Harrison Sonntag of ‘Maven Wave’: “Embrace change”

Embrace change. My career path has changed several times. I was a political science major in college, but I didn’t go down that career path. However, I look back and the skills I learned that have helped me tremendously as both a teacher and in tech sales. I had no intention of leaving education. But […]

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Embrace change. My career path has changed several times. I was a political science major in college, but I didn’t go down that career path. However, I look back and the skills I learned that have helped me tremendously as both a teacher and in tech sales. I had no intention of leaving education. But I embraced the change and the opportunity and am happy that I did.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Harrison Sonntag.

Harrison Sonntag is a Principal Consultant and Sales Executive with Maven Wave, focused entirely on helping healthcare organizations with digital solutions that are agile, mobile, rooted in analytics, and built in the cloud. A former educator and graduate of Dartmouth College, Harrison’s passion is equipping healthcare organizations to improve the lives of their population they proudly serve through technological innovation. His main areas of expertise and focus are on applied AI in healthcare and enabling positive change through the application of advanced analytics.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After college, I started out in software sales. While I did well, I felt unfulfilled. I felt I wasn’t making a difference in the world. So, I chose a very different path at that point and became a high school educator. I really enjoyed it, and I was making a difference. At that point, I was going to move forward in the education field and work on my master’s in education. But I heard from my childhood best friend, who is a physician and has a Master’s in Public Health. He had joined a start-up that was using AI and other technology to improve healthcare, and he said the company needed a salesperson. I decided to go for it. Fast forward a few years, and I am now at Maven Wave, an Atos Company, still working in healthcare technology. What I was sold on then (by my best friend) and what I think about every day now, is the potential we have to impact far more people through the advancements of technology in healthcare than if I was still an educator.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Within a month of starting at Maven Wave, the entire organization — even those who had nothing to do with change management — teamed up on a go-live project which basically entailed the largest healthcare G Suite implementation ever. In a surprising and fortuitous turn of events, I ended up working with my wife, an ER doctor, and her colleagues, on the G Suite adoption. Our world’s — my wife’s in medicine and mine in healthcare technology, collided. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation I was not expecting, involving 118 hospitals throughout the country. But I got to work directly with my wife!

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Every day, an average of 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose. Few people realize that behind this epidemic, one of the biggest hurdles is a data problem that hinders the work of those trying to bring life-saving resources to areas and individuals most affected by substance abuse. Anecdotally, some people who work in harm reduction have estimated that 50–90% of overdoses go unreported in Texas. This reporting gap — and the uncounted fatal and nonfatal overdoses it represents — extends beyond opioid use, and, significantly, beyond Texas.

Some reporting hurdles are unique to Texas. For example, only 15 out of 154 counties have a medical examiner, so most autopsies in the state are performed by a Justice of the Peace with no training at all in substance use and overdose. Other factors contributing to the state’s data gaps are more universal, such as fear of legal repercussions among users and their communities, social stigma, and, of course, the lack of a unified reporting system across the state. To be useful to — and easily used by — everyone it will reach, such a system must be scalable and versatile. Ultimately, other states will be able to use the same platform to confront their own overdose data challenges. So, the question is, how to capture missing data in a reporting system that’s scalable to Texas and beyond? With funding from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Maven Wave is working with Dr. Kasey Claborn and her colleagues at the University of Texas — Austin’s Dell Medical School on a five-year initiative called Project Connect to build a platform that can be widely adopted. To inspire trust that’s crucial to the project’s success, both from medical professionals concerned with issues like HIPAA compliance and individuals dealing with substance abuse, it must be secure as well as scalable. We want to ensure that we’re building out the right foundation of this platform from the beginning to take absolute care of this sensitive data.

How do you think this might change the world?

Without accurate information, it’s impossible to create effective solutions. Tackling this problem, in Texas and everywhere else, will require first and foremost closing the reporting gap. Getting better data to people who can put it to work in real-time — from those who direct funding and allocation of resources, to EMT and emergency room workers, law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and prevention experts, communities and families affected by substance abuse, and even those struggling with substance abuse themselves — will literally save lives.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

While getting actual drug users to report overdoses will be a groundbreaking step forward, it obviously presents unique challenges, both ethical and practical. A genuine understanding of the barriers to reporting is vital for creating a system that drug users will actually use. To that end, community advisory boards at five urban and rural “pilot sites” across Texas will contribute directly to quantitative and qualitative research, talking with everyone from state government employees to healthcare workers to regular citizens (including users themselves) to find out what’s getting in the way of accurate data collection, reporting, and management. The knowledge gained from the pilots will help project stakeholders create an implementation protocol that’s sustainable state-wide.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

