Cloud computing has the power to reinvent healthcare systems across the globe, according to former Apple CEO, John Sculley. In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, the 73 year-old Silicon Valley legend said he expected cloud to accelerate an overhaul of the current approach to healthcare within the next 15 years, and for big data analytics to be at the heart of the shift.
Sculley, who still holds a vesting interest in technology despite his infamous split from Apple in 1993, was speaking in the build-up to the Cloud Computing World Forum next month, where he will deliver a keynote presentation.
And now a Managing Partner of Venture Capitalist firm InflexionPoint, Sculley explained to Guardian Technology just why cloud, in particular, was at the centre of that interest:
“[With the shift to cloud] The curve is accelerating upwards, at a level that means that technologies are coming out that can do things that you couldn’t even envision even two or three years ago.”
Part of that curve, Sculley stated, was the cost of data storage, which has fallen significantly in the last year alone: “The speed at which a lot of this technology is commoditising is unprecedented,” he said, adding that cloud computing was now making businesses across all industry sectors sit up and reconsider the near-term future of how they operate – including in the public sector and in healthcare, where the current system, in the US in particular, was unsustainable:
“Politicians are arguing among themselves as to who’s going to pay for it,” he said.
“It’s completely unaffordable at its current growth rates, and the more I get a chance to understand healthcare, the more convinced I am that the problem is very solvable, but it’s solvable through innovation, not through just governments trying to work out who pays for what.
“We see healthcare shifting from a procedure reimbursement where in this country doctors are reimbursed for how many procedures they conduct, to a world where people will be reimbursed for the outcomes – did the patient actually get better, and what was the total cost of the cycle of care. So it’s not just about taking cloud computing and automating the healthcare system we have today, it literally means innovating and reinventing the healthcare system to make it much more patient-centric.”
While Sculley conceded he had many concerns about the pace at which technology was replacing so many day-to-day activities – “The more we bring in these sophisticated technologies, the higher the skills of the people that are needed to be able to use it, and the fewer people we need in the workforce” – it was the specific detail of healthcare, and the improvement of human life, where he saw the unprecedented benefit of cloud and in particular, big data analytics:
“I’m working with a company right now where we’re [using analytics] – you can track in real time peoples’ vital signs and take that data, you can imagine that’s massive amounts of data when you’re tracking each individual in real time, the vital signs – it could be their heart, could be how much they weigh, could be their fluid retention, could be even tracking proteomics, which are protein changes inside the body.
“If you can take that data and then be able to analyse it, it means that the future of medicine is going to be able to make predictions and measure outcomes of patient health improvement at a level of accuracy and a level of personalisation that we’ve never seen before.”
With cloud computing driving the infrastructure to make real-time analytics more widely available, Sculley felt the next step in the process was The Internet of Things – a world of connected devices – something the ex-Apple chief was certain would change the current technology landscape.
“Having 20bn connected devices means that the majority of those connected devices will be machine to machine,” he explained.
“It means we’re just at the beginning era of very powerful sensors that can be built into clothing, that can be used for tracking almost anything that one can conceive and doing that in real time and using cloud computing to manipulate data which is going to be many many orders of magnitude larger and more complex that anything we’ve ever considered before.”
And the timescales? “It may take five or 10 or 15 years to see the impact, but there’s no question in my mind that it’s going to have as big an impact on things like healthcare as personal computers did in empowering individuals and really created the productivity we’ve had for 30 years with knowledge workers.”