From the football field to the medical field, Jim Kovach sees success and failure as inseparable.
Medical school graduate, NFL linebacker and practicing attorney aren’t typical resume entries for most executives at hi-tech startups, but CrowdOptic Chief Operating Officer Jim Kovach has spent a lifetime reaching beyond expectations.
As an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky, he attended medical school while playing major college football and he didn’t ride the bench. He was a three-time All-SEC linebacker, an Academic All-American and still ranks as the leading tackler in UK history. He completed his medical degree during the off-season while playing in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints and led the team in tackles from 1981-84. After ending his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers in 1985, Kovach earned a law degree from Stanford and practiced corporate and intellectual property law in Silicon Valley. Since then he’s worked in the medical technology and biotech fields and founded his own company before joining CrowdOptic in 2011.
Launched in 2010, CrowdOptic has developed a crowd-based mobile application that combines augmented reality with location services to connect people at live events such as NASCAR races, the red carpet at the Oscars and football games by determining where they point their smartphone cameras. The application has been used to monitor shifts in crowd attention to improve behind-the-scenes operations and to target advertising.
Kovach’s atypical career path affords him an eclectic background in technology. Recently, he shared his thoughts on what opportunities for technology to improve healthcare and the risk of overdependence on tech.
Is there a downside to all the technology in our lives?
I think that there’s a call for people to not become too dependent on technologies. It’s a fine balance to basically use technology while being in control rather than technology having control over you.
I do see that some people are almost automated and that’s not what we want. There needs to be a personal ability to stay independent, responsible, innovative, creative, interactive and communicative for sure.
What big changes do you anticipate over the 5 years?
I think the major thing to happen in the next 5 years is what I would call longitudinal data that’s collected and gathered and all ported through the phone. I have a big interest in fitness and exercise as well as sporting events, and the technologies exist to gather that information, like how many calories you’re burning, what exercises you’re doing and how you’re feeling.
Does that place more importance on a single device?
Take the healthcare profession — I’ll put my physician hat on. Physicians are a good example of professionals who just don’t have the time to go between devices. They go from hospital to hospital and they want to have one device to seamlessly and automatically log in through a fingerprint or something like that. As I see it, this will be done on a single device and the phone would absolutely be the logical device for that to be.
Do you see mobile technology improving healthcare?
The smartphone can be used as an interactive device to provide information, through apps, on how to get to places that have healthy food to make better choices. It’s the perfect tool to help empower people to just do better with managing their own health. Reminders, information for education on your smartphone to let you know why it is they have to exercise and eat right on a daily basis. If we can change behavior [in this fashion], we will solve the healthcare issue. No question about that.
Where does the cloud factor into the healthcare equation?
The cloud is a very, very secure environment. It’s really ready for electronic medical records. The reason that it hasn’t made it yet, frankly, is the market is not big enough. That’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I mean, when you compare the [healthcare] market to all the consumer applications healthcare is not big enough.
Right now hospitals and healthcare systems have a fixed IT environment based on servers in the hospital. The cloud would give them a limitless ability to scale — it gives CloudOptic the ability to scale seamlessly. It just happens and so you don’t have to worry about the personnel and updates. It’s just all there.
Security authentication is very robust, and having worked in both environments, I would frankly worry more about hacking into a server in a healthcare system as opposed to the cloud.
Will the new healthcare laws spur adoption of technology?
I think what you’re going to see after healthcare reform gets rolled out is hospitals will start to fail. We don’t really see a lot of failed hospitals, but with healthcare reform there are going to be winners and there are going to be losers. And when you have competition essentially as survival then people start to change and hospital and healthcare executives will start to see the writing on the wall. That’s when you’re really going to see change in the adoption of technology. Right now, it reminds me of the Wild Wild West. They’re just forming the rules. You’re putting the stakes down for the new way of doing business.
With such a diverse background, from the football field to the legal, medical and R&D fields, you’ve no doubt experienced both failure and success in several different professions. How do the two relate?
I think failure is a part of any success. I’ve learned a lot about failure. As a professional athlete you’re the best in the world but they pay the guys on the other side of the lines just as well. If you’re a really good player you’re winning 60 percent of the battles, so you’re failing about 40 percent of the time. Every play is a battle. You have to get up and you have to keep going. You have to keep one foot in front of the other and things get hard and learn from experiments that don’t succeed. I ran a research institute where experiments failed, but it’s really the knowledge you gain that allows you to design the next experiment. It’s the same thing in business, so it’s not only important, it’s essential.