An Interview with Gerry Miller

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A serial entrepreneur, Gerry was approached by Microsoft Consulting Services and asked to serve as practice manager for the Great Lakes district and, later, the chief technology officer for the Central U.S. region.

When Gerry left Microsoft, he spent several years helping companies scale and doing some angel investing before stumbling into Cloudticity.

At that time, there was a tremendous sea tide change happening in the healthcare industry. The HITECH Act had just been passed. The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, had just been passed, which forced a tremendous amount of investment in digitizing health data. And healthcare and technology had always been passions of his.

He and a friend decided to start a cloud-based company to help ingest large quantities of data at scale. In the early days of Cloudticity, they built the first patient portal ever on the cloud and the first health information exchange (HIE) on the cloud. They started getting noticed by AWS who sent business their way.

Gerry adds:

The most important aspect of the cloud that his clients enjoy is agility. He says while it generally starts as a financial decision, it very quickly becomes a competitive differentiator for many of their clients, as they can move faster in the cloud.

In March of 2020, the state of New York was the hardest hit by COVID-19 in the country. Cloudticity helped them get an operational data lake with data flowing in six days, and that fed their contact tracing program, which is the largest civil project ever in the history of the state of New York. And six weeks later, they were the first state that entered green.

We thank Gerry Miller for his time on the Augusto Digital Insights podcast and wish him and Cloudticity the very best!

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Brian: Welcome to the Augusto Health IT podcast, where we talk to industry leaders about their vision for software design and development, mobile, and cloud in healthcare. I’m your host, Brian Anderson, CEO of Augusto Health IT. There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s get started. My guest today is Gerry Miller.

Gerry is the CEO of Cloudticity. Cloudticity is dedicated to improving public health by helping medical providers and companies wrangle the cloud. Cloudticity provides managed services focused on developing HIPAA compliant applications on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Gerry is a serial entrepreneur and has a proven track record of success. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Gerry. Welcome to the show, Gerry.

Gerry: Thanks, Brian. It’s great to be here. Appreciate you having me on. Thank you.

Brian: Hey, I want to kind of focus on a little bit of your history. I always think that’s really interesting when I talk to people like you. You’ve got such an interesting background. And you and I first met when you were at Microsoft, and maybe just tell a little bit of the story about how you landed at Microsoft in the first place.

Gerry: I appreciate you thinking that my history might be interesting, but I might be the most boring person on the planet. So as you mentioned, I’m a serial entrepreneur, so I had just exited from a company that we built out in Boston. And when I moved back to Detroit, I was still pretty active in the technology community. I was delivering a presentation on Microsoft Java, believe it or not, Visual J++ if you remember that.

Brian: Oh yeah.

Gerry: And a couple of gentlemen came up to me after the presentation, a friend worked for Microsoft Consulting Services and they said, “Hey, we’re impressed with your presentation. Would love you to come in and meet our boss. He’d be really interested in…”

I wasn’t looking for a job or anything. Like, “Yeah, I’ll go talk to the guy.” So the following week I went to the Microsoft office and met their boss and we had a nice conversation. He said, “I want you to talk to this other guy.” So three conversations later, I’m like, “Wait a minute. Am I being interviewed?” And as it turns out, it was, and I got an offer and I accepted.

So I spent eight years at Microsoft. At first I was the practice manager for the Microsoft Consulting Services for the Great Lakes district. I moved on to be the chief technology officer for the central US region. And then the last three years I ran the global team that sold to General Motors, and we grew that business from $20 million a year to $100 million a year, at which point I thought I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a great run. Let’s move on.

Brian: That’s interesting. I don’t think that’s very boring. That sounds like a pretty crazy journey. And Going from 20 million to a $100 million dollars is no trivial effort even inside of a big company like Microsoft.

Just tell us a little bit about what some of those experiences were like.

Gerry: So Microsoft was great. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, but I’ve never had, prior to Microsoft, any real experience in bigger companies. I like to joke that that’s my first real job that I ever had. I started companies. I’m college dropout, so I don’t have education. Not an intentional college dropout, but I started a company one summer in between college semesters and never went back. But Microsoft was great because I got to learn from the best and I got some really good mentorship. I got to learn organizational techniques. I got to learn culture. I got to learn scale. I got to learn the global nature of business and had some fantastic leaders that helped really shape me. And post Microsoft I’m much better at what I do because of that experience.

