This interview with Ed Simcox, former HHS CTO and now Chief Strategy Officer at LifeOmic looks at the perceptions that impede innovation within the Federal Government, the opportunities Government can take advantage of to connect with the private sector, including some lesser-known tools, and what the future requires.
The Perception Barrier
There is both fear and respect that exists when it comes to how private industry views the Federal Government. It can be hard for people to understand what is in the mind of Government from a policy and regulatory side. Since Healthcare is such a heavily regulated industry, the private sector can view Government as opaque and to fear interaction and collaboration.
Look at FedRAMP as an example. As a cloud-based technology provider, FedRAMP is an absolute necessity if you hope to deal with the Government but it takes time and money and effort, and many small companies fear diving in or simply can’t justify the cost.
Fear is Unnecessary
During my time with HHS, I came to understand that within Government there are incredibly smart, inspirational leaders, real entrepreneurs with inquisitive minds who are interested in interacting with the private sector, of bridging that perceived chasm.
It was clear to me that both sides were interested in interacting but that interaction needs to be very intentional, very structured and deliberate but it can be done.
It is absolutely crucial for Government to engage citizens, constituents and companies to learn more about what is needed and what is available. Innovation, by and large, happens more often, and more readily in the private sector than in Government. And often, that innovation doesn’t crossover into Government until it has firmly taken hold in the private sector, until there are evidence and use-cases that can cut through the bureaucratic processes and language. We must find and create opportunities to shorten that time to value.
What Industry and Government Needs to Get Started
It is of the utmost importance for startups looking to work in the public sector that they ensure they have an understanding of policy and how it drives decisions, how policy can impact ongoing work.
From the Government view, there must be intentional outreach, deliberate and planned engagement with the private sector that creates an open dialogue, and open sharing of ideas. People will say that the bureaucracy of Government makes it slow and uninterested in interaction but that is not necessarily the case. Regardless, interaction must be transparent and deliberate.
When the private sector understands the policy side, and opportunities for engagement are created, we open the door to helping Government better understand so that those creating the policy and regulations can use a language that is informed, that considers both the technology and the processes by which that technology evolves.
Tools Government has to Connect with Industry
There are a number of tools available to Government to interact with industry in an agile way. It is important for both sides to understand the options at their disposal. Although there are a few tools that may be agency specific, there are a few that are more widely available.
We developed a start-up outreach program called HHS Startup Day to interact with the private sector and provide clear information on how to best interact with Government, how to ask questions, how to engage with the regulatory process… All of these tips created both insight and confidence, and that combination is important for industry to be able to reach out and share what they have with Government.
There are other tools as well within Government including a series of legislation passed by Congress focused on promoting innovation. It is the responsibility of larger agencies, such as HHS, to provide outreach around this legislation, both within subagencies and to the private sector.
Positions such as Innovators in Residence and Entrepreneurs in Residence, provide an opportunity for industry leaders to experience a tour of duty within agencies, to cross-pollinate, bringing their innovation inside of Government and gaining a better understanding of policies and processes that can help both sides move more quickly.
There is also something called a Collaborative Agreement which unfortunately seems to be a well-kept secret. These are similar to grant or prize competitions except that Government needs to substantially participate in the project. This is a unique opportunity for Government and the private sector to sit together and to work side by side instead of working at arm’s length as is the case with grants.
When I was with HHS, I was always looking for ways to support data liberation and data sharing across our agencies so that it could be combined and analyzed to solve problems. To do this we need to focus on three things: people, process, and technology, in that order. People that look after data must feel comfortable sharing data for secondary use; processes must be automated, logged, and made available for audit and retrospective analysis. If people and processes are cared for, the technology, i.e. – modern data sharing and analytics platforms, will be successful in putting data to use to solve our most pressing Healthcare problems.
I also began to understand that wellness plays a big role in recovery from a breadth of illnesses, chronic and otherwise, including cancer recovery. The opportunity to look at wellness indicators, to be able to enable and empower people to make better choices around their overall wellness is game changing to the future of Healthcare.
LifeOmic is the software company that leverages cloud, machine learning and mobile devices to power precision health and wellness solutions. The company’s cloud-based software securely aggregates, stores and analyzes patient data to accelerate the development and delivery of precision health treatments, disease management and disease prevention. LifeOmic’s enterprise product portfolio consists of the Precision Health Cloud, a cloud-based repository of all patient data such as a basic profile, whole genome sequences, gene expression levels, lab results, and medical images. Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Indianapolis, LifeOmic was created by serial entrepreneur Don Brown and boasts a team of highly experienced engineers, scientists and security specialists.
About Ed Simcox
Ed Simcox is the Chief Strategy Officer of LifeOmic. Prior to joining LifeOmic, Ed served as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) where he led efforts at HHS to effectively leverage data, technology and innovation to improve the lives of the American people and the performance of the Department’s 29 agencies and offices. While CTO, he also served as Acting Chief Information Officer at HHS, where he oversaw the Department’s IT modernization efforts, IT operations and cybersecurity.