Erik Buice leads Northrop Grumman‘s health systems management unit as vice president and leads a team of more than 800 personnel who help federal health agencies manage their information technology systems.
Buice’s career has included stops at firms ranging from large to small, including IT and consulting roles at companies such as CGI, Patriot Technologies, ICF International and Vangent (now General Dynamics).
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, the GovCon veteran describes how the company has tapped some of the minds behind the human genome project to blend analytics and IT in order to process health data. He also charts his journey from mechanical engineering into the health IT space.
Erik Buice: I joined Northrop Grumman specifically to lead the Health Systems operating unit in August of 2011 and since then, I’ve focused on three main areas. First has been supporting the modernization of Medicare, largely under the Affordable Care Act.
My team has focused on important projects that help shift Medicare towards pay‑for‑performance and away from paying for the volume of care. We’ve also worked to help combat fraud – moving toward fraud prevention and away from “pay-and-chase” – and to expand the adoption of electronic health records across the nation.
A second area of focus has been bioinformatics, which is a high priority for us. We’ve been focused on helping to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by making clinical research more broadly available to the scientific community.
The third area of focus for my team has been social security modernization. In that area, we’ve focused on the recent growth in disability claims. We’ve also provided key support to the new data center migration. In addition, we have a great usability team that has helped the Social Security Administration for a few years running now maintain their elite position with several of the top ranked interactive federal Web sites.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you organize your time and efforts across those different programs?
Erik Buice: Like most leaders in our industry, I consistently strive to carve out more time for clients and staff while trying to diminish the time that I spend on internal processes and administration.
I place the highest value on the time spent with staff thinking through our clients’ toughest challenges and then meeting with those clients to see if (A) we’ve got their pain points right, and (B) whether our initial thinking about innovative and affordable solutions can help them solve those problems.
There’s been a lot of focus in our industry on lowest priced, technically acceptable, or LPTA, awards lately. My team chooses to focus on using innovation specifically to achieve affordability. The bottom line is we’re always looking for the most elegant solution to the clients’ toughest problems.
ExecutiveBiz: How would you describe bioinformatics and what’s its place within Northrop’s healthcare portfolio?
Erik Buice: The short answer is that bioinformatics means applying IT and analytics to help process biological data. Within our portfolio, we have a strong and growing bioinformatics practice, specifically with NIH.
We’re very fortunate to have some brilliant scientists within Northrop that have their names on the original human genome project.
We combine that scientific expertise with our IT expertise to provide support for several key areas at NIH, helping with databases and analytics for virus pathogen research. Years ago, we identified personalized medicine as a key disruptive force in health care in the future and we see bioinformatics as being front and center within our portfolio.
I personally look forward to the day on the near horizon when genomics, or my genetic blueprint, can be laid out on a table. Proteomics, which reflects my current health behaviors and condition relative to that blueprint, can be laid on top of it, and together, they will help inform me personally about how to lead a healthier life.
I like to joke that I can’t wait until I have a daily multivitamin that’s tailored just to me through the application of personalized medicine. We see a great future here at Northrop for bioinformatics in general, expanding our work at NIH, and in the particular area of personalized medicine.
Erik Buice: DreamIt to provides us with a great opportunity to stay on the cutting edge of health innovations, looking at new ways of doing business and new ways of reducing costs or increasing accessibility for health care.
With more than a thousand staff in the Baltimore area, Northrop Grumman is committed to economic and community development for our local environment. So it just made a lot of sense for us to jump in and team up with Johns Hopkins, Kaiser and others on the DreamIt initiative.
Northrop’s partnership with Dream It Health helps us to expand on our long‑standing commitment to both innovation and small business partnerships. We look forward to being able to support and partner with some of these outstanding small companies that have been selected for this round of Dream It Health Baltimore.
I loved participating in the interview processes for the companies that were selected. Across the board, I was impressed with the entrepreneurs, their passion and the innovative ideas they’ve developed. Northrop Grumman has the ability to offer some of these small companies potential access to a whole new customer base they probably haven’t considered; the public sector healthcare arena.
Most of them have not necessarily thought about the Federal government as a potential client. We’re looking forward to meeting one‑on‑one with the companies and to providing information sessions to the broader group to help them think through how we might work together to expand their offerings and client base.
Erik Buice: I spent six years after earning my mechanical engineering degree as a mechanical engineer and project manager supporting the Army’s communication and electronics command (CECOM). Those six years taught me the importance of a disciplined approach to projects and project management.
My earliest projects combined computer science, electromechanical and mechanical systems. I learned early-on the importance of following a well defined life cycle, from requirements to design, development, testing, implementation, ongoing support, and the rigor that should underpin that type of a process.
When I made the shift to IT, I realized a lot of things were still the same. It was still the same federal acquisition regulation that governed the work and the same engineering process that led to success. The business development processes were the same and partnering was just a little different with IT.
But, again, the systems development life cycle really is formulated from an engineering‑based approach. Sound engineering principles have served me well throughout 20 years in the industry.