Women Leading The AI Industry, “Know your place; It is right here in this business” with Deana Rhoades and Tyler Gallagher

Know your place, not in the “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” way, but that your place is right here in this business — with men, other women, in a diverse group of professional people in this industry. You are not “a woman in the AI space” — but rather “a human in the AI space.”

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deana Rhoades, Global Practice Lead for Automation Consulting at NTT DATA Services, works with and supports healthcare organizations to use digital automation technologies to transform their business, applications and infrastructure operations. She has over 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry, having held positions in operations, IT and Medicare compliance. Prior to joining NTT DATA Services, Deana was Director of Medicare Solutions Compliance and ikaSystems and Medicare Compliance Administrator at UPMC Health Plan. She obtained her MBA and BA degrees at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and resides in PA with her husband and two toddler daughters.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

It all started when I was working my way through business school as a medical transcriptionist. We had just upgraded to a beefed-up version of Microsoft Word that included the AutoCorrect feature for simple, common typos such as changing ”recieved” to “received.” It turned out that after using my Try Every Menu Option (TEMO) approach to learning new systems, I figured out how to maximize the potential of that new automation. Because I was paid by the line, I rode that new wave of technical advancement into a whole new tax bracket — type GERD and voilà, gastroesophageal reflux disease, type LADCA and voilà, left anterior descending coronary artery, type Dr. Smith cystoscopy and voilà, a 2-page template with placeholders for the parts the Doc customizes per patient — and never a misspelled word. Forever after, I was obsessed with using automation to improve productivity, quality, operations, systems, compliance and any other benefit I could dream up. Coming into the world of intelligent automation and artificial intelligence was a natural progression for me after spending time in health plan operations and compliance, then software development and product management and business process outsourcing wherein all three of the roles allowed me to further build my automation chops. I just love thinking about how far this new wave of Artificial Intelligence is going to take humanity over the next decade.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back. Don’t forget the second phrase in that sentence. Experiment with your ideas. Focus on turning your ideas into value for others. It’s great to think big; outside the boundaries of your job, role, or function.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

The team that I lead is currently working with a healthcare customer to build its Intelligent Automation capability with a focus on becoming a mature organization, wherein there is a Culture of Automation imbedded throughout the entire enterprise. They are adding AI to their automation platform to supercharge their robotic workforce — in other words, turning their robots into rocket scientists!

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 first job after graduating with my bachelor’s degree was as a file clerk at UPMC Health Plan. I showed up everyday in my suit and heels and crawled around on the floor filing enrollment forms. Talk about underemployed. But, I did the best job of any file clerk in the history of clerking, if I must say so myself. I took a chance to discuss my career goals with my Senior Director, Stephany Hartstirn, after three months on the job. Within a few weeks of that conversation, she gave me three options — all brand-new positions in her department — and I chose to be her Quality Facilitator. How perfect was that, given my drive for automation and quality improvement? Stephany’s trust in me, leadership and thoughtful approach to helping me think through a career path was like giving a canoe a jet boat. She gave me confidence. I can’t thank her enough.

In 2006, while working at a UPMC Health Plan, I had an opportunity to lead a vendor selection process for the procurement of Medicare Advantage software. I met with folks from several leading software companies, learned about what they had to offer and hosted onsite demos. The team from one vendor was very unique. They asked me what my needs were, learned about my ideas, listened to my thoughts and ideas regarding the industry; and then offered to give me what I wanted, not just what they had. The team was led by Madu Narahari at ikaSystems. Madu truly encouraged me to think up something grand, something meaningful, and something valuable for our industry. He gave me a chance to move from business operations into IT at a critical time in my career and at a time where there were few women in leadership positions in the industry. He recognized my ability to think critically, logically, and strategically and gave me the reins on developing a masterpiece — ikaMedicareGateway. Madu, the amazing team of engineers and I created the first Medicare Advantage enrollment system that truly automated election period determinations and reconciliation of certain transmittal files received from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

· Oh, the things we will learn! Whew, this thought just blows me away!

· I’m excited about how AI will be used to solve some of our globe’s most tragic humanitarian crises, such as poverty, hunger, inequality, and lack of access to clean water, education and health care.

· I’m exited to see how AI will be used to automate our free time, err, our work — think back on when gas engine-powered tractors put work horses out of business, the average number of hours worked per day dropped dramatically. Today “full time work” is defined as 40 hours or so. I’m excited for that to drop to 10 or so in my lifetime!

· The application of AI to improve our health is exhilarating, and its already happening today. Next up, health of our planet, health of the animal and plant kingdoms, health of the universe, and ….

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

· We have not established a global governing body for the use of AI that establishes ethical guidelines and moral philosophy of AI. The United Nations General Assembly has passed multiple resolutions for the governing of outer space, such as the 1982 Principles Governing the Use by States of Artificial Earth Satellites for International Direct Television Broadcasting, the 1992 Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space, and the 1996 Declaration on International Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for the Benefit and in the Interest of All States. These guidelines and other similar initiatives have successfully maintained peace. It is important that we develop similar guidelines and global alignment for Artificial Intelligence.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

Most anything can be considered a danger to society — from the advent of gasoline powered engines to assembly line production to space exploration to new technology and algorithms. We are not unfamiliar with how to manage the risk associated with technological advancements. Consider that only a little over 150 years ago doctors started washing their hands before a surgery. We’ve come a long way! Let’s be aware of the risks and vulnerabilities associated with the widespread adoption of AI and think strategically on how best to mitigate them and build safeguards.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

Make Artificial Intelligence part of our regular discourse. This is also something we have a great history of accomplishing. Think AIDS awareness in the 1980s, tobacco cessation in the 1990s, even today’s #MeToo movement.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I strive every day to think about how my actions impact those around me; how I can help bring intelligent automation to my customers to help them meet their business objectives. Because I am in the healthcare industry, I am hopeful that my work to bring AI to my health plan customers will make an impact on the cost of care here in the U.S. and support real reform that allows everyone in our communities access to wholistic, quality healthcare in the very near future.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

· Stop saying sorry. You’re not sorry. Read this article in the NY Times: Why Women Apologize and Should Stop by Sloane Crosley.

· Know your place, not in the “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” way, but that your place is right here in this business — with men, other women, in a diverse group of professional people in this industry. You are not “a woman in the AI space” — but rather “a human in the AI space.”

· When you find someone that you admire, whether it be a colleague, a boss, someone in another department/function — ask for mentoring from them. And don’t be sorry about it!

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

Well there has been progress in getting more women into STEM programs at the university level. This needs to continue because more work needs to be done. Also, organizations need to focus on developing a pipeline of diverse candidates in IT fields starting from entry-level positions. At NTT DATA, we are starting a program wherein we will partner with a university to create an RPA and AI Academy with that goal as our main objective. Get a diverse set of candidates ready right out of college to fill roles in the industry.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. My Grandpa said this (although sometimes in a slightly cruder version). Remember when I said I figured out how to program Microsoft Word’s AutoCorrect feature? Well, that started with “Well, I wish this software could…” I TEMO’s it and made it happen. I love when these types of thoughts come to mind, because usually if I can wish it, dream it up, I can find a way to make it happen.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. :-)

I see the potential for positively impacting people globally through the movement towards awareness, and action, on mental health. When the stigma of mental health is gone, when mental health is considered part of the human conditions of health and wellness, when access to quality healthcare including brain care is made available globally, it’ll be a win for humanity. AI is going to help with this.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

linkedin.com/in/deanazimmerman.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!