As a self-proclaimed “perpetual learner,” Andrea Daugherty is always looking for the next challenge. And so, when she was contacted late in 2019 about a vacancy at Dell Medical School at UT Austin, the opportunity “to be part of something new and leave my footprint” was too good to resist. Daugherty accepted the role as Director of Information Security, adding the interim CIO position two years later, and has never looked back.
“It’s been an absolutely amazing experience,” she said during a conversation with Kate Gamble, Managing Editor and Director of Social Media at healthsystemCIO. But one that required a lot of learning, which she approached by going on a “listening tour” of the organization that not only helped her understand the work being done, but also helped build valuable relationships.
In the interview, Daugherty talked about the culture of innovation that distinguishes Dell Med from other organizations; the challenges they face in recruiting and retaining top talent, particularly in a tech hub like Austin; the importance of “getting personal” as a leader; and how she’s working with community organizations to raise awareness about careers in cybersecurity.
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- On transitioning to an academic medical center: “It threw me for a curveball, but it’s been and excellent learning opportunity, and I’ve certainly embraced it.”
- On innovative initiatives like Nutri: “Being able to work on projects like this and getting them into the hands of the people who will actually benefit from their use is only going to further the desire to leverage technologies.”
- On the cloud environment: “We’re going to see more and more services shift to the cloud… that allows you to be more agile and nimble.”
- On competing for staff: “While we do sell the fact that we are an innovative institution and there are a lot of opportunities here, we are with all of these other tech companies… When people want to come to work for Dell Med, it’s usually because they’re inspired by what we do here, and they want to be part of that.”
- On empathetic leadership: “One of the main reasons people leave is because they feel undervalued and underappreciated. Taking the time to make those personal connections really does make a difference.”
- On raising awareness of cyber careers: “When we talk about education, it’s working with school districts just to make sure it’s part of the curriculum, because the more connected we get, the more important cybersecurity is going to be.”
Q&A with Andrea Daugherty, Interim CIO and Director of Enterprise IT Security & Infrastructure, Dell Medical School at the University of Texas Austin
Gamble: Hi Andrea, thanks so much for joining. I want to talk about what you’re doing with the organization and get into some of your career path. Just for some background, you’ve been with the organization for about three years, correct?
Daugherty: Yes, just over three years. I joined in December of 2019.
Gamble: Right before everything happened.
Daugherty: Yes. In fact, my family and I relocated here from Southern California. I worked remotely that first month, and then we moved at the beginning of January. By the time we closed on our home and were settled and ready to explore our new home, everything was shutting down.
Gamble: We’ll definitely get more into that, but in terms of your current role, you’ve been in it for about a year and a half. What falls under your purview in your role?
Daugherty: I have an interesting role. When I joined Dell Med, it was as Director of Information Security. I was recruited here to build out a healthcare focused information security program for the medical school and our clinical enterprise at UT Health Austin.
Since stepping into the CIO role, I’ve continued those information security duties, and so I effectively wear the CISO hat as well. In addition to that, I have oversight for the enterprise project management office, clinical applications, clinical informatics, and all of our data intelligence and decision science — that data DevOps, as well as the infrastructure, networking, security, and then lastly, instructional technology, which is really focused on the technology needed for our faculty and students.
Gamble: So certainly, a lot there. What do you consider to be your core objectives? I’m sure cyber is a big part of that.
Daugherty: Cybersecurity is at the forefront of everything that we do, especially with healthcare being one of the most attacked industries. We need to make sure we have all of our controls in place and continue to express our due diligence when it comes to protecting our patient data as well as any other university data.
In addition to that, we, just like all health systems, have been impacted by COVID over the last few years. And so, as we look toward the future and what we hope to achieve strategically, we’re looking at ways we can do more with less. We’re looking at bloat and seeing if there’s an opportunity to rationalize some of the less frequently used tech specs.
Staffing is also a huge point of focus. Again, like everyone else, we’ve been impacted by the great resignation, quiet quitting, or whatever buzzword people are using. One reason is that during Covid and thereafter, we saw salaries become inflated in other industries. It was really hard for us as a public institution to remain competitive, and so we lost some quality talent — not just to competitors, but other industries as well. And so, we’re really focused on retaining the folks we do have while also continuing to recruit talent.
We also had a new dean, Dr. Claudia Lucchinetti, start in December after having the role vacated for 14 or 15 months. She’s a neurologist by training who came to us from Mayo Clinic, where she had spent her entire career. Dr. Lucchinetti started as the Dean of the Medical School and then became VP of Medical Affairs for the University of Texas Austin as a whole.
