Jeff Frey believes that his sons — both of whom are under the age of three — will never see the inside of a bank. Digital banking services will render bank storefronts obsolete before they’re old enough to have checking accounts. “It’s the same with any information,” he says. “The days of logging into a specific computer and getting a file on that computer are gone.” If he’s right, he imagines someday soon his boys will say, “You couldn’t get any information from any device anywhere? That’s odd.”
Jeff has good reason to be optimistic about the future of collaboration technology: as Director of Digital Experience at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, it is his job to usher in this vision of the future for the center. For MD Anderson, this mandate is particularly urgent. “Our goal is to cure cancer, and we actually don’t care who does it. Someone just needs to do it,” he says. One key to realizing this goal is consolidating and democratizing the vast amounts of information and research that have been done on the disease so far. That means improving collaboration not only internally, but with external research centers and care providers. Not a small task, but one Jeff is more than qualified to take on.
Jeff was “indoctrinated into CS stuff” early. His father was the CIO of an oil and gas company, and encouraged him to pursue his interest in technology at a young age. His sustained interest has paid off: after receiving his Masters in computer science, Jeff worked his way up the developer ranks, first at a company that produced nuclear propulsion units and then working with researchers at Rice University. After receiving an Executive MBA from Rice, he was hired two years ago at MD Anderson with no previous experience in healthcare, precisely because they wanted a technologist to come in and innovate.
When he arrived, the organization had little to no cloud software. Strict regulations govern healthcare, and those regulations sometimes cause organizations to feel the need to use legacy, on-premise solutions. MD Anderson is not immune to these forces, even as internal desire for technology better suited to their increasingly collaborative and mobile work environment grew. What’s more, as part of a larger network of research centers and care, they were craving solutions capable of securely enabling the external collaboration necessary to push forward the global fight against cancer.
All told, Jeff believes there are around 25 distinct audiences for healthcare providers, ranging from patients to donors, vendors to researchers, all of whom need to interact with different systems and all of whom they need to provide with a streamlined, enjoyable technological experience. “Patients should be able to see and feel and do the same things at home as they can in the doctor’s office or on their tablet,” he says. “Even in the industrial design of the wearable we hand them, the experience should be seamless and consistent.”
For MD Anderson, Box was the first real “toe in the water” for cloud technologies, and they’ve started with a few key use cases unique to their care practice. For example: care coordination for international patients. When patients come from overseas, MD Anderson deals directly with their embassy, working to arrange not only visas but billing and exchange rates. This long, involved process was originally managed by email and fax. Now, the center has Box folders for embassies all over the world, and has set up their bills to be placed in the appropriate folder, where collaboration tools like viewing logs help accounts receivable to keep track of the process. They’ve also started doing things like using Box as a backend to SharePoint to make steps towards building the seamless experience that is their mandate.
In the meantime, Jeff is still actively finding and eliminating silos where they exist, working to improve and customize the care experience for every single patient who walks through their doors. And though regulations and security can sometimes make these transitions challenging to implement, they are still a very important part of keeping data safe. These transformations are essential for the future of their organization. After all, every step MD Anderson takes to help its physicians and researchers better share and collaborate, helps them save lives.