We talked to Sheila Talton of Gray Matter Analytics about data analytics in healthcare delivery and effects of COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sheila Talton: The pandemic has been a difficult and virtually unprecedented time for everyone, but I’ve been very fortunate that my family and I have been able to remain safe and healthy. I am very grateful for that, and I hope that we all remain vigilant during what is certain to be some difficult winter months before a vaccine begins to be distributed relatively soon.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Gray Matter Analytics.
Sheila Talton: I have spent over 35 years in technology. I started on the hardware and software side, then migrated to pure software, in particular application software. Eventually, I went into consulting and led global practices at Ernst & Young and EDS. So I’ve had experience in hardware, software, and services all around technology in over 40 different countries.
My career highlights include building the Advisory Services Consulting Practice for Cisco Systems into a global, profitable organization. Additionally, I was the first executive to build Cisco’s globalization strategy for China, Brazil, and Mexico.
What led me to found Gray Matter Analytics seven years ago was the void that I saw in the application of analytics in healthcare. Healthcare, in general, has not adopted technology as quickly as other industries. I saw an opportunity to apply advanced analytics for the improvement of quality and costs in care delivery.
How does Gray Matter Analytics innovate?
Sheila Talton: I’m really excited about the innovation happening at Gray Matter right now. We are leading a lot of innovation hand-in-hand with our customers. To ensure real progress, you should not innovate in a vacuum; this is particularly true in healthcare, which is fraught with siloes and fragmentation. Therefore, having the ability to collaborate and innovate with them is giving us proof points along the way as we’re developing solutions.
At Gray Matter, we help healthcare providers and insurers to cut costs, grow revenue, and improve health outcomes. This wouldn’t be possible without our cloud-native Analytics as a Service (AaaS) offering, which significantly amplifies value through leading-edge predictive and prescriptive analytics.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Sheila Talton: The first six to eight weeks were pretty scary from a healthcare services perspective. Initially, it slowed down the execution of our 2020 sales and operating plans. I was so proud of my team for how they handled all of the challenges that we faced. My team has grit. We put our heads down, focused on what was right in front of us, and began executing. We doubled down on maintaining client contact via Teams, Zoom and Webex, and it’s working. While it took some time and effort for us to adapt and get through the initial rough patch, the Gray Matter team has persevered.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Sheila Talton: Yes, we all made very difficult choices in our company. Like many others in the industry, we had to make some salary reductions, which lasted for about four months, and that was challenging. It speaks to the culture of our company that our team realized those salary reductions were better than having to lay people off. We wanted to protect all of our colleagues and to keep our momentum going as a team. I’m happy to report that we’ve now brought everyone back up to their salary levels pre-COVID.
In terms of lessons learned, we’ve always put a high value on in-person collaboration, and I still value it — when you can get in the conference room and use the whiteboard to scribble out new ideas, for example. But I’ve learned that we don’t have to always meet in-person to have a productive dialogue with our teams and clients. We’ve all learned how to drive innovation and collaboration without necessarily needing to be together in the same room.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Sheila Talton: I exercise pretty much every day, and that is one habit that helps a lot with stress reduction. I also happen to be fortunate enough to have two little guys in my life, who are my grandsons (aged 5 and 6 years old), and they can always make me laugh and forget about whatever is stressing me out.
How do you project yourself and Gray Matter Analytics in the future?
Sheila Talton: First and foremost, from a culture perspective, we always put the customer first and work backwards, meaning the customer is at the center of everything we do. So I project that in the future, we will continue to deliver value to our customers so that they can, in turn, deliver value to their patients and members.
Secondly, I look at the future of our company as our employees because they are key stakeholders. We will continue to expand and invest in our team, with inclusion and diversity as a top priority.
Finally, I see us growing — specifically, growing the solutions that we deliver to customers and growing our share of the market.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Sheila Talton: Analytics in and of itself is a very broad term, and even when you narrow it down to healthcare analytics, it is still very broad. A lot of our competitors are what I call “point solutions,” and we are developing our advanced analytics portfolio to be enterprise-wide, so that takes us into a different space than point-solution analytics. Then, because we offer AaaS, that’s another dimension of analytics that a lot of our competitors are not in. Either they’re delivering analytics via consulting or analytics via just software.
Lastly, I would simply say that competition is critical to success. It keeps our vision and focuses sharp. This market is big enough for all of us, and I welcome the opportunity to compete.
Your final thoughts?
Sheila Talton: Although COVID has created some challenges in touchpoints with customers, it has also created some opportunities for tech startups to become even more innovative. I’m referring not just to innovation in the solutions and services that we provide to the market, but also how we provide those to the market. We can’t be deterred when times get tough. All of us innovators should continue to look at disruption as an opportunity to improve ourselves, our companies, our industries, and our societies.