system experts, an event that drew 7,500.
Both are too big for a 6,400-seat auditorium that was supplemented several years ago by the larger hall, dubbed the Epicenter.
The auditoriums were built for monthly employee meetings, which were once held in a Madison movie theater. (Employees are still given popcorn and soda for the meetings.)
That was back when Epic had a few hundred employees. It now has about 9,000, and that is up from 6,500 at the end of 2013.
The company has begun work on two more clusters of buildings — its fourth and fifth — at its headquarters set amid rolling farmland south of Madison.
All are connected by underground tunnels.
The scale is impressive — and useful for events that entail feeding 9,000 people.
But it has at least one downside.
“I know people who have been here a month who say they can’t find anything,” one employee said.