This is the third in a new series of Q&A articles where we interview healthcare industry trailblazers who brought their talent and experience to Innovaccer to help our customers accelerate innovation and digital transformation.
Mike Sutten joined Innovaccer after an impressive career that’s spanned several industries, including the U.S. government. His groundbreaking work at Kaiser Permanente resulted in significant improvements in integrating healthcare data, and was the springboard to his role as the “CIO whisperer” in healthcare IT (more on that later).
We corralled Mike to learn how and why data has been the common fabric woven throughout his career, from tracking terrorists (you read that right) to working with IT customers to show them how Innovaccer can solve their interoperability problems.
I’m a self-proclaimed data nerd. I’ve been in the data industry for my entire career. I got into it straight out of college in the days before database management systems had even been built. We built our own DBMSs in those early days.
I started working in IT-type roles in different industries. I worked in the oil and gas industry and the cruise industry. Then I got into working in the counterterrorism business with the CIA. No matter what industry, the function is the same. It’s about getting the data right and making it usable for the business folks to run their business.
I’ve had varied roles in management. I’ve been a CIO a couple of times and a CTO more than a couple of times. I prefer to keep the engineering label on me. I’ve been getting more involved in other things, but I like to keep my hands on the technology.
I went to work for the CIA because I wanted to help our country. Terrorism was a big threat to the country, and I wanted to do what I could do to help. I was fortunate that my skills were helpful in that particular area. I have similar feelings about healthcare. As a proud American, I find it sad that our health system is what it is. I wanted to do what I could to help, so I joined the largest healthcare system in the U.S. at that time.
That was Kaiser Permanente, and it had a business model that was quite innovative. They fought the status quo thinking in healthcare, and I thought I could help shift and move the healthcare industry using my background in data. At Kaiser Permanente, we made significant improvements in the way people interact with healthcare.
Now, Innovaccer can do even more. A vendor like us can be more effective in transforming the healthcare industry. We have the right people, and it’s time for us to take advantage of these data management capabilities and take them into health systems, payers, and life sciences. I’m here for the cause.
Early on at Innovaccer, I was called “the CIO whisperer.” We were selling to chief medical officers and population health officers. As our customers got bigger, we needed to work with IT because at large health systems, no one can buy any system without IT approval. Many folks in IT are concerned about integration, standards and shared capabilities of an enterprise.
I work with them to show how Innovaccer helps solve their interoperability problem as much as we solve the end user’s problem. My role as CTO is to help customers understand how we fit into their environment, architecture, and enterprise.
I’m a team of one, but I’m in the chief medical office. We’re the department of gray beards or old fellows that have been around the block a few times. I just happen to be the technology guy in that group. We can help plot our future, where we think our products need to go, where the organization needs to go, and which markets are best for us right now.
I’m tightly coupled with the sales folks and help them when they meet with IT teams, CIOs, chief data officers, analytics folks, and people like that. I also work with the architecture team when we get into details of how we map into a client’s architecture or help solve their technical problems. I also provide advice to product managers as we plot the future to keep growing.
It varies from action-packed meeting days to relationship-building days. Some days, I have Zoom calls from morning until night. Most are with customers or used to prepare for customer meetings. Other times, I have in-person meetings. I may travel to have breakfast with a potential customer, then fly right back home in time for a wine-tasting event that I’m having with another group of prospective customers. Life is rough, isn’t it?
My favorite days are those when we get into the deep dive technical reviews with prospects. We may have meetings that last a couple of hours with customers, architects, and data engineers. I love showing off our capabilities and our products to those folks. I also have big red-letter days. I had a meeting the other day with a large health system. We were doing the things that brought me into healthcare. We were plotting a better way to provide data and care in new and creative ways.
We haven’t lost sight of the customer. When companies get big and have many internal processes and bureaucracies, they sometimes lose sight of why they are there. I think that’s what’s fabulous about us. We’re here to make our customers heroes.
I think that because we’re showing progress in this super interesting technical space, we’re able to attract a lot of fabulous talent. I love working with the folks at Innovaccer—they’re super smart and motivated. We can get things done in an incredibly fast fashion. I worked for the government, a large health system, and a huge oil company. None of them could ever be as nimble as we are.
The problem we’re solving in the healthcare industry is an important and fundamental shift in the U.S. healthcare system, and it’s fun to be involved as a technologist. There is no topic more exciting today than how to curate, manage, and normalize data. Then there’s also the fact that it’s clinical, which makes the complexity factor go up by 10. I think it’s both fun and important work.
I think it’s great for people’s careers to be part of an incredibly influential organization that’s focused on the future of healthcare. I think for a young person, Innovaccer is a fabulous star on your resume. You can certainly have a great career here at Innovaccer. It’s a feather in everybody’s hat to be here, based on what we've already accomplished. But it’s going to be even more significant in the future.
I have to say a significant landmark was being part of the team that found a wanted terrorist. That’s a big one that was incredibly data-driven and technology-oriented. I think that was fabulous.
Another was being one of the pioneers when the cloud became available. I’ve implemented large enterprises on both Azure and Amazon Web Services. It may seem simple, but it’s quite a feat when you think about how large these organizations are and how long it takes to move a ship like that.
I’ve never worked in sales before. So the fact that someone my age was able to adapt and learn from our founders and go to market teams is one of the things I’m proud of. You just can’t help but get excited by the fact that we’ve had a lot of big wins and that I’ve been part of those go-to-market teams and sales teams. Historically, I’ve been that IT guy in the basement writing code. It’s fun being on the front-end of the business, and it’s certainly new to me.
I have been fortunate to be mentored by many wonderful people. One of my very early mentors was a guy named George Andert. He helped me understand that you’re the same person in and out of work. You bring yourself to work. George emphasized the things important in life: build friendships, nurture relationships, listen, continue to listen, and stay curious.
As a young man, it was important for me to understand my values and how those values lined up with the companies I belonged to. I’ve seen people who are one person at work and then another at home. George helped me understand that you need to bring yourself to your job. To do that, you need to spend the time to figure out who you are and what excites you.
After that, climbing the corporate ladder didn’t seem as important to me. I’m an engineer first. I’ve turned down what people might consider bigger jobs that had a higher rank or more pay, but that's not what makes me satisfied.
Thanks to George, that lesson has kept me doing what I enjoy. I’ve been working for more than 40 years, and I haven’t been bored for one second of that time.