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HIStalk Interviews Aaron Kaufman, VP, Kony Solutions

April 29, 2011 Interviews No Comments

Aaron Kaufman is vice president, healthcare and life sciences solutions, of Kony Solutions of Orlando, FL. 

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Give me some brief background about yourself and about Kony Solutions.

I’m GM and vice president of the healthcare division of Kony Solutions. I come from 15 years of healthcare expertise in health information technology. I was previously the chief technology officer for Cardinal Health’s specialty division. Prior to that, I was the vice president of Infomax Development, which is like the CTO over at US Oncology. Before that, I was running a fund tranche as well as some activities in healthcare information technology activities for Patrick Soon-Shiong out in Los Angeles. He started a company called Abraxis Bioscience and I helped out with that and a couple of other initiatives that he had going.

Kony Healthcare is about six months old. Kony as a company was started in 2007 by a gentleman by the name of Raj Koneru. He saw an opportunity, a mixed bag of issues in mobile in general. He eventually realized there was some continuing expansion and divergence in the mobile space. As mobile platforms keep arising, new operating systems keep getting deployed. Companies go into this maintenance spin that gets them into a point where they’re not releasing new features or functionalities, but having to keep up with their application and not focusing on the features and functionalities that their applications should be focused on. 

He eventually identified this problem and solved it with this concept of a mobile platform solution. The Kony platform is several things. It’s a studio, it’s a server. We have some vertical apps in the healthcare market space and several of the other spaces too, but really that studio and server are there to help you develop apps that are truly future-proof for changes in healthcare, whether a new device comes out, a new operating system comes out, or a change to an operating system happens.

I’m interested in the Write Once, Run Everywhere approach. Companies trying to get mobile apps out quickly focus mostly on the iPhone and iPad and ignore significant devices like the BlackBerry and Android. Is that the wrong approach and if so, how do you help them avoid it?

All the companies that we talk to are trying to get an application out the door. They see it’s going to take developers and a specific code base to get an application out the door, whether it’s doing Objective C, C++, or doing Java development for Android. That’s all fine and dandy, but you only hit about 50% of the marketplace at max with those two platforms. If you want to hit the consumers, the broad base of consumers, you’ve got to get to more platforms, like BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Phone 7. Those kind of devices are covered on our platform. 

But it’s not just getting the app out to market, it’s maintaining it as well. Not only are you doing yourself an injustice by releasing under a small group of platforms for your opportunity in the marketplace, but actually creating a maintenance nightmare and a cost nightmare for having a team of five to ten people per app, per platform in place just to get an app out the door and maintain it. Again, like I said earlier, in order to maintain this app, you’re going to be focusing mostly on the changes in mobile and not your app’s features and functionalities for your business needs as time evolves.

Are you finding that companies, especially in healthcare, are saying, “Hey, you can get to our Web page on a mobile device, so we’re good to go?”

I think the companies that we’re talking to and the ones we generate interest from organically or internally or approached us have all seen the need to have a native application, mostly because of the user experience. The users are looking in an app store before they typically go out and search the Web to find whether or not a site is mobile enabled. If they find a mobile-enabled site, they’re realizing the functionality doesn’t really fit the size and screen of smart phone capabilities and they want to fully leverage their smart phone capabilities with its GPS, accelerometer, camera … there’s all sorts of nice features that you can leverage through the native experience.

With HTML 5 coming out and the specs being really loose, there’s still an unclear roadmap on how HTML 5 will be able to affect the broad base of all the smart phones that are out there. Everybody calls for different standards, like what happened with in general with mobile in the back and HTML 4 coming out in the past. It’s an evolution that is to come eventually, but we still feel like there’s always going to be some divergence in least common denominator with the HTML 5 spec that the browsers are going to implement. I still feel native applications are the way to go.

Obviously our platform does all native applications as well as mobile web as well as SMS, Facebook, Twitter integration, etc. But again, our healthcare clients and our customers that are coming to us are really, truly interested in native applications first and then secondarily being able to use the same application and Write Once, Run Everywhere concept to deploy their mobile application.