As a technology leader, I’m working with her to understand what her vision and strategy is for the medical school and to partner with her to ensure technology continues to be an enabler.
Working for an academic medical center
Gamble: With Dell being a medical school, I would think it comes with challenges, but also opportunities from your perspective.
Daugherty: Absolutely. I’ve spent my entire career in healthcare IT. I’ve been in a number of different roles, from my consulting days with Cerner to moving to the provider side and managing a team for clinical applications in cybersecurity and infrastructure with MemorialCare. I’ve run the gamut in terms of healthcare IT functions.
But joining an academic medical center is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my career because you have the academic side of things. We’re very focused on educating the physicians of the future, which has been quite an experience. I’ve learned a lot and really enjoyed that aspect of it. We also have research, clinical and non-clinical, sponsored projects and those are a bit of a learning curve for me. I had very minimal exposure to the research world prior to joining, but it’s been an absolutely amazing experience getting to work with some of the brightest minds in the industry and hear about the wonderful things that they’re doing and the ways they’re hoping to impact medicine as a whole. That’s been fantastic as well.
And finally, there’s clinical operations and supporting our clinical enterprise. That’s something I was very comfortable with coming it. The medical education and research area threw me a bit of a curveball, but it’s been an excellent learning opportunity for me, and I’ve certainly embraced it.
“Learning and listening”
Gamble: When you took on the role, did you take steps to try to educate yourself or immerse yourself in the environment? How did you approach that?
Daugherty: From the beginning, I had my sights set on just learning as much as I could, talking to as many people as I could, and just listening. It’s so important when you come into a new organization and new role that you go on a listening tour to understand what type of work the faculty is doing and how that’s impacting the specialty they practice in, or how it aligns to the mission of the medical school.
I think that’s been the biggest thing for me, along with relationship building. When I went on the listening tour, I focused on how do I build relationships and understanding the work these individuals do, and how I can be of service to them. Those two things helped me prepare most efficiently.
And of course, there’s the research component. You may learn something new by doing your own research on the side. I certainly gained more and learned more just by having those conversations and building those relationships and spending time with people, whether it be in the clinic or it could be at a research lab. It’s so important to try to understand the work people are doing and how I can be of service to them as related to technology enablement.
Gamble: One of the news items I had seen was about Nutri. Can you talk about what the organization is doing around that?
Daugherty: Absolutely. Marissa Burgermaster, PhD [Assistant Profession, Department of Population Health] was the principal investigator (PI) on that. She’s absolutely fantastic and is incredibly passionate about really changing the way providers prepare or educate their patients when it comes to their nutrition, and the impact it can have on chronic conditions. It was interesting because I was probably still in my director of security role when I was approached by Marissa and her team to get involved. And really, my involvement at that early stage was really from a security and privacy perspective — looking at the app, making sure it met all the necessary controls. I have a DevOps team that was very hands-on in building, developing, and testing it.
We went live a little while back with the Lone Star Clinic. It’s been an amazing opportunity to see the fruits of our labor and see it in use by providers. There are some future phases we’re actively working on in hopes that we’ll be able to roll the app out to other providers in the Austin area and hopefully even beyond that. So many studies have shown that food or nutrition is just as important as medical treatment. And so, I think finding ways for the patient and the provider to co-manage their condition with nutrition and be able to check in and communicate, which is what NutriMD does, is a fantastic addition to all of the other technology and tools that we have available to help educate our patients.
Gamble: Is that something that can potentially open the door to other uses of AI?
Daugherty: I think the possibilities with AI and machine learning are endless. They’re limitless. One of the good things that came out of the pandemic was that people realized that they had to be more nimble and adjust and adapt quickly, whereas healthcare from a technology perspective has typically been a laggard compared to other industries. And so, being able to work on projects like this and seeing them come to fruition and then getting them out in the hands of the people who will actually benefit from their use is only going to further the desire for the industry as a whole to leverage technologies.
One of the things that I’m focused on and that everybody in the health industry is struggling with is the staffing shortage, whether that’s on the clinical side or the technology side. We’re looking at AI as a supplementary technology to those staffing shortages — how can we use AI to automate some of these workflows and better utilize the human capital that we have? I think there are a lot of different use cases. Nutrition is a great one.
