Niall recounts a speech by W.P. Kinsella, author of Field of Dreams, whom he saw speak at the University of Toronto.
This was just before we started the business. After his talk somebody got up to the microphone and, obviously a fan, said, ‘Mr. Kinsella, the passion in your writing really comes through, it’s just amazing. Maybe you can speak a little bit about your love for baseball, the culture of Native Americans, and talk about that and how that led you into writing.’
Kinsella replied, “Well, I don’t want to disappoint you but I was a writer in Vancouver. And I was working away and I was not selling much; I wrote a story about baseball and it sold, so I wrote another one about baseball and it sold. Then I wrote a story about Native Americans and that sold, so I wrote another one. Like a miner who finds his vein of gold, we are working that vein and I will follow it until it’s done.’
“Putting Health on the Map.”
That attitude reflects a common trait in Niall’s life that led him step-by-step to become CEO of one of Canada’s hottest young health informatics companies, Infonaut. After university, he became a writer just as the Web was new, and Niall found himself attracted to it. He quickly found himself doing a lot of web work for the entertainment industry. Looking at what he was doing, Niall realized the web was becoming a giant database. Inspired, he jumped into the financial industry to learn about data warehousing. In 2001, he translated that experience to provide management reporting to health care on a $1.5 billion long term care project.
As Niall describes,
The government had started to seriously impact and affect a system that had been in equilibrium for years, without quite understanding that system. As a result, issues and problems started to emerge. People couldn’t wrap their head around what the solutions might be because we didn’t quite understand the industry that we were having such a profound impact on. And all of the information was there; it just wasn’t organized and reported in a good manner.”
When we used data to predict problems before they emerged, we stumbled upon a really clean solution. “We started coloring some maps based on our reports; red in this area is bad, green is good, here’s the hotspot. Those resonated, and they asked for some more maps and then more maps. Before long everyone stopped asking for the spreadsheets and just wanted the maps.”
Thus, Infonaut was born with their neat tagline, “Putting Health on the Map.” They are one of the leading solutions companies that helps health planners visualize, analyze and integrate their data. By layering data over a map, planners can drill down from a national overview, all the way down to a local neighbourhood – based on hundreds of health metrics and health outcomes that are tracked, like various wait-times for surgeries – or access to Primary Care. When planners can make decisions that relate to your circumstances and your neighbourhood, they can do a better job delivering services.
So, has Niall finally found somewhere to stick? Not a chance. “I’m 36. I’ve got a countdown to 40 on my laptop. At the age of 40 I’m going to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life – and I’ve got a feeling it involves something completely different – probably working with my hands.”