How many of you suffer from at least mild “cyberchondria"? Do you run to the computer to Google your latest ailments? Are you often convinced that the headache you have is the first sign of some terminal illness you’ve been reading about?
Well, Symcat takes a new approach to Internet-assisted self-diagnosis. It provides not only the symptoms but the probability of getting the disease, using CDC data to rank results by the likelihood of the different conditions. It then allows users to further filter results by typing in information such as their gender, the duration of their symptoms and medical history. No, that headache you’ve had all week is likely not spinal stenosis or even viral pharyngitis. But if you’ve had a fall or a blow to the head you might want to consider a concussion.
As Symcat puts it, they “use data to help you feel better.” Never underestimate the palliative effects of peace of mind.
I had the chance to ask Craig Monsen, MD, co-founder and CEO of Symcat, a few questions about how they got their start with the business and their innovation with open data.
What was the genesis of Symcat? Can you describe the "ah-ha" moment of determining the need for Symcat?
As I sit at my kitchen table enjoying the quiet of my house before my kids come home, I know that I will move to my office and shut the door once that tranquility is shattered by their arrival. Then later this evening, once the house is again quiet with the monsters nestled in their beds, I might just take a few calls propped up on pillows in my bed. Yes, I do that regularly. Heck, they call it a laptop, right? This is the "home" scenario. On the road, workplaces and spaces vary even more. I really work best from a hotel room, or the hotel bar if I have a good headset on. None of this is new for me; I have played the role of an itinerant worker for years. But for a long time my employers continued to put my name on a door or cubicle. For me, that has now changed. No more nameplate for me. Employers are increasingly waking up to the fact that many employees (or "information workers," ugh... hate the term) just don't need or even want a fixed office or space. And, likely more importantly, the employers don't want that either. An empty office is an under-optimized asset. Both demand-side and supply-side forces converge to drive workplace and space diversity.
We hear a lot about empowered employees these days, and the changing nature of work and the workforce. Forrester's Workforce Employee Surveys investigate trends among information workers such as device usage, collaboration practices, workplace preferences, and attitudes about their employers. And, the signs are clearly indicating that the demand for workplace diversity and choice is on the rise:
The recent Executive Order Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum Open Data Policy – Managing Data as an Asset have brought much attention to efforts to promote the use of data by the US federal government. In fact, highlights of the US Federal Open Data Project are already impressive. Many agencies already provide their data in machine-readable formats through APIs, or at least downloadable data sets. However, I personally measure “highlights” in terms of the use of the data (not by the number of data sets accessible). And, many organizations already put this data to good uses in health, energy, education, safety, and finance. My recent blog, Open Data Isn’t Just For Governments Anymore, highlighted several examples of companies built on open data. Think Symcat, Healthgrades, oPower, or even Zillow which has been using public data for a while now. How many of you have “zillowed” your house, your neighbor’s house, or even a colleague’s house? Be honest. I have.
Having had several related discussions this past week while in Washington DC, it is obvious that the question of how to use and manage the growing wealth of data, and incorporate it into an existing information governance organization and infrastructure (however mature or not), is top of mind in the public sector as well. These questions are particularly timely for the federal government with the publication of the new Executive Order on Open Data and accompanying Memorandum on Open Data Policy – Managing Information as an Asset. Do government agencies need a CDO in order to do this?
If they did, what functions does the new role take on? Does the new role take on new uses of data for business strategy? Who has responsibility for existing functions of information management and data governance? Then from the organizational perspective, where does this new role sit? Who reports to the CDO? Gene discusses these questions in his blog. With the increasing importance of data and the information they generate, organizations need to get their heads around the new assets they have – both for internal use and both partners external to the organization. But the proliferation of “chiefs” doesn’t seem to be the answer. Information is an asset to the company, yes. And it needs to be managed. But not all assets have their own chief, nor should they.