Brian: Yeah. That definitely resonates with me. What were the steps then from Microsoft to Cloudticity?

Gerry: So after Microsoft, I was asked to become the chief operating officer at ePrize, which was at the time, the largest digital marketing agency in the world. They were having some scale problems, so the investors, Dan Gilbert in Detroit asked that I join as the chief operating officer, fix some of their scale issues so that they could exit, and after 18 months we did a pretty good exit and I moved on from there.

Brian: And then was Cloudticity the next thing after that?

Gerry: I spent a few years doing some angel investing, and Cloudticity, as many things in my life, happened by accident. I had a good mutual friend of ours ask me to help lead a healthcare project that he was executing in Western Michigan. That was the first real foray into healthcare. It was 2012, 11 or 12, I think. And I really got the book. There was a tremendous sea tide change happening in the healthcare industry. The HITECH Act had just been passed. Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, had just been passed, which forced a tremendous amount of investment in digitizing health data. And healthcare has always been a passion mine. Technology clearly a passion of mine. This light bulb went off and I saw the opportunity to merge two things that I love. And there was a tremendous amount of technology work in healthcare, and it was driven by government mandates and it was driven by funding. The federal government allocated $28 billion to drive meaningful use to, so a funded mandate with billions of dollars of budget was very interesting

Brian: Very interesting.

Gerry: And we saw other things, like cloud was just becoming viable. So we decided, let’s make this a cloud based company. So we never did data center stuff. We were cloud from day one. There was a tremendous amount of data being produced, not only from digitizing health records, but everybody started wearing Fitbits and implantable and swallowable were becoming fashionable so that our bodies began producing tremendous amounts of telemetry data. We saw early on that cloud was the only viable way to ingest that quantity of data at scale and in an affordable way. Cloud computing meant that you could spin up massive super computers in the sky and actually operate on those data in real time at tremendous scale. So all of these factors kind of converged, and that was the genesis of Cloudticity.

Brian: Yeah, that’s interesting. I didn’t realize that that was the actual genesis. That’s a riot. You saw the opportunity due to another opportunity and all that background that you had. What led you to move to Seattle from Detroit?

Gerry: Nothing to do with my company. My wife at the time was working with Microsoft. She had been with them for 12 years and they asked her if she would relocate to the mothership. So I came out here with my wife. In hindsight, though, that was one of the bigger contributors to the success that we’ve enjoyed. Being proximate to our customers is not very important, as it turns out, because everything we do is cloud based, but being near Amazon Web Services and building those relationships has really, in hindsight, been sort of a central factor in our growth.

I live downtown Seattle, we’re less than a mile away from Amazon world headquarters, and pre-COVID days, the ability to just go have drinks with salespeople. I always said my main marketing budget is buying beer for Amazon. So that actually worked out really well for us, although it’s not the primary reason that we made the move.

Brian: Yeah. It’s definitely interesting that Amazon and Microsoft are in Seattle.

Gerry: Yeah, great. I mean Google is moving out here. Facebook has a big presence here. So it’s a tremendous place to be if you’re in technology.

Brian: Yeah, absolutely. And a great place to live in general.

Gerry: And it’s a beautiful place to live.

Brian: So tell us a little bit about what has growth looked like for Cloudticity?

Gerry: It’s been great. We started as a technology company, very small team. We’re purely engineering focused. We view the managed services business as a technology challenge, not a head count challenge.

So we never had to go get funding or build a big team. The early days we did some of the firsts. We built that first patient portal ever on the cloud. We built the first HIE, health information exchange on the cloud. We got the first successful Meaningful Use 2 attestation on the cloud. So we got noticed by AWS doing new things and we were a very focused niche company. So they began sending business our way and we started to grow. So we invested early in that relationship. I believe that’s paid off. More recently, we’ve really accelerated our growth. So many of our investments today are in building out marketing teams and sales teams and really focusing on that side of the house, which is driving a significant acceleration in revenue. It’s been great for us.

