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Kevin O’Brien is editor-in-chief of the Global Edition of Handelsblatt, the leading business and finance daily newspaper in Germany. A native New Yorker, O’Brien has more than 30 years of experience at newspapers, agencies and magazines in Germany, the United States and Austria. After graduating from Duke with a degree in English literature in 1980, O’Brien covered technology for The New York Times and International Herald Tribune from Berlin, and was the Frankfurt and Vienna bureau chief at Bloomberg, as well as working as a staff writer at daily newspapers in North Carolina, Colorado and Missouri. He has been working from Europe for 23 years. O’Brien discusses his experience and perspective on Europe in this Fuqua Q&A.
Germany reunified only a few years before you started working in Europe. What are the most striking changes you’ve seen in the country’s economy?
When I arrived in Frankfurt in 1994, Germany still had incredibly strict retail blue laws that effectively closed all stores on Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. Consumption was effectively penalized and weekend shopping was incredibly stressful, as you might imagine. Credit cards were viewed with suspicion. Ikea for example only took cash back then. I remember watching people count out thousands of deutsche marks for a sofa or living room set. But over the last two decades, Germany has morphed from a producer economy into a consumer economy, more like the U.S. Store closing laws have been largely abolished, and not surprisingly, consumers have responded like Americans. Consumption is now driving the German economy, much more so than in the past. Beyond consumer behavior, Germany’s economic strength is still its so-called “Mittelstand’’ layer of SMEs, typically family-owned producers that still make hard goods. The country’s financial sector – largely Deutsche Bank and the No. 2, Commerzbank –is in crisis, which is a threat. But on a macro level, the German economy is doing well. Unemployment in September 2016 was at a post-reunification low, even lower than in the United States. Even after taking in an estimated 1.1 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the last year, GDP may dip only slightly moving forward, but remain steady. The European economies typically don’t grow as fast as the U.S. economy, but they aren’t as prone to big setbacks either. The euro’s recent declines against the dollar will only help Germany, the world’s No. 2 exporter after the U.S.
He is director of strategic projects at MedeAnalytics for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). MedeAnalytics is a Silicon Valley-based healthcare technology company, and Asad has worked out of their London office for the last five years, where he is currently responsible for business growth in the region.
His prior experience included working for the National Health Service in the UK and helping found tech entrepreneurial ventures in the UK and Pakistan.
Asad is a member of the European Regional Advisory Board for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and graduated from the school’s Global Executive MBA program in 2014. He shared industry and career insights in a Fuqua Q&A.
Q: What is one example of how healthcare companies can use analytics to improve their business performance?
The healthcare industry is going through rapid disruption, with technology and analytics the key drivers for change. Healthcare has to become more personalised, more integrated and patients themselves have to drive that. This presents both challenges and opportunities. There is still some way to go but with recent advances in technology we are now moving in the right direction. In the business of healthcare, the patient journey and business performance are very much linked. More efficient care and better outcomes for patients normally leads to better business performance.
To a large extent, healthcare remains based on reactive care for patients. This is both costly and detrimental for the patient long-term. The industry is pivoting and the focus is shifting towards preventative care. The use of advanced analytics will be a key component in achieving this transformation. We will see more patients treated effectively in the primary care setting, rather than avoidable and costly escalations into secondary care. Payers are already utilising analytics to identify high-risk patients and offer early intervention, or exploit health data to promote healthy living by incentivising those who follow a healthy lifestyle with better deals.
Q: What immediate impact and improvements might patients expect to see with digital health records?
Organisations that have already implemented a digital health record effectively are seeing huge benefits. It would be hard to talk about all of them. The biggest benefit for patients that their medical provider has access to the most accurate and up-to-date information at the point of care. That has increased the safety and reliability of patient care, and improved coordination of care across multiple services, which historically has been expensive and unreliable.
The next phase is to partner with patients by giving them access to their own health records. One of the biggest opportunities in this area is in consumer decision support and simplifying health jargon so patients feel empowered to take control of their health and well-being.
Q: Do you think the public sentiment about these concerns has shifted any over the last few years?
It has shifted over the last decade, though there is not yet a consensus. But just like in other industries, concerns peaked and now, I believe, people are starting to realise the benefits. Generally people now want to see more transparency and better access to information so as to have more control as healthcare consumer.
If we want to see the how technology is changing behaviours and public sentiment, we need to look at financial services or retail 20 years ago. What was driving change then is now driving change in healthcare. Digitisation in healthcare is rapidly gaining momentum and technology is at a stage where it can be an effective enabler for change. It presents an unbelievable opportunity for entrepreneurs and I see it attracting some of the best minds in the world to join the growing arena of healthcare technology and innovation.
Q: What healthcare reforms on the horizon do you think will have the biggest impact on industry and consumers?
If we need to improve the health of a population, it is impossible just by looking at the health data. We need to look at the social, mental and health needs holistically, side by side, especially for people who are at the bottom of the pyramid.
Recent reforms, especially in the West, have moved toward more integrated health and social care. I believe this will have a huge impact on patient outcomes by resulting in better and more efficient care pathways.
Q: How do you leverage technology in your own company to better manage projects and lead teams?
Although we are a technology company, we understand it is a means and not an end. Technology must work around people and processes and act as an enabler to improve performance and efficiency.
Many of the performance improvement solutions we give to our clients we also use internally to manage projects. This gives us greater visibility across the product lines and helps us constantly improve what we are able to offer.
Q: What are the key qualities to being an effective leader?
Leadership is primarily about vision, and selecting the right team to achieve that vision. A leader will motivate and empower others within their team to achieve great things. I don’t believe in micro-management. As a leader, I want my team to feel I trust them and I will promote autonomy, but recognize when someone needs to be supported to learn and improve. Communication is the key. I believe in transparency, honesty and managing expectations. However, as a leader you must outwardly promote positivity and be committed to achieving your objectives.