There are other projects that are kicking off. One is around patients with asthma — how do we use AI and machine learning to ensure that pediatric patients and their caregivers have the support that they need? It’s utilizing technology for automatic refills based on usage and recommending different types of appointments. I think we’ll continue to see innovative uses of that technology throughout 2023 and even beyond. It’s a really exciting time in healthcare.
Gamble: For sure. And you said infrastructure also falls under you, which is critical, since you need the right foundation in place to be able to do all of this.
Daugherty: Absolutely. I’m more fortunate than some of my peers in the industry because the medical school is only seven years old, and our clinical enterprise is five years old. We don’t have the depth and breadth of technical debt that a lot of the more well-established institutions have. Shortly after I joined in December 2019, I ended up inheriting infrastructure. We were implementing a hyperconverged infrastructure for the opening of our ambulatory surgery center, and so I ended up taking that on and getting it to the goal line. It was great because, again, we didn’t have that technical debt, and so it was like we were starting fresh. We’ve been able to continue that and make adjustments. We’re certainly more nimble than other institutions, but at the end of the day, it’s still infrastructure.
I’m happy to say that one thing that sets us apart from some of our peers in industry is because we are new, a lot of our initial infrastructure and the upgrades we’ve done through the years have been cloud centric, so we don’t have a lot of physical devices or endpoints in a data center. We have some, but most of our stuff is in the cloud. As you know, that allows you to be more agile and nimble and you can scale up or down. It gives us a lot more flexibility.
Gamble: Right. And you don’t have to go through the migration process that a lot of organizations are going through.
Daugherty: Yes. The lifecycle replacement, the migration, all of that. It’s very costly to run a data center. I think as more services shift to the cloud and more vendors offer infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, and software as a service over the next 5 to 7 years, we’re going to see a significant decrease in the actual physical endpoints on prem.
Gamble: Interesting. Is the fact that the organization is relatively new something that appealed to you in coming to Dell Medical School?
Daugherty: Yes. However, the role I was in prior to Dell Med was great; the organization I worked for was fantastic. I really enjoyed the leadership and the team there. I was very happy. But a colleague of mine approached me and said, ‘I have a great opportunity for you to go to UT Austin. They have a brand-new med school.’ I had always wanted at some point in my career to transition to academic medicine and have that experience. I’m a self-designated perpetual learner, and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to be in this environment.
That was certainly one of the major selling points for me to make the transition and relocate my entire family to central Texas. UT Austin has a stellar reputation. For the last several years, it’s been in the top 10 or 20 of public universities in the United States. That fact, coupled with the opportunity to be a part of something new and kind of leave my thumbprint, if you will, on the university as we continue to grow in scale, was really what drove me here.
Gamble: It definitely has a reputation for being innovative. We spoke with Aaron Miri during Covid about the use of 3D printers to provide masks, and it was really amazing how that came together so quickly.
Daugherty: It was. In fact, I was working in lockstep with Aaron when we were doing that 3D printing the masks and stuff. You have this innovative institution with all these resources, where else are you going to be able to assemble a team basically overnight and say, ‘okay, there’s a mask shortage, what can we do to solve that, or at least try to solve it?’ That was a very fun project to get involved with.
I remember being in a big auditorium doing facial scans and trying to fit the different masks and designs. It was an amazing experience to be a part of.
“A passion for helping people”
Gamble: Going back to staffing challenges, can the fact that you’re doing all of these innovative initiatives help with recruiting? I would imagine it’s an advantage.
Daugherty: I do think it’s an advantage for us. However, over the past couple of years, so many tech companies have moved their headquarters here to Austin. We have Oracle. We have Tesla. We have Gigafactory, Google, and Facebook. IBM is building a new microchip facility. We have all of these big names with big budgets. And so, while we do sell the fact that we are an innovative institution and there are a lot of opportunities here, we are competing in a way that we never had to previously with all of these other tech companies moving here. At one point, UT was the premier employer in Austin. If you were in tech, it was basically UT or Dell, which is also here.
It’s been interesting to watch the shift but one thing I’ve certainly recognized is that when people want to come to work for Dell Med, it’s usually because they’re inspired by what we do here and they want to be part of that — or, they just have a passion to help people.
The “delicate balance” of recruiting
It’s a delicate balance, because on one hand you have this carrot dangling where they’re offering these really amazing compensation packages that are far beyond what a public institution can offer. On the other hand, we have the innovation, the resources, and the ability to collaborate with other schools across campus — it’s not just Dell Med. We have TACC which is one of the fastest super computers in the world. There are a lot of things to draw folks in, but I think at the end of the day, people have to be really aligned with the mission and vision of the organization.
