Meet A Minnesota Tech CTO: Scott Brown, Zipnosis

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Thank you Tarmac for underwriting our Meet a Minnesota Tech CTO series, where we get up close and personal with Minnesota’s chief techies.

The CTO: Scott Brown, Zipnosis

How long have you been working in tech for and what is your technical background?

I’ve been involved in technology since the early 80’s when I got my first computer, a TI-99, and began programming in BASIC.

After earning my BS in Aerospace Engineering from Iowa State University, I started my career customizing and implementing packaged ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software. From there I worked for a small, post-IPO startup scaling and internationalizing (I18N) their web-based, SaaS e-commerce platform.

After that, I worked in med-tech on FDA-regulated connected care systems for implanted devices; helped transition a hardware-based driver compliance and fleet management system to a cloud-hosted, mobile platform; and even had my own mobile healthcare startup for a while.

Finally, I landed at Zipnosis leading the Security, Product and Engineering teams.

What are you focused on right now?

My main focus is growing and diversifying our revenue through new virtual care clinical business lines. We have been focused on Urgent Care since our inception about ten years ago. After getting traction with large local and national health systems like Fairview, Allina, Baylor Scott & White and John Muir Health, we are expanding into new use cases and markets. These include our recent partnership with the American Academy of Family Physicians and the launch of our new Surgical Care product. I’m excited to launch two new products in the next six months.

On the technical side we are working on some very cool projects. We are completely re-architecting our DevOps processes and migrating to Kubernetes; we are maturing our EHR integration capabilities into a new FHIR based product we’re calling ZipConnect; we are incorporating a progressive web app into our offering; and we are extending our API architecture to support soon-to-be-announced strategic partnerships.

What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?

We are on the RAP stack (Ruby on Rails, Angular and PostgreSQL) and have a strategic partner, Datica, for our PaaS which is hosted in AWS. Our application architecture is RESTful APIs. We have lots of integrations with partners like SureScripts, First Data Bank, Authorize.Net, AWS Machine Learning and PokItDok (and many more in the works). We also have many customer integrations using HL7, CDA, SAML, OAuth, JWE, Mirth and FHIR. We leverage Heroku images and Docker containers and are introducing Kubernetes. We use tools like Pingdom, New Relic, PagerDuty, Sentry, Jira and ZenDesk as part of our operations. The company received HITRUST certification last year, which requires having many additional security and compliance tools and services in place.

How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?

I am a member of the executive team with direct accountability to the Board of Directors. I work with the BOD and my peers on business alignment and then with my leadership team on execution. I have an Office of Product which is chartered with product management functional excellence, Voice of the Customer, and upstream marketing. I also have an Office of Technology which is chartered with technical excellence, addressing technical debt and deprecations, and keeping the platform current.

All members of my team are assigned to SCRUM teams with the Product Owners having accountability to the Office of Product and the SCRUM Masters having accountability to the Office of Technology. The Chief Medical Informatics Officer (CMIO), one of my peers, is the Product Owner for the Clinical Informatics team and provides clinical direction, oversight and prioritization. This matrixed, symbiotic structure ensures predictability, alignment and ultimately a cohesive product that meets its intent.

What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?

I have about 20 members on my team plus contractors that functionally span across Product Management, UI/UX Design, Clinical Informatics, Technical Writing, Billing, Architecture, Engineering, DevOps and Security.

We allocate work through the SCRUM teams previously described and manage talent through a hierarchical reporting structure. We have an extremely cohesive and collaborative team that does a fantastic job of self-organizing to adapt to the needs of the organization and continuously improve. It has been great to see the steady increase in velocity and machine-like predictability since I joined two years ago.

How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions?

It depends on the position we are hiring for but we tend to get very creative. We have a referral bonus that motivates employees to work their networks. Where necessary, we leverage recruiters for difficult-to-fill or urgent positions. We also do contract-to-hire when the position is evolving or the demand is unknown.

We have an incredibly high performing team so we take adding members very seriously. And, once we bring team members on, we want to keep them. There is a lot of opportunity in a small, growing organization, and our technical talent has formal and informal opportunities to grow in their careers and to be rewarded. Talent development and retention are areas I have focused a lot on this past year but it is an area I always strive to do better.

How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?

Keeping up with the technology landscape is extremely challenging. PaaS vs IaaS? Server vs Serverless? Node vs Go? Responsive vs Native? AI vs ML? MEAN vs MERN? There are so many cool new things people are working on, research that is being published and companies launching that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

I try to stay ahead of the technology curve by following research and concepts that are years away from commercialization, but my main focus is on things that are close to or fully commercialized. I attend conferences and events, read a lot of publications, talk to my peers and leverage strategic partners and aggregators to sort through the noise. I also make sure that we allocate time to evaluate the new technologies. In the past year, we’ve done research around Voice UI, Natural Language Processing and Artificial Intelligence.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

I am excited about the impact on UX. The new Apple Watch can detect AF and grab an ECG! My car can tell me if I’m getting close to an object and stop me before I hit it when I’m too busy texting (jk)! I can order soap by barking a command to Alexa!

It is thrilling to see technology becoming more accessible. Individuals can start a company with massive computing resources that big companies could only dream of 20 years ago. And there are developer programs specifically targeted at boosting diversity, enhancements in cloud services, open source communities and inexpensive devices like the Raspberry Pi, Movidius and Arduino. I can’t wait to see what the next generation brings to tech.

I bought my daughter a Kano and we built it together. Now she wants to enroll in a programming bootcamp for girls so she can build an app! As a kid, I was happy just to get new cassette tapes to save my programs on.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

As the CISO of Zipnosis my biggest concerns are around security and privacy. For new technologies these things are typically an afterthought; attack vectors often aren’t understood or considered. EULAs and regulations typically lag behind technology, and once it is exploited it is hard to repair the damage.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry – how could it be better?

I believe the Minnesota tech industry is hard working, talented and significantly underrated. Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to work with many exceptional people here in the Twin Cities. We have a lot to be proud of and everyone should know it!

I would like to see even more involvement in the community part of the tech community. People can participate in events, mentor others and provide resources. Reinvesting in our community benefits everyone. I love to see people take initiative; a better support network and greater rewards would help people take that leap. I believe we can best overcome our biggest challenges, risk aversion, lack of self-promotion and access to capital, together. Someone shouldn’t have to buy a city bus and drive to California for opportunities.

What are you into outside of technology?

Most of my free time is spent with my kids but I try to do a race (running, mountain biking, xc skiing or triathlon) a month. I don’t have time to train anymore but it helps me stay active and keeps my insurance premiums down. 😄 I also participate in the Fantasy Premier League as Salah Me. I am getting completely annihilated this year even with Salah, Mane and Ederson! And I follow Formula 1, the Minnesota Wild and the Green Bay Packers. Go Pack Go!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career to have had a front row seat to some huge, momentous events like the Y2K bug, .com boom, med-tech revolution, electronic logging device mandate, remote patient management and now virtual care. Regardless of what’s next, the Twin Cities is a great place to indulge in a passion for tech (when it’s your passion it doesn’t seem much like work). There is a plethora of opportunities here for anyone with ambition, from startups and incubators to multinational Fortune 500 companies, across many industries.

I enjoy being part of the Minnesota tech community and love all of the energy from Twin Cities Startup Week, Beta.MN, MinneDemo, Healthcare.MN, Medical Alley, Minnesota High Tech Association, Techstars, Gener8tor, MinneAnalytics, CoCreateX, Hackers and Founders and all of the great Meetups around town. Thank you to everyone who makes these things possible!

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