One of the great joys of working for a voice and video tech company is hearing the unique stories of how customers use Polycom solutions. Often, we find ourselves visualizing communication between conference rooms or huddle spaces, but we rarely stop to think about what that conference room actually looks like. The room might be within the walls of a classroom, operating room or even a government agency. Then again, it might not be between walls at all. And that sometimes is the case for Operation Smile.
Operation Smile is an international medical charity that has provided hundreds of thousands of free surgeries for children and young adults in developing countries who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate or other facial deformities. Founded by Dr. Bill & Kathy Magee in 1982, this organization assembles a team of medical professionals who volunteer their time to travel to some of the most remote places on the planet looking to help children in need. Chris Bryant is one of those people. He joined an Operation Smile medical mission in Vietnam.
Last year at Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta, I had the privilege of meeting Chris and, like many before me, his story overwhelmed me. The care and love he has for his job is genuine. I recently sat down with Chris to discuss how he and his team use technology in the field to be more efficient and productive.
Operation Smile provides children with cleft lip and other cleft-related issues free surgeries. Could you tell us a bit more about your job within the organization?
Chris Bryant: I serve as Senior Vice President of Enterprise Applications and Technology. This means I wear both operational/tactical hats and strategic/planning ones. Our mission in IT at Operation Smile is to explore, source and implement technologies that help us raise more money, extend our reach and safely take care of more kids. We encounter many unique challenges in doing this, especially on the patient focused side, since we provide our surgeries in low and middle income countries which are extremely resource constrained and where the bulk of our patients may live beyond the last mile of the Internet. This means that tech-enabled business and clinical solutions easily implemented in the First World are really challenging for us and solutions considered challenging in the First World often seem insurmountable given our operational context. We remain undaunted however and actually manage many of our global initiatives leveraging James Collins’ metaphor of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). There is little we are afraid of and or unwilling to tackle.
Obviously you use many technologies, but I know video conferencing is one. Could you describe some of the ways you use video?
CB: Video provides the connectivity, personality and intimacy we need to effect change on a global basis in an organization of only a couple hundred paid employees but with over 10,000 volunteers. Video based collaboration, like that afforded us via the generous donations of Polycom and integrated with Microsoft’s Skype for Business, helps us create a sense of oneness with our global team and enables dedicated volunteers in 40+ countries to feel legitimate ownership in strategic planning which is managed out of our U.S. HQ. This collaboration has also become a key tenet of how we execute our work. We don’t have the luxury of hopping on an airplane as often as the business might demand. So video based collaboration truly has become the next best thing to being there. . . perhaps better when considering the cost savings. We also use video to cost effectively extend the reach of our training and education programs. We recently launched a Polycom based initiative that allows anesthesiology residents we sponsor at Jimma University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to participate in clinical rounds based discussions with peer residents at the University of Virginia Medical School in Charlottesville, Virginia. Finally, we’re exploring video to extend the reach of our speech therapy services via telemedicine. When cleft palate patients and pediatric speech therapists can’t travel to sit face to face for crucial therapy, telemedicine provides the vital link that allows remote practitioners to demonstrate techniques so palate patients can develop effective speech.
Are there any specific examples of the above where video was a saving grace? For example, was there a child that may not have been seen or received the surgery that was eligible and did?
CB: At this point, video has been an enabler for more effective communication and more robust collaboration which leads to dedicated volunteers feeling empowered to continue to go do the difficult work they do. Getting all the world on the same page with respect to strategy and execution approach is no small feat and while this target may ostensibly be considered a moving one, it’s something we never give up on. We need to provide safe surgical environments and support systems that allow country level uniqueness in approach while still adhering to a most rigorous set of quality standards for care. Because the bulk of our surgical facilities are effectively off the grid, video impact at the site of service delivery remains something we dream about.
From a personal standpoint, how has video made your job easier?
CB: I’ve really enjoyed the ability to interact with and develop ground up and close personal working relationships with our supporters around the globe by using the power of video teleconferencing. This means I can contribute to driving more impact while still maintaining some semblance of a work to personal life balance. The alternative would be hopping on an airplane far more frequently.
Has video personally impacted you in any way? In what ways and can you tie a specific emotion that sticks with you from that example?
CB: You know it’s funny. While video has become a tremendous enabler for the work I do and feeding my professional passion, Operation Smile is still very much like a large, globally distributed family all bound by a common goal to give back in an immeasurable way to children born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities. I am first and foremost a family man and am blessed to have both a beautiful personal family of four children and two grandchildren and also a global family of tens of thousands of like-minded humans seeking to help others in need. My grandchildren live right here in Virginia Beach and less than 10 miles from my front door, yet I find myself routinely video chatting with my grandson about his day, pre-school, t-ball, his dog “Kiki”, his new baby sister and all the other stuff that drives him at age 4. When I stop and think about it, I realize that video enables the same intimacy in relationships at work that I enjoy at home. It is through this that trust is developed and maintained, ideas are borne and developed and more people in need are connected with people who care and who can meet their needs. That’s a pretty powerful thing.