Gamble: So maybe the advantage is more about the mission and providing patient care.
Daugherty: Absolutely. That’s why I’ve stayed in healthcare. I’ve had opportunities to go outside of it and I would consider it. But at the end of the day, I know that I will not be nearly as fulfilled in those other industries as I am by actually doing something that will have a positive impact on the community we serve.
Gamble: Last fall, you were part of a panel discussion at the CHIME Fall Forum that focused on leadership, and one thing that came up was how it has changed. Now, part of being a leader is checking in with people and then making sure that they’re engaged. It’s a different direction than the role has taken in the past. What are your thoughts on that?
Daugherty: I’ve held leadership roles throughout my career. As I’ve come up through leadership, one of the things that’s always been near and dear to my heart came from advice someone gave me early on, which was to become the leader that I needed earlier in my career.
For me, the past few years have been so challenging. People have had their own personal struggles. I’ve had my own medical challenges. At the end of the day, our work is going to be here, but our health is not. That is not always guaranteed. And so, I think it’s so important to make sure you’re checking in on your staff and their well-being. I wear multiple hats here, and so every day from start to end, I’m booked and sometimes double and triple booked, and it can be overwhelming. That’s when you start to worry about burnout and things of that sort.
“A little empathy goes a long way”
For me, when I’m checking in on my staff, the first thing I do during our one-on-ones is ask: how are you doing? What can I do for you? Is there anything I can do to make things easier for you? Because we’re human. If you’re not taking care of the person, then the work is not going to get done. The work doesn’t matter if the person is not well. Having a bit of empathy and remembering at the end of the day we’re all human — I think that goes a long way.
Making personal connections
Gamble: It’s something that I’ve noticed more, maybe since COVID, that leaders are more willing to be vulnerable. I think that that goes such a long way with people who are in the trenches with you.
Daugherty: Absolutely. I have several folks on my team that are parents. When the schools shut down and they were trying to navigate how to balance their work with having kids at home doing online learning, I was experiencing that myself. I think when you take a moment to try and understand where people are coming from or meet them where they are, it really does make a difference. We talked about staffing shortages and people leaving; one of the main reasons people leave is because they feel undervalued and underappreciated. Taking the time to make those personal connections really does make a difference.
A “voice” for women of color in cybersecurity
Gamble: Well said. And somehow, in the midst of all this, you find time to give back to the community. Can you talk about the work you’re doing with Women in Cybersecurity Austin? Why is that so important to you?
Daugherty: It’s interesting. I had never had a cybersecurity role before I took th role at MemorialCare; I went from a clinical applications manager to the director of information security. I’m very fortunate for the leaders I had, who trusted me enough to allow me to make that transition. One of my observations early on as I started attending cybersecurity conferences was the lack of female presence, and even furthermore, the lack of female women of color.
As I became more knowledgeable and more experienced in the industry and in cybersecurity, I recognized that there needed to be more of a voice to get others involved. My board seat on the Women in Cyber Security Austin chapter is relatively new; I’m super excited to be a part of that and help raise awareness to the fact that this is an industry that women can excel in. I’m very passionate about leadership and staffing and thinking about what’s possible with the next generations.
Spreading awareness about cyber jobs
I stumbled into healthcare IT by happenstance, and I’ve had an incredibly successful career. But with our younger generations — I’m talking middle school and high school — it’s not necessarily as prevalent as some of the mainstream career tracks like nursing, law, or marketing.
Part of my involvement, especially as the chair of education, is to spread awareness around how we can go into middle schools and high schools and educate our children about the options. ‘Have you ever thought about information security? This is what it looks like.’ And beyond that, when we talk about education, it’s working with school districts just to make sure it’s part of the curriculum, because the more connected we get, the more important cybersecurity is going to be.
For the longest time, when people thought about cybersecurity, they focused on the financial industry, but it’s prevalent throughout all industries and everything we do. Because there’s no data without connecting to Wi-Fi, using a cellphone, using a laptop — everything we do has a digital component to it. Therefore, everything we do has a cybersecurity component to it.
Gamble: Absolutely. I really like what you said about helping people to learn that these possibilities are out there. Well, I could certainly talk to you longer, but we’re about out of time. I hope we get to speak again.
Daugherty: Absolutely. Great to chat with you, Kate.