Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor,
CEOCFO Magazine, Published – June 2, 2014
Mr. Jacob, what is the concept for ESAC?
Mr. Jacob: ESAC stands for Enterprise, Science and Computing.
We provide services in the very niche area of healthcare IT, Bioinformatics,
and Research Data Management. The concept for ESAC stemmed from my work at
Celera during the early part of the millennium when the genomics revolution
was beginning. There was (and still is) a huge demand for visualizing,
managing, integrating, and making sense of the enormous troves of growing
biomedical data. I knew my colleagues and I could contribute to that niche
since we were there from the beginning. Our focus is to help improve global
health by enabling technology to convert biomedical data to knowledge.
Would you tell us about the elements in your technology that will lead
to better healthcare? What is the process?
Mr. Jacob: Our mission is service oriented rather than selling
IT projects to the healthcare market. We primarily use existing technology
tools to build software and database solutions specific to our clients’
needs. We do not have our own products yet, but that could be a future
direction. What we have is a group of subject matter experts and
technologists, with educational and professional experience in dealing with
biomedical and healthcare related concepts and frameworks. That is where we
make the difference. We specialize in project management and software
development specific to the life sciences and healthcare.
What are some of the challenges in taking life science data and
putting it into a usable format?
Mr. Jacob: Life science data are changing daily. And the data
are growing, so there is a large amount of information to deal with. There
are three primary challenges for taming and filtering this data into a
useable format: 1. Data storage, 2. harmonization, and 3. visualization
within different contexts. Data standards are not there for many data types.
Data must be harmonized within a community or a set of users otherwise
large-scale data integration from multiple sources is impossible. Working
with research consortiums and subject matter experts to standardize data for
harmonization is critical. Cloud computing is tackling the problem of data
storage, however, there are significant costs associated with this storage,
so people need to be more vigilant about deleting raw data that has been
analyzed. People worry about losing their raw data if needed down the road,
but data generation is actually less costly than storage. Finally,
user-friendly data visualization and the ability to query the data is
critical. Biomedical researchers will have different visualization needs
than clinicians, who need quick summary reports. At ESAC we do significant
background and prep work prior to initiating new projects so that we
understand the challenges, variables, and what the outcome should be to best
position ourselves for success.
How do you keep up with all of the changes in not only healthcare, but
Mr. Jacob: We spend a significant amount of time staying on
top of the latest research and methods published in the literature and
through networking at conferences. We strive to determine the gaps in
healthcare technology needs and often develop our own solutions in close
consultation with our clients. Many on our staff have doctoral degrees and
work closely with the leading subject matter experts who are working on the
front line of healthcare issues and emerging technologies and innovations.
Ongoing training and professional development is key to keeping our staff
current on the ever changing landscape in healthcare related technologies.
What types of companies or government agencies are you working with?
Mr. Jacob: Most of our work is within Health and Human
Services, which includes NIH, the National Cancer Institute, the Office of
National Coordinator, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. We are
currently pursuing opportunities with the Centers for Disease Control, and
the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In addition, ESAC also works
with the private sector and academic institutions that are working with
large healthcare datasets.
What types of projects would the government look to outsource and why
would they come to you?
Mr. Jacob: We believe the government will continue to look to
the contractor community to meet its needs in data management and
information systems in the healthcare domain. The challenge is not only
managing extremely large data sets, but also performing the science and
analyses to optimize the knowledge that comes from mining the data. We
believe the government turns to ESAC because we are a small business that
can rapidly adapt to the ever changing requirements in healthcare IT. We
also have a workforce that includes both talented software engineers and
doctoral level biomedical scientists who know the data well and speak the
language of the NIH and other healthcare stakeholders. We believe the
government will continue to turn to ESAC to continue the monumental task of
developing the standards for a Health Information Exchange and how various
disparate systems will exchange and share information. This type of work
requires very specific subject matter expertise not only in Healthcare IT,
but also in the biomedical domain.
Do agencies come to you? Is there a bidding process? Do you look at
projects to bid on? How does it work?
Mr. Jacob: We have developed a reputation for providing
exceptional performance and delivering on our existing contracts, which
often results in agencies contacting us for support. As a certified 8(a)
small business, ESAC has been fortunate to be awarded a number of contracts
on a sole source or restricted competitive basis. More recently, we have
actively pursued solicitations that call for our science and healthcare IT
expertise. In addition, we often partner with research institutions and
large businesses in pursuit of these opportunities, as building strong
partnerships are key to sustained business growth. In all cases, we go
through a rigorous bidding and negotiation process.
What have you learned either from previous experiences or at ESAC
about how to tell when a project is really worthwhile?
Mr. Jacob: We have learned that often our understanding of the
scope work is different when you are bidding on a project then when you are
executing the project. Some projects are short term while other span over
multiple years. Requirements get refined during the performance; so managing
change and controlling cost is critical to delivering the project on time
and within budget. We have also learned that if a contract is issued on a
fixed price basis, there is less flexibility to accommodate changes and it
is important to proactively communicate and manage the expectations of the
client. We do our best to understand the requirements in detail when
deciding to bid on a project so we can develop a realistic estimate to
perform the work. We find ourselves pursing work that is exciting and
challenging and in areas where our staff are passionate.
Your website has the words, “innovation and innovate”, in several
places. Would you give us an example of something that you have developed
that would fall into that innovative category?
Mr. Jacob: An example that comes to mind is where we have
developed a database that integrates patient clinical data (age, lifestyle
habits etc.) with a variety of biomedical research data types in a unified
database environment. While a number of rich data repositories for high
throughput research data exist in the public domain, many tend to focus on a
single data type and do not support the integration across multiple
technologies. By integrating clinical data with high throughput gene-based
molecular data, researchers will be able to determine which treatment works
best for a patient based on their genome. By tracking and integrating
thousands of patient data points, researchers can analyze this data to
provide clinicians with personalized information for their patients so they
can modify treatment methods to achieve improved health outcomes. Another
example of innovation is where we have used emerging technologies to
facilitate the sharing of enormous datasets among stakeholders. Until
recently, these large datasets could not be shared via the Internet. We have
partnered with Aspera, which has enabled downloading of tremendous amounts
of data in a secure and fast manner.
What is ahead for the company?
Mr. Jacob: We will continue to focus on what we do well in an
effort to grow our client base. For now, we believe staying focused in our
sweet spot provides an advantage over larger competitors with a broader
portfolio. Our emphasis is in very specific areas supporting the mission of
our customers –applying our expertise in healthcare, biomedical and
technology, to improve all aspects of human health.
Why pay attention to ESAC today? Why does the company stand out?
Mr. Jacob: We are a services company that is working closely
with the government and other organizations to establish the standards for
information sharing of healthcare data. Our staff is made up of subject
matter experts and leaders in a rapidly changing and challenging space.
Unlike most IT companies, we sit at the cross section of science and
technology, allowing us to develop innovative solutions to challenging
problems. We are small and agile, and meeting the customer’s needs is of
paramount importance to everything we do. These are our unique
What is your day-to-day focus as CEO?
Mr. Jacob: Although one of my critical roles is to identify
new opportunities to continue the company’s growth and offer our staff
increased challenges, I am still actively involved in the day-to-day
operations of the company. My technical training allows me to keep my hands
in the management and technical aspects of the project, but I am also
spending time wearing the hats of the CEO/COO/CFO and focusing more time on
driving the strategic direction of the company. I am fortunate to have
ESAC’s Vice President, Mike Flanigan, as my partner in helping for most of
the day-to-day operations as well as strategic matters.
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