Brian: Yeah, that’s great. It’s interesting, because you mentioned all of these different convergences, and I suspect it didn’t grow super fast at the beginning because it was so new, but it seems like there’s huge advantages to the cloud, and the scalability and just like… What’s it been like, healthcare has has been a little bit of a laggard, it seems like, in the industry until all these government mandates, and now they’re accelerating all of their digital investments. And a lot of them, I think, had these big data centers. But what are you seeing? It seems like the cloud has massive advantage for healthcare. What are you seeing in the field?

Gerry: So cloud is absolutely the right thing for healthcare. In the early days, when we started Cloudticity, AWS wouldn’t even sign a business associate agreement. So the early questions in 2011 and 2012 were always around security. “I’ll never put my healthcare data outside of my data center” kind of thing. So our early sales efforts were always with security and compliance people. Fast forward almost a decade, there’s a general acceptance across the industry that you’re probably safer in the cloud and that a massive company like AWS can manage their data centers in a safer way than a regional hospital system.

So we’ve definitely enjoyed the evolution of industry and understanding the degree of security that cloud offers.

We’ve enjoyed the regulatory frameworks that have driven cloud adoption, just because companies have no choice, but we’re seeing big advantages around both financial impact. Many of our customers, when they hit a certain financial inflection point like a colo lease is expiring, or their equipment is reaching end of life, we can often build a TCO study that will show a tremendous cost advantage of moving to the cloud. But the more important aspect of cloud that our clients enjoy is agility. And while it generally starts as a financial decision, it very quickly becomes a competitive differentiator for many of our clients. They can move faster in the cloud. I remember being on a call with a client who said, “Hey, I need to allocate another terabyte of storage. How many weeks will that take?” And I’m like, “Dude, it’s done.” While we were talking. Like, “Here you go.” We had a client say to us, “Hey, listen with Cloudticity, things that used to take months now only take moments.” So that ability to accelerate is really the advantage that our clients are seeing with cloud adoption. And it’s just as widespread as can be. We’ve got some of the biggest hospital systems and some of the biggest payer systems. Lots of health tech, public sector. The state of New York asked us to help them build the data lake to work on the COVID problem that they were experiencing. So in late March they were the hardest hit state in the country. We were able to get an operational data lake with data flowing in six days, and that fed their contact tracing program, which is the largest civil project ever in the history of the state of New York. And six weeks later, they were the first country that entered green. So the acceleration, not just for financial need, but for human need. At Cloudticity our mission is to help every human on Earth live a healthier life through the work that we do. No greater example of us having the privilege of living our mission than being able to leverage the acceleration of cloud and help the hardest hit state in the country.

Brian: Yeah, I think that’s such a great example. I mean, that really speaks to the agility. And I think you’re right. The colo cost of ownership is a great story in the cloud, but really the agility is even more important because these data tools and the ability to snap these tools together and get data flowing, and then be able to use that data in a meaningful way, it’s such a quick amount… You just cannot do that in a data center. I’ve never seen it. Maybe you can. I just have never seen it in my career. Usually that stuff to slow.

Gerry: No, you couldn’t. The general consensus was in traditional circumstances this would have been an 18 month project. You got almost two dozen organizations involved, hundreds of people that all had to come together and collaborate to get this done. And in a traditional setting, you just could never have gotten there.

Brian: Yeah, I agree with you. It’s interesting. So you have a couple of different products too, that have emerged from this foundation of managed services around the cloud. Maybe you want to speak to Oxygen and DataHub real quick?

Gerry: Yeah, for sure. So I mentioned before, we viewed managed services in the cloud as a software problem.

So we build software to help execute on the managed services, managed compliance, and managedsecurity that we provide. So Cloudticity Oxygen is our platform that we use to monitor our clients’ environments. It’s aligned to the HITRUST Common Security Framework, and we’ve further mapped that to over 40 other compliance frameworks, like SOC 1, 2, and 3, NIST, et cetera. So we leverage the power of software. If you look at our help desk on any given day, somewhere between 98 and 99% of our help desk tickets are never even touched by a human. So there’s a tremendous amount of machine learning happening. We invest heavily in continuing to build out the Oxygen platform. We’ve got a dedicated development team. Every month we add somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 lines of new code into the Oxygen platform.

