THCB

Why Microsoft May Be the One to Watch

Dale SandersMatthew Holt: I’m talking with one of the most interesting people in healthcare, Dale Sanders who these days is the Senior Vice President for Strategy for Health Catalyst, a really fast growing data warehousing analytics company. Dale, before that, did a bunch of stuff in the Air Force, at Intermountain, was involved with starting the Health Data Warehouse Association, and even for a while running the National Health IT System in Cayman Islands

Anyway we’re here to chat about some work that Health Catalyst is doing, that you guys have been doing these webinars, very successful ones, a few months and years. You actually had a big conference last year, which you’re repeating again this year, I know, but specifically coming up on April 22nd 1 – 2 PM PST is a webinar about Microsoft.

So let me tell you my Microsoft story from HIMSS last week I was in one of the last sessions in Thursday, actually, and it was a guy named Dave Francis talking about the future of consumer health. Someone said, “I am a Microsoft guy. I work for Microsoft. They send me out to health systems and I help in dealing with technical issues. You’re talking about the future of online consumer health. The Google Health guys, they had that thing, it failed. We have Healthvault, we failed and close it down. Oh no, we didn’t officially close it, so I’m not supposed to say that, but anyway”. So that’s the kind of way people think about Microsoft and healthcare. But you’re saying not so fast. So what’s the story here?

Dale Sanders: Yeah, it’s very interesting. In this webinar, I spend the first few minutes talking about my life on Microsoft. So I’ve been an IT now for 32 years, starting out in the Air Force and now in Health Catalyst. So I put this timeline together and I put all these significant events in my life that had some relationship to some event in Microsoft. Most of the time, it’s like horrible, right? I want to poke my eyes out. My Microsoft experience as a healthcare IT guy or just an IT guy in general has been terrible, right? Security problems, backwards compatibility problems, scalability problems. But now I’m very bullish in Microsoft, so it’s kind of unusual that I’ve completely turned my opinion

Matthew Holt: Perhaps because they’re no more the evil monopoly, they’re David vs Goliath?

Dale Sanders: Yeah. Really, it’s fascinating. This webinar is about their cultural transformation as much as it is their technical transformation. It’s fascinating, and I was never a big fan of Bill Gates, never a big fan of Steve Ballmer. They’re just contrary personalities to me.

Matthew Holt: They may care less about what you think.

Dale Sanders: Yeah, exactly. They may care less about what I think. But Satya Nadella is a different person. He’s the new CEO. I mean, he’s a very different personality. I have never met him personally, but I know folks who I trust in Microsoft that worked with him from the early ‘90s up until just recently. So they speak very highly of him and you can see it in a cultural transformation. Now, all their open source technology is kind of an amazing indication of that transformation.

One of the slides that I have in the webinar is from 2001, the quote from Steve Ballmer is that Linux is a cancer. In 2014 Satya Nadella, his quote is, “Microsoft loves Linux.” So about 25% of Microsoft’s new Azure Cloud offering is actually running on Linux servers. So it’s a very different culture now, and it’s rolling into their products too, their analytics products.

Matthew Holt: Fascinating! So what’s Health Catalyst is doing on its side? how much of this stuff that you guys are using in your analytics work on top of the data warehousing that you provide?

Dale Sanders: So we’re in this transition period where relational data warehouses are kind of reaching their limits. The truth is relational databases were built for transaction process. They were never really built for analytics, but we made them work for analytics and they’ve been pretty good for analytics. But now, we’re in a level of, not only data volumes, but data velocity, where real time unstructured streaming data is a big part of the analytics future of the industry, and relational database is not just setup for that. So we’re on the downhill side of relational data warehouses in analytics for healthcare.

But yet, it’s still just a little too early for a Hadoop and NoSQL. So what’s really cool about the Microsoft strategy is they bridged those two worlds very nicely with their product that’s called Analytic Platform Services, and that’s what we’re using. So half of that platform is a traditional, but very scalable massively parallel SQL database, traditional-relational database. It works very well for a lot of use cases. But then married up against that now architecturally is a Hortonworks Hadoop NoSQL technology base and they have this product called PolyBase that makes the transition between the two very easily. You can issue a query, a SQL query through PolyBase and take advantage of all those SQL skills you have in your organization and it will query that Hadoop Hortonworks platform just like it was a relational data warehouse.

So they’ve really done an amazing job with this transition of both the skills as well as the technology and the data to the future, very cool hybrid architecture.

Matthew Holt: In terms of the webinar do you have to be highly technical to understand it or is this more for the general business audience, to bring people like me who should know better up to speed? Give me a sense of who you’re aiming these webinars at.

Dale Sanders: I think it’s most appropriate for CIOs, for sure, so the C level in that context, chief data officers, chief analytics officers, probably VPs and directors. It’s not deeply technical, but I do have a few very technical slides that a systems administrator or system engineer might find interesting, but it’s more kind of the strategy, what’s Microsoft doing culturally, why do we think that they’re turning the company around? I’d say it’s more along the strategy layer than the implementation layer.

Matthew Holt: Anything else we should know about the webinar other than just to show up?

Dale Sanders: One of the messages that I’m going to drop early on is that speaking of who should attend, one of the mantras that I am leaving behind where I get an opportunity is that business now moves at the speed of software. Like it or not, you can have great facilities, you can have great people, but if you put bad software in their hands, they’re going to be no better than the limiting factor of software.

So I’m really encouraging C levels to be a little more informed about the software that’s now running their business because all business now runs at the speed of software, and we have to make smarter decisions about the software we’re purchasing. So that’s one of the themes in this message, is that I think Microsoft is building a technology platform for analytics that you can feel comfortable running your business on and trying to educate folks about why that’s the cases.

Matthew Holt: Yes. I like to say that it’s hard to be running a technology company now, if you’re not steeped in the technology. And of course more and more of companies are becoming technology companies, including hospitals and health systems.

Matthew Holt: So thank God, I’m close to the end of my career. I think for conference companies and bloggers, so far, it’s on the edge!

Dale Sanders:Yeah, definitely.

Matthew Holt: I’ve been talking with Dale Sanders from Health Catalyst. He’ll be having a webinar, April 22nd about Microsoft Analytics, which sounds fascinating. So looking forward to seeing you there. Thanks for your time.

For additional details and to register for “Microsoft: The Waking Giant in Health Analytics and Big Data” please visit the HealthCatalyst site. This event will be held on April 22nd 1-2 PM PST.

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Dr. Tariq Drabu
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Really an interesting post. Love it.