Pioneering IT’s Next Frontier

Early in her career Gabriele Zedlmayer, now HP’s vice president, office of social innovation, took a gutsy risk to get the world’s richest and most powerful people to start using personal digital assistants at the World Economic Forum’s 2000 annual meeting in Davos. Now, she is spearheading an effort to use similar devices to help curb deadly disease and put a crimp in the sale of counterfeit drugs in some of the poorest and least connected parts of the world.

The peripatetic HP executive is convinced that technology has the power  to address some of the world’s most difficult global health challenges. “It is the information technology sector’s next frontier,” she says. “We can add transparency, speed and better access and delivery of healthcare services.”

Zedlmayer is one of some 80-plus scheduled speakers at DLDWomen,a conference in Munich June 29-30 organized by Burda Media. The conference, which focuses on women’s influence on developments in technology, media, markets and society, is expected to attract 500 women in business and the arts.

Under her leadership, HP’s social innovation division has expanded from being focused on education to include programs not just on monitoring health but also on entrepreneurship and community engagement. “I can see and feel the impact we are having, “ says Zedlmayer, who lives in Germany with her husband and two sons, but commutes to HP’s offices in Switzerland and spends much of her time on planes.

The latest program she oversees, launched in early June, equips healthcare workers in Botswana with HP Palm Pre 2 smart phones to collect malaria data, notify the Ministry of Health about outbreaks and tag both data and disease surveillance information with GPS coordinates.

This data will contribute to a first-ever geographic map of disease transmission in the country, enabling faster response times and better measurement of malaria cases in order to monitor treatment and scale up the distribution of mosquito nets, she says.

The program is being run in partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and mobile network provider MASCOM, and uses technology developed by mobile health company Positive Innovation for the Next Generation (PING).

It is the largest mobile health pilot program in Botswana, running throughout the malaria season. Future programs are planned to reach additional outbreak-prone diseases in the region.

The technology being piloted offers lots of advantages over the current system:healthcare workers can collect data via a web application on a mobile device, upload the data (including pictures, video, audio and GPS coordinates) over a mobile network, and analyze and share the data via the cloud, in hours rather than the weeks normally needed. And, when an outbreak is detected, healthcare workers can quickly alert authorities via text message to ensure rapid deployment of preventative measures to reduce disease transmission.

In the next phase of the program, HP and PING plan to develop a cloud-based health services package for consumers in Botswana to deliver health-related information.

Despite progress in disease eradication, the World Health Organization reports that hundreds of thousands of people die from malaria-related illnesses each year, most of them children under the age of five. Mobile technology has the potential to drastically improve malaria surveillance by speeding data collection and generating more context-aware information about outbreaks.

In addition to the collaboration with PING, HP has alliances with African social enterprise mPedigree to fight counterfeit drugs through a mobile phone and cloud-based  service ; nonprofit organization mothers2mothers to help prevent HIV transmission from mothers to infants; and the CHAI to  improve the speed of HIV diagnosis for infants in Kenya.

The current focus on health and the developing world is worlds away from what Zedlemayer, a German native who earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Georgia State University and a master’s degree in finance from the University of Miami, was doing in the early days of her career.

After being hired in 1987, Zedlemayer held several positions within HP EMEA, including head of corporate affairs; vice president of marketing services, corporate marketing and customer relationship management for the enterprise systems group (ESG); and general manager of ESG marketing and solutions.

In 2000, back in the days when it was challenging to get an Internet connection in Davos, the snowy Alpine resort town where the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting is held,  Zedlmayer proposed distributing – for free – an HP personal digital assistant called Compaq – to all of the movers and shakers attending the event.

At the time, few chief executives or world leaders were experienced using handheld devices for data communications and communication channels in Davos were sketchy.   “There was a huge risk, I had to put my career on the line,” says Zadlmayer. “Not only did it work, there was a tremendous response, but it could have gone the other way.”

Zedlmayer went on to become vice president of corporate marketing for HP’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region, where she was responsible for comprehensive global marketing strategy.  While in this position she led regional branding efforts and marketing initiatives, including corporate communications, internal communications, brand and digital strategy, advertising, and global citizenship.

In addition to her current job as a vice-president in the social innovation unit, she leads HP’s Global Citizenship Council and serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Junior Achievement Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), the EU Commission e-skills Leadership Board and HAAS Center for Business Responsibility. Zedlmayer also leads the Executive Diversity Forum for HP in EMEA and is a member of the Women’s Council of HypoVereinsbank UNICREDIT.

Her many roles and demanding travel schedule make balancing work and family life challenging but she says she gets a lot of satisfaction from feeling like she is making a difference. “When I see how we can ensure that the return of blood samples for newborns in Africa is done in time for them to get UV treatment so they can have a chance to live; when I see a farmer in Nigeria  who has used a personal computer to start a small farm from scratch and scale up to thousands of chickens and to know that training from HP has made all of the difference in her life ; and when I go to Russia and see entrepreneurs we have trained who now have jobs, it feels like very meaningful work and makes it worth the extra time and extra effort,” she says.

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