Ed Zander: Tracking wireless health's inflection point

By Brian Dolan
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Ed ZanderEd Zander's 15 years at Sun Microsystems culminated in 1999 when he became the company's President. In 2004 Zander joined Motorola as that company's CEO and Chairman until he stepped down early in 2008. Now, a year later, Zander has surfaced as a board member at ZigBee-enabled wireless asset tracking start-up Awarepoint, which focuses on healthcare facilities. With his attention turned to wireless healthcare, Zander recently agreed to an interview with MobiHealthNews that covered his role at Awarepoint, whether wireless healthcare is at an inflection point, how economic concerns are fueling interest in wireless healthcare, and how Awarepoint may go about pursuing federal stimulus dollars for health IT.

MobiHealthNews: Since leaving Motorola last year, you joined the board of directors at Awarepoint, a ZigBee sensor-enabled asset tracking company focused on healthcare facilities. Could you describe how you landed at Awarepoint?

Ed Zander: Well, to be honest, when I left Moto I decided to stop with the operating roles and I took some time off. I was doing this also while I was at Sun Microsystems and also maintained my interest in start-ups while at Motorola -- especially start-ups in Silicon Valley. I always stayed on little boards, dabbled with the VC guys, invested in some funds and so on. When I left [Motorola] one of the things I wanted to do in addition to working with some larger companies [like Time Warner] was to get back into small companies again with entrepreneurs and innovators to see when the next big thing was happening. It just so happens, of course, that Motorola gave me the opportunity to explore mobile, and more importantly the mobile Internet, which is something I have been very interested in even back during my experience at Sun, where we did a lot of Internet activity and believed in the network. We believed back then that eventually broadband would be everywhere.

If you combine all that with the things that Awarepoint is doing with asset tracking, you can start to see that with location-based services, everything in the world will be tagged. The idea that you could improve your asset tracking and, therefore, improve the efficiency of the overall company will eventually happen for every company. We have talked about technologies like RFID for a number of years but interest in that has started and stopped again and again. Partly because of the technology. Some of it was costs and ROI. As we explore the new technologies, like Awarepoint's system, which uses ZigBee technology, we start to see the cost-benefit ratio that makes these tracking solutions very attractive. I love this area [of location-based services]. I think it is already affecting every human being on the planet. I think it will eventually affect every company on the planet.

AwarepointAs far as how I joined Awarepoint: I knew about the company through some mutual acquaintances and I had met Jason before. I was going down to San Diego for other things while I was still at Motorola and got to meet Jason and sit down for a drink or coffee and do some free consulting on scaling the company, growing the company or just being a CEO. I never really necessarily thought about joining the board but Jason is a persistent kind of guy and when the [venture capitalists] came in I looked at it again. I did my homework and decided that this is an area that really could make things more efficient for hospitals improve costs and improve patient safety. This was, of course, well before the country's recent focus on healthcare. I know right now the focus [at Awarepoint] is on healthcare, but it's a great technology and it could be applied to other industries that we can move across to eventually.

Every company seems to use its board in different ways -- could you define your role with the company and how you will serve as a board member?

Obviously, we are still in the very early stages, so many of the [board members] are focused on the money -- how it will be used. I really focus with Jason on how to grow and scale the company and how to become a really good CEO since I have seen the good and not so good days. The hardest thing about being a CEO is figuring out what you do everyday. How do you budget your time? I spend a lot of my time with him one-on-one and also as part of the board talking about scaling, organization, hiring and P&L plus the broader strategy of a vision beyond healthcare and other industries. I do a lot of my work with Jason and some of the other members of the team outside of the board meetings as well as in them.

In the press release Awarepoint distributed about your appointment to the company's board, you had stated that you believe this industry is at an inflection point. Two things:  How do you define this industry? And why do you think it is at an inflection point?

That's a great question -- "inflection points" are always great words to use, but what I have seen in my past 30 or 40 year of working is that whether it's high-end work stations, mini-computers or the Internet there is a point in time where you know it's going to happen. Then you have a convergence of the cost, the technology, and the consumer benefit and all of that needs to hit at the right time. I remember back during my days even at Sun, we were at it for five or six years trying to prove the Internet, prove the network, prove software wasn't cost prohibitive and companies didn't want to hear it. I remember at Motorola talking about: Can these phones someday transmit the mobile Internet and produce the mobile Internet? It took a lot of time and consumers didn't want to pay for it, and now we are at an inflection point there with with all the interest we are seeing. Sometimes you happen to hit it and sometimes it just takes a while for those three things to come together. I could give you a hundred examples.