Describe Kony Mobile Healthcare and who’s using it and what they’re using it for.

In the healthcare space, because we’re about six months into it, our healthcare customers are finding us as a competitive advantage, so I’m unable to share our client list. We’re basically in 45 top global 500 company brands that are out there. We’re working with some of the largest payer and provider organizations in the healthcare in general and some very, very large HIT companies that have long tail and short tail.

Since you can’t name specific healthcare customers, who is your target audience and what are the possibilities of using Kony Mobile Healthcare?

I think the keys are the three Ps: the payers, the health plans; pharmaceutical companies; and the providers themselves through the HIT vendors. We’re not going to go after each individual provider. We’re going to try to capture those guys through the HIT vendors. That’s our key focus.

We’re really multi-sector, multi-domain in healthcare. Several verticals inside of healthcare, obviously. We’re also focusing on the distribution logistics companies as well. There’s really nothing in healthcare that we’re leaving out that’s consumer facing as well as provider facing.

How would a vendor use your solution?

They would leverage our platform, our IDE and server, to develop an application that can exhibit the true mobile use cases for their application in the best fashion possible. Obviously we do a lot of human factor engineering to our healthcare expertise here to help them guide and mold and shape their application to fit the mobile environment.

We actually have a third offering outside of the studio and server, which are our vertical apps. By vertical app, I mean applications that are specific solution accelerators for the healthcare segment. For example, you have a starter application, a solution accelerator application, for the payer space that has the key features like find a doc, locate a pharmacy, being able to do a prescription refill, senior benefits, senior co-pay, senior deductibles, stuff like that.

From your experience in other industries, what opportunities do you see in healthcare to leverage mobile device technology and your tools?

There’s a lot of buzz around location-specific services, where you physically are at the time of care being needed — an urgent care center needs to be found, being able to use your GPS to find out where you are and which care center is closest, what the wait time might be, and possibly even how far away or the hours of operation. Then also helping with disease management, the concept around where you are, all the workflow and situational-based concepts that that exist, whether it’s retail like your at the Walmart or some retail store trying to but a product and you use RedLaser to take a picture so  you can see if you’re actually getting a good deal.

We hope to see that kind of use case also in healthcare, and leverage mobile application shopping and shopping carts that we’ve done for the airlines, as well as for working with the retail companies that we’re working with. Maybe you’re wanting to buy durable medical equipment while in your payer app, your health plan, and you want to see what you’re benefits are and associated with your payments on actually purchasing something through the store. 

It’s almost like a mash-up  concept. There’s a lot of that going on as well in the other spaces. We can mash up some healthcare functionality that’s not just specifically related to your benefit, but maybe actually helps you procure, whether it’s a durable medical device or a pharmacy prescription benefit, etc.

Walgreens seems to be the healthcare poster child, with a suite of mobile products that really changed the dynamic of how retail pharmacy works. Is anyone coming to you and using them as an example they want to emulate?

Some of our PBMs are asking us for features like that. Being able to take a picture of UPC code and implementing that into your PHR, saying “I’m taking this over-the-counter medicine,” being able to do stuff like that. Also taking a picture of your current prescription through a brick and mortar and possibly converting that to a mail order drug because it will see cost benefit savings that way.

Are hospitals being aggressive in their use of mobile technology, or are they happy with offering ED wait times and facility directions? Will some push the envelope to interact with consumers and physicians?

We’re definitely getting buzz around the larger healthcare provider systems out there, like the ones that have 700-plus beds. Some of the smaller guys are pinging us through their HIT vendors, so some of the HIT vendors are getting notices from their smaller hospital systems and are getting up to us what they heard about Kony is doing in the healthcare space and how they might interested in acquiring some of the technology use cases and accelerators that we have. But for the most part, the large providers are the ones creating demand, which is I guess what’s really been driving HIT for the longest time.

As someone who’s seen the mobile evolution in other industries, where do you see this ending up in a few years in healthcare?

