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Kerrie Holley

Senior Vice President and Technology Fellow


Locations: Eden Prairie, MN; Boston, MA; and San Francisco, CA

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Education

JD, law, DePaul University
BA, mathematics, DePaul University

Career bio

I joined Optum as their first technology fellow, focused on advancing UnitedHealth Group in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, deep learning, graph technologies, the Internet of Things, blockchain, virtual assistants and genomics. 

Prior to Optum, I was the VP and CTO of analytics and automation at Cisco. I spent the bulk of my career at IBM where I was a fellow and master inventor, focused on scalable services and cognitive computing. I was IBM’s first African-American distinguished engineer and a member of the Academy of Technology comprising the top 300 technologists. I was pleased to appear on ABC News and in a TED video to discuss IBM’s Watson the day after its historic debut and iconic display of AI on Jeopardy!

Awards and recognitions

  • Honorary doctorate degree and commencement speaker, DePaul University, 2016
  • Most Important Blacks in Technology, US Black Engineer magazine, 2009 and 2007
  • Naval Studies Board member, National Academy of Sciences, 2005–2010
  • The 50 Most Important Blacks in Research Science, Career Communications Group, 2004
  • Black Engineer of the Year–Chairman’s Award, US Black Engineer magazine, 2003

Conference speaking engagements

  • The Disruptive Effect of AI and IoT, Internet of Things World, 2019
  • AI and Pharmacy Care — Innovation or Disruptor, Optum Rx Consultant Forum, 2019
  • Analytics, ML, AI and the Rise of Intelligent Applications, Optum DevDays, 2019
  • Ambient Intelligence Impact on Healthcare, Precision Medicine World Conference, 2019
  • Next-Gen Technology Ignites Healthier Lifestyles, SXSW, 2019
  • The Impact of Ambient Intelligence on Healthcare, AI Summit, 2018
  • Unlocking the Potential of AI and Advanced Technologies for Healthcare, AI Summit, 2018
  • Emerging Technology Impact on the Future of Healthcare (AI, Blockchain, IoT & VR), Optum Forum, 2018
  • The Evolving World of Artificial Intelligence Lessons for Health, US News Healthcare of Tomorrow, 2018
  • Digital Twin Powered by AI, Optum Forum, 2018
  • Tackling the health system’s greatest challenges with Artificial Intelligence and Intelligence Amplification, AI Summit, 2017
  • How IBM’s Watson beat humanity on Jeopardy!, TED Blog, 2011

Publications

I have written books and articles covering a wide range of topics including artificial intelligence, service-oriented architecture, cloud, analytics, and the power of digital products and APIs. The latest include: 

  • “Building Your AI Healthcare Strategy,” aibusiness.com, July 2018
  • “Are traditional software architectures hindering your digital transformation?” Cisco Blog, April 2016
  • “The Power of the API Economy: Stimulate Innovation, Increase Productivity, Develop New Channels, and Reach New Markets,” IBM Redguide, December 2014
  • “Is Your Company Ready for Cloud,” IBM Press, 2012
  • “100 SOA Questions: Asked and Answered,” Prentice Hall, 2010 

Patents

I have 20 patents issued. See the complete list at the USPTO.  

Personal profile

Why did you choose to work at Optum (instead of any other tech company or health care company)?

My choice to join Optum was for the opportunity and challenge of using emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence, to solve some of the most intractable problems in our world, such as making people healthier. It is a compelling opportunity as a senior leader to help transform the workforce to embrace a software engineering mindset as a necessity to make the health system work better.
 

Is there a personal story behind your decision to work in health care?

Seeing first-hand the impact of social determinants of health was not an AI problem for me but an experience. As a kid I saw this with friends and family, and as an adult it was visible with the premature deaths of my sister and brother. The opportunity to build technology that directly contributes to people’s health is compelling. This decision was reaffirmed by me over the last year, witnessing my mother-in-law face cancer. Because I work at Optum, I was able to learn and help reroute her to a care center, and after a year of treatment she is seeing positive outcomes.
 

What’s one example of a really difficult problem in health care that you are solving using technology? 

When AI technologies are applied to enhance real-time analytics, the innovation explodes — whether this means better disease prediction models, superior clinical care decision tools, or better clinical care pathways. The arrival of this new wave of AI allows us to make substantial progress where we can achieve simplicity and personalization of care, modernize care delivery, and provide a societal return. These are all challenges in health care that my team and I are working on.
 

How are you keeping health care human while applying advanced technology?

Simplicity and personalization are all about the power of one, where we know and remember everyone in our ecosystem like our members and providers. We focus on human-centered AI: doing our best to have interpretable interfaces, recognizing and eliminating bias so it doesn’t drift into our models, and making sure technology aids and augments clinical care.
 

What are you passionate about when you’re not at work?

I love spending time with my family. Aside from that I am passionate about Bikram Yoga, which I do as often as I can. Although I don’t do competitive running, I still love to run and play basketball.
 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Asking for what you want, at work and at home, would top my list. Secondly, embrace a growth mindset. And “you are what you think” is not just a new-age mantra; it’s a way of becoming a director in your life, not just an actor.

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