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.
What would you most like people to know about your work at UPMC?
We’re transforming healthcare through innovative technology. What’s exciting about it is at TDC, we have an opportunity to make a difference. To impact people’s lives. We get to innovate, we also get to commercialize, but we also develop a technology that can save people’s lives, or at least keep them comfortable and well.
Tell us about some of the products currently in the pipeline.
There’s a huge opportunity in innovation now that healthcare has a new mandate (through Obamacare). We’re trying to lower costs and increase quality in a meaningful way. We’re creating it as a market opportunity to drive that. Convergence is one of those poster child projects that’s trying to drive better outcomes and better care.
We also are developing consumer engagement initiatives that address the ways we interact with our customers. We have Anywhere Care where you can have a 24-7 virtual care visit that makes things more convenient for patients. We have initiatives where we’re doing more analytics on patients that are pretty exciting that are classifying people in a more effective and standardized way.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
What keeps me up at night is there is so much we can do technologically, but how do we drive adoption? Everything a doctor has learned in medical school can be turned on its head these days. That’s really hard to swallow. The thing that keeps me up at night is how do we get people to change with the technology as we become more sophisticated? How do we bring people along with it?
What’s it like working at Bakery Square?
I love Bakery Square. It’s critical to recruiting good people. It’s critical to creating a culture of innovation. It’s an innovative hub. It’s near CMU. There’s lots of innovative companies in the area and it’s close to hotels and restaurants. It’s a really great atmosphere. I honestly don’t think we would be as successful if we weren’t in this space.
What’s your Lean In advice to other women working for large companies and corporations today?
For me as a woman, my struggles have more to do with what goes on inside of me. I don’t find there to be any glass ceiling at UPMC. The top 50 percent of management at UPMC are women. The days where there might be limitations for women are over. The barriers are within me. The struggle I face in wanting to spend more time with my kids.
What do you find yourself doing in Pittsburgh?
Spending time with my kids! I have a four and seven year old. We love the parks and swimming pools. What I love about Pittsburgh is that in terms of children, it’s a great place to be.
What are you reading these days?
I just finished reading all three of the Divergent Series. I like books around social experiments. I’m also reading Inferno and the fourth book of the Da Vinci series.
What is the working culture like at TDC?
Many people who work here are young, just starting out with young families. We have family picnics, blood drives. We’re very committed to doing those kinds of things.
We bring lots of high schools through the office, allow students to spend the day here and teach them about what we’re doing. It’s a unique experience. We’re not a startup. We still live within the bounds of UPMC. That said, we have a subculture here. We wear jeans to work. It’s an open and innovative environment.
Does that mean you have giant hammock swings here too?
When I think about Google, they have a lot of perks and beautiful facilities. I don’t view us as competitive, but we are in the same category. We attract a different demographic here. What energizes us isn’t just cool technology. People come here because they’re energized by the stories of the patients.
The other differentiator is we’re all about families and growing career paths. Google leaderships and strategic thinking is out of California. The strategic thinking for UPMC is happening here. We’re looking for mature leaders who will grow on a career path. It is a hub of innovation.
I won’t deny we haven’t lost people to Google. We’ve also hired people from Google. We recruit nationally and are thrilled to bring people here to Pittsburgh.