I see all the features that are being used in the other industries hopefully being used in healthcare. Key ones, like social media. Being able to be a part of some discussion groups that are characterized around your disease type, where apps are not just miniature apps that solve a specific need, where apps are more portal-like, like the Facebooks of the world, where you can do multiple functions. Things that are out there in other industries, such as being able to a product and what store that product’s at and what the cheapest way is to get that. That’s some of the stuff that we hope to see in healthcare.

The biggest concept for me that I see really playing out is how the ones with all the cash — which is the payers, the health plans, the pharma companies — are going to leverage mobile. We see the pharma creating media brand apps today to educate patients around the drugs that they’re taking or drugs that they could be taking. We see payers helping their members find a physician, maybe lowering some of their healthcare costs by recommending pharmacy benefits management or disease management.

All these things put together can create pretty interesting concepts in the way a lot of the technologies are coming together with service-oriented architecture and open APIs. If HIT truly delivers its value and starts to open up the ability to place orders in to EMRs remotely and with proper audit logs and all the laws and security mechanisms in place, there could be a pretty interesting app being created. Many of our companies who we’re working with can all work together to create an app that’s the best for the patient, whether it’s managing their current health or their current diet, knowing what they bought at the grocery store, linking in the customer loyalty cards into their healthcare and knowing what their diets look like, and just overall management. As the ACOs continue to evolve, there’s some interesting disease management, population management use cases that could come out from mobile leveraging, social leveraging the entity around a patient, not just specific things that a patient would deal with when they’re sick.

Have you seen in other industries where where the concepts of mobile, such as the app store and better usability, have pushed back into mainstream IT and changed the expectations for how applications should look and work?

Absolutely. That demand in the marketplace, like consumerism, is hitting even the providers, who are expecting certain things to happen on their iPads when they’re at a hospital. Being able to refill a prescription, being able to communicate with their patients, e-mail, all that integrated secure messaging. It’s really interesting to see some of the requests that are coming from the providers as well as the consumers are expecting functionality around their medical viewpoints and the whole device, and that pressure is going to continue to come as consumers get more and more averse to using some of these other industry apps.

Any concluding thoughts?

Our Write Once, Run Everywhere platform in the healthcare space really helps healthcare organizations, whether you’re a plan, whether you’re a provider, whether you’re an HIT company, whether you’re a distribution and logistics company, to leverage the costs. If you’re going to go out and develop an app, we’re an enterprise app development solution for mobile. We don’t just create the app, we actually service the app. We have lots of back-end analytics, etc.

There’s lots of things to look at when you’re trying to pick a platform or even develop a mobile application. The enterprise approach is typically a company approach. We’re not two guys in a garage trying to build an app. We are building enterprise class apps that you can manage, monitor, see how you’re usually using the app, has analytics behind it, you can understand what changes you might need to make to the app.

We’re able to build seven of the operating systems out there. You have Apple, you got Android, you got Blackberry, you got Windows Phone 7, Symbian, etc. We also have eight form factors on the mobile device. Every smart browser renders things differently. We render on those 6,500 different devices for mobile Web and that’s coming from one code base. We also have SMS-MMS services that will offer two-way applications, so if a patient doesn’t have a full-featured phone, they could request information through SMS, through a short code or through a phone number, that returns back data to them. We also have integration with social media, Facebook, and Twitter. We also have Windows presentation framework which allows us to do Windows Kiosk applications from the same code base. And then we focus obviously on all the tablets.

Where no one comes close to competing with us is that within 30 days of release of a new operating system version to the developer community, we will have all those features with deprecations, etc. all covered under our platform. Ninety days after a brand new device comes to market, for example a Playbook, we’re also able to get that under wraps and our Write Once, Run Everywhere platform. You’re able to easily use your app and deploy your app into that app store. When Windows Phone 7 came out, we were one of the first, if not the first, to launch our enterprise apps that we developed for our customers into the Windows Phone 7 app store.

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