Axiell’s Vital Records and Registries arm has been given new life with the recent addition of COO Joanna Breneman who brings with her two decades of experience in the sector. I sat down with Joanna (virtually) to hear more about her path to Axiell and her perspective on the future of the industry. Read on to learn more about Joanna’s vision for our VITA software, the vital records and registries market, and why Joanna has been referred to as the Death Expert.
Hi Joanna! Where are you joining the call from today?
Hey Rielle – I’m calling from Axiell’s new office in Brooklyn Heights! Our Vital Records employees are split between Toronto, Australia/New Zealand, New York and the US team is growing rapidly so we’ve just opened a new space for those who want to work in person. We share this building with We Work so it’s a cool space in a great area of the city.
And how did you get your start in the Vital Records business?
I studied computer science technology in school and went into telecommunications shortly after graduating. The industry was much different then. It was way less about the latest cool apps, and more about big business technology since barely anyone had a handheld device. It was also an extremely male dominated field.
I was actually considering leaving the tech industry because of how challenging it was to break into the sector as a woman. It was always a battle to move forward and overcome preconceptions, to forge a path and be taken seriously. It can be discouraging to confront that on a daily basis.
Fortunately, I was soon offered a role on a small 3 person team in a vital records company. It was there that I discovered the excitement that comes with more responsibility in a smaller team. I was able to take ownership of my projects and see them through to the tangible results – that made a huge difference in feeling the impact of my work.
My manager became a mentor to me, and he really helped me find my way. That was invaluable to my career and I highly recommend, for anyone starting out in the tech field, to try and find a mentor or someone that can help guide you professionally. Tech is a great field to explore and now there are so many resources to help newcomers find their footing. You can find so many groups online (eg. “women in tech” groups) that can be supportive.
How did your career progress from there?
The small three-person company I joined was eventually acquired and grew into a team of 30. I stayed there for 18 years which seems like such a long time looking back on it, but that’s how I gained so much experience with the sector. We were extremely successful in the US, so growth was quick and steady. Our product was one of the vital record solution leaders.
How did you get the nickname “Death Expert”?
I was the technical lead on some of the largest vital records and registries projects in the largest states in the US. Vital records are primarily birth, marriage, and death records. In the software, the Death record module is way more complicated than the Birth and Marriage modules, and somehow (probably because no one else wanted to deal with it,) I was always put in charge of that module.
I was given the nickname “Death Expert” which was perhaps accurate but also very dark! We would joke that in trying to get rid of the nickname I would bring people over to the dark side to help manage the Death Module.
The nickname actually preceded me! When I was hired at Axiell, I was introduced as the Death Expert so it’s a nickname I will definitely have to live down.
Tell me about your new role at Axiell!
I’m primarily responsible for project delivery and managing the team. Our Vital Records and Registries solution, VITA, is a great product that’s doing amazing things in the market and still has a lot more potential.
My goal is to help VITA and the team reach new heights. Because I have so much experience in the industry, I can identify various challenges and areas of opportunity to explore.
I want to unite the team towards evolving the software so that it can better serve modern industry needs like mobile-first functionality, cloud enablement, building a full suite to manage all the life events in one platform, offering highly configurable solutions, and meeting industry standards like HL7.
Currently we are focused on maintaining the same high standard of delivery that Axiell is known for. Over time we will enhance the product to future proof the solution for evolving market needs. The market is huge, and we want to make sure we’re meeting the diverse demands of such a large market.
What do you consider to be the guiding software requirements in the market?
I can speak to the US perspective which is where the bulk of my experience comes from. The US market wants a full suite of modules all within one customizable product. Fortunately, this is something VITA does well. Having all the vital records in the same database makes it easier to assemble and provide these connected records when reporting up to larger state bodies and the CDC which governs all US registries.
These records are from where the CDC derives all their national statistics, and there are financial incentives to provide the records in properly formatted files. That means in the US there is a direct incentive to partner with a vital records solution that can collect and correctly extract records data in the right format. The CDC’s needs change as well so we need to keep up to date with these evolving demands.
Are there other standards that we consider when evolving the software?
There’s so many! HL7 is an international set of standards in transferring sensitive health data between applications. It is being promoted by divisions of the CDC in the US.
HL7 is a data security standard which empowers the sharing of data between institutions. For example, between medical offices and the state database so that the state doesn’t have to manually create a new record each time an individual changes doctors or finds a new provider.
HL7 will be part of creating the foundation for a connected web of health data.
The big BIG goal for the sector is to create a network wherein all health and life event records are connected so that when you’re born, you have one record that follows you from doctor to doctor throughout your life. This is an exciting opportunity that we at Axiell are working to help move the industry towards.
What do you see as opportunities for Axiell’s Vital Records product, VITA?
Axiell has developed VITA with a lot of flexibility. It’s cloud-based with a streamlined user interface which makes it a competitive option and a leader in the field.
We’re currently working on launching a self-registration feature so that medical professionals and other software users can input vital records data themselves right into the system. For smaller vital registries this doesn’t seem so ground-breaking. But if you’re managing a massive jurisdiction that is well populated, you have a huge number of records to manage.
This usually means siloed medical and healthcare sites assemble their own data and then add it to a central database like VITA through some kind of data dump. This imposes an administrative burden on the customer.
But, with self-registration, people can input updates themselves, in real time. This significantly reduces the backlog on data input, alleviates a huge amount of administrative burden, and reduces errors in data migration. This feature will be coming to the platform soon and will be a game changer.
What else do you think Axiell does well?
I like that, though Axiell is a global company, you never feel like a cog in the machine. I always feel deeply connected to my work and the company’s success. There is a team atmosphere here that drives us forward. I also feel extremely fortunate to have supportive management team members like Joel, our CEO, who take a vested interest in my success.
Since Axiell has a global user base and global presence, I look forward to expanding my skills and viewpoint beyond the US market and sharpen them in a global arena.
Thanks Joanna for sharing your perspective and welcome to the team! Learn more about Axiell’s Vital Records solutions.