As a corporate leader running a highly profitable company within a $10 billion global health enterprise, Rebecca Kaul seems to have it all.
Kaul is the president of the Technology Development Center (TDC) at UPMC—four-years-old this year—leading a team of more than 140 software engineers, web developers, designers and healthcare professionals. Another 53 people will be hired this year.
With Kaul at the helm, TDC has become a lucrative aspect of UPMC’s business, creating innovative technology solutions for the healthcare provider not only at home, but for other providers across the country and around the world.
Kaul has been instrumental in the creation of the TDC and in guiding the health behemoth in its aggressive approach in this area. Spinning off new healthcare technologies is her business. Last year, InformationWeek Healthcare ranked her one of the top 20 health IT leaders driving change nationally in the industry.
And Hospital and Health Networks has named UPMC the “Most Wired” hospital in the country for 15 years running.
When UPMC can’t find off-the-shelf technology—like HealthTrak—to meet its needs, it turns to Kaul and TDC. Often this means forming joint ventures with other vendors like Nuance or investing in and working with startup companies in the space.
One example is Convergence, a mobile application for a tablet that gives doctors a quick and easily understood view of patient health data pulled from multiple information systems.
Another is a telemedicine platform called Virtual Care Collaboration, a system that brings doctors and patients together through secure video conferences while providing access to medical records.
“Rebecca is a strategic thinker and has the ability to drive a large development center for us in Pittsburgh, establishing us as a national and global IT company,” says Dan Drawbaugh, chief information officer of UPMC.
So how did Kaul emerge as the leader of this ambitious endeavor?
Growing up in Hampton, Kaul attended public school and Shadyside Academy. She has multiple degrees including an MBA from NYU and several degrees from CMU—a Master’s of Information Systems Management, a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a double major in Engineering and Public Policy.
When she was an undergrad, she had planned to go into the engineering side of sciences and medicine. “Then I went to grad school and was drawn into technology and innovation. I was always more interested in the innovation side of health care,” Kaul says.
She married and worked in the financial division of Ernst and Young in New York City during and after her MBA, but Pittsburgh called her home. The job at UPMC came at the right time, she says. It was work she had always wanted to do.
Then ALife Hospitals came along. Kaul ran a joint venture with the health system and UPMC, helping to develop a hospital coding product that was so powerful and successful that UPMC subsequently sold it for a major profit.
“In 18 months we doubled our money on the investment,” she says. “The notion was if you could do that with ALife, could you do that on a larger scale building a portfolio.”
After the birth of her second child, Kaul returned to UPMC and was put in charge of duplicating that success through the creation of TDC. “I was employee number one,” she says. “I was asked to build a plan.”
Initially the strategy was on the low-risk curve she says. With success in its sails, TDC is shifting its model and looking more toward reward and risk in making direct investments in companies. The division delivers more value than is spent in terms of cost as of 2014.
On this particular day, the window-lit office of TDC is humming with young children who are here as part of Take Your Child to Work day. Kaul cuts a cool rather than corporate picture, clad in a bright tee, fleece vest and ankle boots. Then again, this is Bakery Square. Google Pittsburgh’s offices are just above.
The Fox Chapel resident and wife and mother of two talks about her role at TDC and the balance she seeks in her life.
Is it true TDC is one of the most profitable organizations within UPMC?
What I would say is we are the commercialization arm for IT. UPMC is looking toward a strategy where we’d like to take the things we’re developing in IT and turn them into alternative sources of revenue. If you are going to develop something that’s sufficiently innovative, you should be able to take it to market. At TDC, that is our charge. Instead of saying the most profitable, I would say we are a group that’s charged with driving that mission for IT.