Out of that have spun some standalone products. So our clients came to us and said, “We’re spending a lot of money on these external logging products.” I’m not going to mention competitors. “Can you help us with that?” So we built a unified logging product that has replaced other commercial products in our clients and saved them a tremendous amounts of money. We were approached by a very large hospital system asked to help build a data Lake. So that became our Healthcare DataHub product that is unique deployable data lake. That’s what we use for the state of New York. We have Healthcare DataView, which is a service that Cloudticity offers to help build dashboards and usable ways of driving insight from the health data that’s stored in the Healthcare DataHub. We’ve got a managed Kubernetes solution that many of our clients are using to very quickly deploy some complex Kubernetes workloads for healthcare. And we continue to invest in building more and more software and letting our clients derive more and more value out of the Oxygen platform.

Brian: Yeah, that’s interesting. I could definitely see why customers are buying. It’s a pretty compelling solution, and what’s interesting is we’ve actually been partnering together. We’ve been working together recently. We started out working on a client together, but not as a partnership, and our teams have worked really well together. And then we’ve worked with you as you went through a lot of demand for COVID-19 and some of this growth that you’ve been mentioning. And then we’ve worked on a couple of other custom dev oriented projects with clients. What do you think Cloudticity looks for and great partners? What are you always on the look out for?

Gerry: Well first of all, let me just say how fantastic it’s been working with you and your team. The folks at Augusto are just tremendous, and I couldn’t say enough about the value that you’ve brought us. So thank you for that. We’re very focused on staying in our, and what we do is managed services, managed compliance, and security. Our professional services teams don’t do custom software development. We do migrations, we do DevOps automation. And when some of our clients asked us, can we help them with some custom software development, we traditionally would say no, and then we thought, “You know what, why not try to offer a broader range of service, but do it in a way that doesn’t require us to flex a new muscle.” And we’ve worked side-by-side with you and you were the obvious choice, so it’s been a great relationship. You complement what we do so well. It’s been really good working with your team.

Brian: Yeah, we feel the same way. It’s been really nice. We’re learning a lot and we’re also… We just work really well with your team. So it’s been our pleasure. What do you think… We’re both not competing, but we’re out there competing with others to win business in healthcare. What do you think a healthcare provider or a health tech company, what should they be looking for in great partners?

Gerry: So things that our clients have told us around why we win are number one, that maniacal focus on the single industry. We are not generalists, and what that means is that when our clients have a domain specific problem, like there’s a healthcare challenge that needs to be solved, we speak their language.

We’re not just talking to technologists, we’re talking to clinicians and we’re talking to healthcare administrators. And when we know what they’re talking about, and when we can bring relevant experience immediately to the table, that tends to drive a tremendous amount of credibility. That partnership with AWS, if you’re going to deploy healthcare workloads on AWS, we have deep partnerships there, and we know the people that are involved and we have access to product teams and we have access to proof of concept funding. So that tight relationship with the cloud service provider, another differentiator.

Not just saying that HIPAA compliance, but to be able to prove it through a certification like HITRUST, that’s an exceptionally high bar. And then the track record. Many of our competitors were data center companies three years ago, and all of a sudden they woke up one day and said, “Uh oh, we need to do cloud,” so they they’ve pivoted, but they don’t have that decade of hands-on only cloud digital native experience. So those are some differentiators that our clients typically tell us when we win, that’s why.

Brian: Yeah. Well, it seems to be working. You guys have won some pretty amazing customers along the way here. And it seems to continue to look like it’s accelerating. So I wish you the very best, and it’s a pleasure working with you and getting to know you even better as we go through that process. Thanks for taking time to be on the podcast today. I really appreciate it.

Gerry: Thanks for having me. And again, thank you for working with us. It’s been a tremendous relationship. I look forward to driving that forward over the years.

Brian: Hey, thanks for listening to the Augusto Health IT podcast. Augusto Health IT is a custom software design and development company with a focus on healthcare. If we can help you on your next project, or you just want to say hello, contact me today by calling (616) 427-1914 or visit www.augustohealthit.com.

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