Published in the Summer 2015 Issue of FedHealthIT Magazine. Submissions open now, click here for more information.
Some of the best interactions at conferences are the impromptu conversations that occur in the hallways between formal sessions. Here we try to capture that spirit with our interview with Fred Deese, CEO of Visual Connections, a fast-rising SDVOSB, HUBZone, Top Secret Facility Cleared and CMMI ML 3 firm. Fred, a finalist for the 2015 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of The Year award for the State of Maryland and recipient of the Bronze Stevie Award for Technology Executive of the Year, provides insight into new opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for firms supporting the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and other healthcare focused agencies.
Where do you see the single biggest opportunity at CMS in FY 2016?
“Data Analytics” Fred says. “MicroStrategy and LexisNexis have done a great job of becoming predominant players on which CMS has come to rely – sometimes together and sometimes separately.” Fred points out that CMS is still behind the curve in several areas. “There are a number of leaders in the commercial sector that can really help fill some of the gaps,” he says. “As the pain level increases, there is going to be a lot of opportunity for new solutions [in Data Analytics].” Fred also points out that “CMS has done a great job over the past decade on closing the gap of interoperability between different data warehouses and datasets. This will help CMS propel itself into better data analytics,” he says. To help facilitate this, Fred highlights the fact that CMS formed the Office of Enterprise Data and Analytics (OEDA) to oversee improvements in data collection and dissemination as the agency strives to be more transparent.
What area is Visual Connections going to focus on at CMS and other healthcare focused agencies in the rest of FY2015 and 2016?
“We have expertise in two main areas at CMS and that will continue to be our focus.The first is Section 508 compliance and the second is case management,”. he says. Fred explains that Section 508 at CMS, and at most agencies, is still misunderstood and, while it is the law, complying with it is typically an afterthought. “If they don’t build 508 requirements into the SOW and set a requirement for compliance, agencies will continue to fall behind in assuring disabled users have similar experiences as non-disabled users.” Fred says his firm’s approach is to educate the customer on Section 508 and ensure they get that language into the solicitation. “As one of a small handful of leaders at CMS in 508, this approach really increases the likelihood of our being awarded a prime contract or a major subcontractor role,” he says.
In terms of case management, Visual Connections has significant experience with the Pegasystems’ case management product. “Pegasystems has historically had one of the larger footprints at CMS, but two recent case management deals that went to IBM really changed the game,” he says. “CMS has had a lot of success with Pega in parts of the organization, but they still struggle to share these success stories with other groups across CMS.” Fred points out that CMS’s work is case-management focused. “We need to do a better job of explaining to CMS how case management relates to its every day mission.”
You have figured out how to win at CMS. What do you recommend to others who are trying to win their first contract or expand their business?
“CMS is one of the toughest agencies to break into for a small business” Fred says; “The underlying driver for our success is contracts that require CMS to meet its small business goals. The large businesses then have to reach out to partner with health information technology focused small businesses who are SDVOSB and HubZone certified.”
Fred has some thoughts and recommendations for small and large businesses looking to do business at CMS. “The mistake I see, is relying on the strategy of hiring former CMS or healthcare industry program executives to serve as business development leads, only to see that relationship fail nine to twelve months later”. Fred’s recommendation, rather than spending B&P dollars that way, it is better to, “invest in R&D and bring CMS real solutions that solve its problems and meets its needs.” As for small businesses, Fred points out that “CMS has a huge challenge in meeting their HUBZone and SDVOSB goals.” CMS has historically been very good at meeting its 8(a) goals, but they fall short in other areas. The upcoming SPARC procurement has the potential to change that, he says.
Another issue is that many of the 8(a) firms on which CMS has come to rely are graduating, Fred believes that as these companies are forced to re-certify and their contracts expire, there will be opportunities for new faces at CMS. “Hopefully some of those will be SDVOSB and HUBZone firms,” he says. ”We are out here – CMS just needs to give us the opportunity to compete.”