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Robert Solberg is the director of product design for triValence. In this Q&A, he explains why he joined the company, what has him excited about the triValence platform, how he’s approaching design of the solution, and the feedback he’s been receiving from ambulatory surgery center (ASC) professionals.
Robert Solberg: I’m the director of product design, and I oversee the user experience (UX) design at an architectural level. My background is in UX design, and I’ve been doing this kind of work for about 25 years. In fact, I started in user experience before it was even called user experience. For the last eight years of my career, I’ve been in the healthcare space, and I joined triValence in March 2022.
RS: Several triValence employees I knew from my last job reached out to see if I was interested in joining the team. I wasn’t looking for a new position, but I liked those former teammates and was happy to talk to them. They provided some background, and then I met with Dunston (Almeida, founder) and Brian (Giessler, senior vice president of operations). They cast a compelling vision for the platform, and I loved the idea and immediately saw the market potential.
Another factor that I really liked was that triValence was an energetic, hungry startup. I have an entrepreneurial background — my wife and I owned our own company for a long time — so I know how rewarding it can be to get in on the ground floor of something new. As a UX guy, the thing I love most is improving the lives of users, and here I had a chance to play a significant role in doing that. I also would play a part in building something new, rather than working to slowly upgrade and improve outdated, legacy software. So, I left a company of 80,000-plus people to become employee #20 at triValence and haven’t looked back.
RS: Things are moving so quickly. The simple way of understanding what we’re doing here is that we’re creating a procure-to-pay work process for ASCs. One of the first things I asked the company’s leadership before I joined triValence was, “Isn’t there already a lot of supply chain software and ways to pay for things?” I wanted to understand what was going to make triValence special. The individual components of our platform aren’t necessarily groundbreaking technology on their own, although they do include some pretty innovative features. But the real power and value of triValence comes from the fact that we’re synthesizing all those components into one streamlined system. The end result is a very user-friendly experience on par with platforms like Amazon, PayPal, and Mint.
It’s exciting from a product design standpoint because we’re serving multiple user groups and solving multiple problems by simplifying complex processes. Any of the procurement and payment activities — from ordering supplies to sending out purchase orders to receiving product to paying invoices — can be complex on their own, especially for an ASC that’s trying to do more with less. Our goal, and my personal design philosophy, is all about making the complex simple.
RS: One of the big things I’ve noticed in healthcare is we have these big, sort of monolithic software solutions. They’ve been around for decades and grown so much during that time that they are often quite bloated. So even if they wanted to change direction quickly, and many of them do because they see what the market is doing, they’re too big to do so. It’s like making a 180° turn with an ocean liner — it’s going to take a while.
That “tech debt” has created significant challenges in healthcare. Technology is baked into every part of our lives now. We do banking on our phones, control our homes through software, do our shopping online. And this is as true of ASC staff and surgeons as everyone else. So why should they have access to all that user-friendly technology in every other area of their lives and then come to work and have to use clunky, 15- to 20-year-old software solutions? That’s not only frustrating for the user, but it’s also inefficient and costly for the ASC.
That’s where I saw an exciting advantage for triValence. It’s partially a matter of reducing the number of clicks required for a workflow. It’s also about the bigger improvements — the changes that can help an ASC get to where it doesn’t need to hire a part-time employee to handle a supply chain task because the materials manager can get more done with less.
A lot of the people we’re working with at ASCs are trying to run various aspects of their operations on Excel spreadsheets. Many don’t even use a purchase order process. Coming from a small business background, I know what it’s like to scramble and have to wear many hats. Cashflow and workflow matter a lot. That’s the case with ASCs, which are mostly small businesses. We can’t all be experts at everything, and so our goal at triValence is to provide a tool that will essentially free up ASC users from having to be supply chain experts. Our software is really going to help them carry that load. As I’ve been demoing our solution for ASCs, it’s incredibly rewarding as a product designer to see a user have that “a-ha moment” when they smile and say, “This is going to save me so much time.” That’s part of what we’re working toward.
RB: The data side is huge. Our users will have access to reports and data that can help them become more efficient as a business. We’re going to extend to them the efficiencies of big-time reporting features. For example, some vendors will offer a discount if you pay your invoice early; if you pay it within 15 days, for instance, they might give you 2% off. Our system is going to track those types of savings and help our users take advantage of those savings, as well as help them avoid making late payments by accident.
These are the kinds of opportunities ASCs would love to take advantage of now. But when you’re working on a spreadsheet, or when you’re ordering from numerous websites and vendors, you don’t have the advantage of seeing those opportunities. And even if you do, it’s difficult to take advantage of them because of the time required to do so. We want ASCs to see their profitability go up because they’re using our software. We want them to have less frustrated employees because we’re solving problems and allowing them to complete tasks in two minutes that used to take an hour.
On the product-design side, we’re using two approaches help us identify features that would be most useful: behavioral analytics and user feedback. This provides us with a comprehensive picture of both what users say they want and what they do. There have been so many times where I’ve watched someone use software that they’ve described as “pretty easy to use.” But the fact is they’ve just gotten so used to it that they don’t realize they’re entering duplicate information, clicking faulty buttons or links numerous times, and performing other inefficient steps. We can use our behavioral data to make adjustments that immediately increase efficiency and address pain points users may not have even been aware of. It’s about using data but also interacting with our users on a regular basis to make our product as valuable as it can be.
When I talk to ASCs, one of the concerns I often hear is how much they believe they would need to adjust their current business processes to accommodate the triValence platform. But it’s actually the other way around. We’re designing our software to accommodate how they run their business. Our goal is to make our software workflows adaptable and customizable. And at the same time, we want to introduce best practices and proven efficiencies into their workflows.
The design philosophy I’m encouraging us to use is called “emergent design.” It’s the idea that the user knows what they want to do and can help design their own workflow. While they don’t actively sit in on our design meetings, what’s happening is we’re essentially giving them a full “Lego kit” they can customize for their own use, even if they’re not tech savvy. That’s kind of the bigger vision we have for the triValence platform.
RS: It’s been better than I expected, to be honest. So many people have been willing and interested in chatting with us. There’s great passion in this industry, including around improving operations, which is why I think there’s a hunger, an interest, and a need for what we’re doing.
For me, these meetings are so rewarding and helpful. There’s nothing like seeing the product meet the customer. It’s that all-important feedback loop where we can hear exactly what customers are thinking and wanting, rather than us trying to get do a best guess or deciding on our own what’s most important. We’re focused on user-driven design for triValence so that we can help solve the most pressing problems for ASCs.
When I’ve demoed our product at tradeshows, one of the biggest surprises was that some of the features I thought were so simple were the biggest delighters. For example, the including of images for the products in the item master. One woman told me that her surgeon often hands her a medical device and says, “I need four of these.” The problem is that she doesn’t always know what it is. How do you even begin searching for that? Our platform helps answer that question of, “What is this supply we need?” just by including pictures with products. For even small issues like that, there’s an opportunity for us to really make a big impact. That’s very exciting for me.
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