The Truth about Cats & Dogs­—& Animal Medicine Technology

Ken Grady applies his love of animals and his tech skills to improve the work of veterinarians across the globe

Ken Grady has always been an animal lover. You can find him traveling across the country to visit farmers and their cows and chickens, or with veterinarians and the puppies, cats, guinea pigs, and all sorts of beloved pets in their care. But while his work involves caring for animals of all shapes and sizes, Grady isn’t a farmer or a vet himself. His business is information technology. Still, Grady’s work is in bettering the lives of animals—and humans—every day.

As VP and CIO for IDEXX Laboratories, Grady helps develop diagnostic software and technology products for veterinary care for our furry and not-so-furry friends across the globe. But Grady isn’t your ordinary CIO; his interest in animals ensures he’s on the front lines, shaking the hands of veterinarians, vet techs, and farmers his company’s products help. Whenever he is traveling, this CIO rides along with his field reps to see, hear, and learn from vet clinics—which range from small one-veterinarian operations to large, multiclinic practices—about how he can put better tools in the hands of the people who need them.

“Growing up riding horses and training dogs, I had serious thoughts of being a large animal vet as a kid,” Grady says. “My role gives me the chance to reconnect with that passion and translate it into new value I can add when I spend time with our customers face-to-face.Getting out of HQ accelerates my creativity in bringing the right tools to bear.”

Case Study: Vet Connect Plus

Veterinary clinics have long been able to test a single pet and retrieve diagnostic information, but comparing and cross-referencing dog and cat patient results has been a non-starter. As a result, companion animals were treated in somewhat of a vacuum—requiring veterinarians to use only their own experiences and research to determine a care plan.

IDEXX used its innovative Vet Connect Plus platform to create a new way to present diagnostic results to vets that can change the game for treating animals in their care. The platform combines results from the Internet of Things-enabled connective, in-clinic diagnostic instruments and results from samples sent into IDEXX’s Reference Laboratory—which employs certified veterinary and pathology experts—to develop a way for vets to cross-reference results across an array of animals for more informed decisions. IDEXX uses the most modern technologies of natural language processing of the big data sort.

Vet Connect Plus also leverages cloud technologies so vet clinics can obtain results at their fingertips via the web or smartphones in less than twenty-four hours.

Now, when a veterinarian is treating a dog with particular symptoms, they are armed with data taken across all of IDEXX’s client bases, so a health-care plan for that dog is based on massive amounts of background information.

Grady has his own beloved pet—a young, female English sheepdog named George—so he knows firsthand the devotion people feel for their animals. And IDEXX’s technological advances with the Internet of Things and data analytics are involved every step of the way, from when a pet owner brings his dog to the vet, through that animal’s entire health-care life cycle.

Picture this common scenario: Grady’s dog George is suffering discomfort, and he wants to run some tests to see what’s behind it. If Grady were to bring George into an IDEXX client vet clinic, the vet would be able to test for Lyme disease, heartworm, thyroid issues, and other common dog ailments right there in the clinic. IDEXX has more than 30,000 connected diagnostic medical devices in the field at its customer sites. Each of those devices transmits its status, test results, and consumption back to the company so that it can translate that wealth of data into the medical result the veterinarian then gives back to its patients.

Moreover, George’s samples can be sent back to IDEXX’s laboratories for more in-depth analysis to advance the standard of care. “The way we deliver [test results] is not just as a one-off test,” Grady says. “[IDEXX] delivers results that show a trend in time over all the tests George has received, so I can track steadily the kidney function of my dog, every test result, over time.”

This type of data analysis helps everyone: the dog, the dog owner, and the vet clinic itself. “The doctor has a really, really good, easy way to summarize the health trends of my pet and make diagnostic decisions,” Grady says. “And that’s delivered in a simplified, very visual presentation.”

This way, the technology and the medical practitioner are two symbiotic pieces of the puzzle, working together to achieve the same goal: bettering the health of animals.

“What we want to do is not practice medicine for them, of course, but provide them with some thoughts around what the next panel might be that they might want to run,” Grady says. “We want to provide the information to help them advance the standard of care that can be offered.”

But this tremendous data collection doesn’t just help one single pet’s health. Grady’s team has the ability to forecast, for example, an early arrival of Lyme disease season, let veterinarians know the most optimal antibiotic to prescribe, or even show trends of how certain symptoms in combination are indicators of commonly under-diagnosed illnesses. This technology is a game-changer for vets and all pet owners.

Grady is quick to point out, however, that these types of advances don’t just benefit dog and cat lovers; IDEXX’s work has a direct effect on human health, too. Aligned with animal care is the safety of food, milk, and water supplies. In fact, it’s this relatable, worldwide mission that made Grady interested in working for IDEXX in the first place.

“One of the things that attracted me to IDEXX was that everyone can relate to and understand our mission and contribution. Whether you own a pet or not, you know someone who does,” he says. “We help manage and identify disease prevalence in animal populations around the world. We help ensure that the milk your child is drinking is safe and healthy. We help ensure water quality and safeguard public health in both developed and developing markets.”

“We want to make sure that the cows and the pigs and the chickens that we rely on for so much of our food supply are maintained in a healthy state,” he adds.

Grady credits IDEXX’s bold cloud computing mission for its success in this area.

“We are a cloud-first company—and for a thirty-year-old, large enterprise in a traditionally conservative life sciences industry, I think that demonstrates the leadership and innovation behind IDEXX.”

About three weeks into launching a new sales channel for its customers, which Grady says overnight saw nearly 50 percent of its consumable sales flow to it, a massive blizzard struck IDEXX’s Maine headquarters.

Tech for All

Ken Grady has been actively involved in efforts to establish paths to technology careers for communities who don’t usually end up there—specifically for US veterans. When Grady first started at IDEXX, he got involved in a partnership program called Project>Login, which joins together efforts from the Maine university system and numerous companies to help light the way along this career path. Because of his involvement, Grady found himself invited to the White House as part of the federal government’s recognition of the state in its efforts to provide support, training programs, and awareness efforts under Project>Login.

It’s a cause that’s close to his heart, as Grady himself served as an active duty translator in the US Army for five years before finding his own way into a career in IT, working the night shift as a systems administrator.

“Someone took a chance on me and my ‘nontraditional’ path then, and I threw myself into it, learning everything I could from the role,” Grady says. “I’ve worked with Nobel Prize winners and startup technology entrepreneurs who are changing the world we live in. And I learned that capability and innovation doesn’t just emerge from the academic halls.”

“But our customer sales and support teams didn’t miss a beat,” Grady says. “We had built a resilient, IP telephony-based platform that allowed them to work from wherever they were—at home that day in front of the fire, I hope.”

IDEXX’s flexibility and dedication to connectivity and the concept of the Internet of Things has allowed for tremendous insight into customer behavior, which has helped the company highlight where it can be improving practice economics or take advantage of new diagnostic capabilities.

“Ultimately, IDEXX’s continued growth is tied to our customer-centric approach,” Grady says. “We solve problems for our customers based on our understanding of their practices, workflow, and bottlenecks.”

And that’s an approach that other typically IT-conservative companies can learn from: keep up with rapidly advancing technologies to put your company one step ahead of knowing what your customers need.

“In my first days in my role as CIO here at IDEXX, I stood in front of the team and predicted ‘Whatever technology you’re working on today, you won’t be working on it three years from now,’” Grady says. “That’s the pace of change that we’re dealing with.”