We don’t assume to be subject matter experts in the opioid epidemic, but this gave us an opportunity for a partnership with people who are. We did dozens of interviews with subject-matter experts who are social workers, government officials, harm reduction coalition members, and EMS personnel to learn firsthand from them how to successfully build this tool for adoption to make the most impact. We did this well before we came up with any of our designs that we have now built and continue to build more tailored applications for specific users based on the groups and their feedback.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Our role is that of the technology provider, that’s where we are focusing our attention on. In our partnership with Google Cloud, they’ve allowed us to have a bigger voice. In the coming months we and Google are working with the University of Texas, Austin team throughout the state, using our workforce to get the word out and letting people know about it. This is designed to be a five-year project, and we have completed year one.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We have been working with the teams at UT Austin and Google to publicize the great work we’re doing in several different ways. We planned to present on the project in the Google Cloud booth at the HIMSS conference in March, but due to the pandemic we were not able to be in-person. So our teams pivoted to record the session as well as develop some great written interviews to share the story. These assets live on Google Cloud’s Healthcare and Life Sciences content library site, and Maven Wave also produced a webinar. The team at UT Austin has also been very vocal on social media about getting the word out to share all of these assets with their networks.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My best friend who I mentioned before certainly shaped my career path and my parents who have always been supportive of course come to mind. But in particular I have to say it’s my wife. She’s been incredibly supportive of me and my career choices, from education to technology sales. She has been an incredible resource for me in my role in the healthcare tech side. I have direct access to a physician every day, and I can bounce ideas off her on how a particular technology might work within her workflow and how it could be successful for her and her colleagues.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have been blessed with two careers, in a sense, in my life thus far. Ultimately at the end of the day I can say my job is meant to help people. In education it comes in the form of instant gratification. Now I am seeing projects that I’ve been able to play a major role in being adopted that are ultimately only valuable if they’re improving healthcare. In that role I reach far more people now. Outside of my career itself, we are active in Austin Pets Alive. It is a pet adoption agency and charity in Austin, where I live. I also volunteer and donate to HeartSupport — an organization that helps young people suffering from mental illnesses — which is incredibly important to me.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Embrace change. My career path has changed several times. I was a political science major in college, but I didn’t go down that career path. However, I look back and the skills I learned that have helped me tremendously as both a teacher and in tech sales. I had no intention of leaving education. But I embraced the change and the opportunity and am happy that I did.

It’s ok to fail. I’m in sales. Rejection is a part of life. For every win there are two or three losses. That being said, every one of those failures in business, not making a sale, missing an opportunity, are all lessons learned that will help me and my organization move forward.

It’s ok to not be the expert. I’m blessed that I’ve been able to work in healthcare. I’ve gained tremendous knowledge but I’m not a doctor or pharmaceutical expert. I’ve been able to gain knowledge and experience working with the actual subject matter experts. But I play a relatively small role by delivering healthcare tech solutions, The entire process takes a lot of talented people.

Stay in touch with contacts as much as possible. The healthcare industry seems to be small. Folks that I worked with many years ago, I am encountering in new roles at new organizations today. Relationships developed with people even years back have proved to be very beneficial moving forward.

I wish I could have told my younger self that writing is the most important skill you’ll ever need. White papers, contracts, presentations, emails — it’s a skill I’m happy I’ve developed. I had no idea how important that would be. Being an effective communicator is incredibly important in any work environment.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Be nice. I know it sounds cliche. I genuinely believe that if we all attempted to follow the Golden Rule to love our neighbors as ourselves, the world would be a better place. If we could all consciously make an effort, it might change the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Both of my parents were also in technology sales. Early in my sales career, my dad said at the end of day, ask yourself “did I do everything I did today in my power?” If I answer yes, I did my job. A million things in business and sales are out of my control, but if I did what I could to get to my goal, I did it right. If I can’t answer yes, then I need to address that asap, by taking action. I try to remember that every day.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Atos, which owns Maven Wave, is a publicly-traded company. But I will answer the question, “Why would an organization want to work with Maven Wave?” We are an 11-year Google Cloud Premier Partner, and for the last three years we were named Premier Partner in North America. We have earned 10 Google specializations and have deep expertise in Google Cloud technology. Our role is using that technology to create solutions to specific problems in healthcare with the primary focus on how we can use this technology to improve healthcare. For the healthcare enterprise or individual patients, that’s how we take every day as a healthcare team and what drives us in our daily work. We push utilizing the tech to develop real solutions as opposed to pushing particular technology.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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