Chicago CTOs you should know: Shane Cruz, GoHealth

May 18, 2015


Before GoHealth, shopping for health insurance was dreadful. Thanks to its online marketplace, that's no longer the case. The Chicago-based company works with more than 300 health insurance companies and allows customers to easily search, compare and purchase a health insurance plan online. CTO Shane Cruz joined GoHealth in 2004, and is working to continue improving GoHealth's technology and platform as they landscape of healthcare in America constantly changes. Built In Chicago caught up with Cruz recently to learn more about how their technology is evolving and what they're looking forward to in the future. 
What technologies power your business?
GoHealth has been primarily using open source technologies since its inception. The core applications are written in Java and Grails, with heavy uses of OSS frameworks such as AngularJS and Spring. Our systems also use tools such as Couchbase, Solr, OpenMQ, and other platforms to meet our performance and reliability needs. We leverage the scale-out architecture of MySQL for our relational data storage needs. Our data analytics and business intelligence infrastructure is built on SQL Server, SSIS and tools such as Tableau for data visualization.
Our agile development processes are built on scrum and kanban and we take advantage of many of the Atlassian tools (e.g., JIRA, Confluence, HipChat, Zephyr plugin for JIRA).
What technologies are playing the biggest roles in GoHealth this year? 
GoHealth is constantly evaluating new technologies as we implement new functionality. We expect continued development in our core technologies (e.g., Java, AngularJS) as well as new opportunities with platforms (e.g., distributed caching) to continue to scale our systems.
What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?
As we grow this year, we are enhancing the offerings on our core platform by building tools to assist consumers throughout the shopping and enrollment process. GoHealth is an innovative leader in the space and we are continuing to find ways to differentiate ourselves in the market. We want to provide insurance shoppers with unique decision support tools that make the complicated insurance buying process as easy as possible.
We are also expanding our enterprise software business with new deployments for the nation’s largest health insurance carriers and retail partners. Much of our business revolves around our integration with the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace, also known as, and we are constantly enhancing our ability to communicate with this system. This year we will be exploring integration with key State-Based Marketplaces, as well as pioneering new forms of partnerships with technology industry leaders and emerging startups. 
What are the biggest technology challenges you've faced in the past? How did you overcome them?
For several years, our technology was focused on three primary groups involved in the individual insurance market: insurance companies, insurance agents, and consumers shopping for insurance. We built a great platform that could serve all three customer segments and we were completely in control of our own success. That all changed after the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the creation of public health insurance exchanges. We now had to communicate with these exchanges to help consumers obtain key government subsidies. In 2013, GoHealth was the first private exchange to integrate with the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace. As everyone knows, there were a number of functionality issues with in the early days of Obamacare. For several weeks, their systems were unstable and unreliable. This instability significantly complicated development and testing, but we knew that underlying these challenges were massive opportunities. Once our integration went live, we realized we were able to enroll consumers in subsidized health plans even when was down. This was an incredible accomplishment that earned us national recognition, but it was only possible because of the hard work and ingenuity of our team. 
What are lessons you've learned about working in Chicago that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?
We often hear people say that Chicago does not have the technical talent that can be found on the East and West Coasts. While the overall number of skilled engineers may be lower than those markets, there is exceptional talent in Chicago that can help you build a great company. We have found that technology resources in the Midwest have a more pragmatic perspective on software design that can be instrumental to the success of bootstrapping startups.
How will Chicago specifically continue to strengthen its tech community in 2015?
We’ve been really lucky to experience our growth at the same time that Chicago’s technology community evolved from a small group of entrepreneurs to a large and diverse ecosystem. In order for us to continue to grow and mature, we need to embrace this idea of an ecosystem and support one another. While some companies will naturally be competitors, if we work collectively to build a pipeline of talented individuals we can thrive collectively. GoHealth benefited from lots of key advisors and mentors within the Chicago tech community early in our history. We’ve done our best to pass that value along to aspiring entrepreneurs by working with key groups like Built In Chicago and MATTER, the healthcare and life sciences incubator. Just a few weeks ago, our company President told the story of GoHealth’s founding to a room full of startup founders at MATTER. Speaking to some of them after the event, the excitement about being a part of this community was palpable.
Chicago is known for having a large talent pool of thirsty, young workers. What are the top characteristics you look for in a potential hire?
We look for passionate and hardworking individuals with a strong intellectual curiosity. GoHealth wants employees who truly want to get behind what we are doing as an organization and will give everything they have to help improve healthcare in the United States. Experience with specific technologies is often much less important than attitude, general problem solving skills, and the ability to work on a team to achieve common goals.
How would your team describe working with you?
I think they would describe me as an engaging and involved leader, but also someone who they can connect with personally. While much of my job today involves setting organizational direction, interacting with high-profile enterprise clients, and translating our business goals into technology projects, I do my best to stay plugged into each individual team and what they’re working on. I’ve been at GoHealth for 11 years, and I’ve known some people on our team for just as long. We’ve built strong relationships, and I value their insight as much as I hope they trust my vision. I am someone who truly believes that if you hire the right people, everything else will take care of itself.
How is GoHealth anticipating those trends and working towards them?
There are two major trends in the healthcare industry, and GoHealth is poised to capitalize on both of those: consumerism and engagement. For the past several decades, healthcare – and particularly health insurance – was a clunky and siloed industry. You showed up to work and took whatever health insurance you were offered. If you didn’t get insurance from your job or the government, it was a challenge to navigate the market on your own. When you had a health plan, you were often caught off guard by hidden fees and had to browse massive documents to answer simple questions, like “Is this doctor in my plan’s network?” 
Because of political and market reforms, consumers are taking greater control, and being given more responsibility, over their healthcare choices. These consumers are demanding transparency and support within the healthcare industry, not just when it comes to the cost of their insurance, but also when it comes to choosing where and when to see certain physicians. They want to make informed decisions about their healthcare, and we’re developing tools and applications to help them do just that. We offer industry leading decision support tools to help consumers understand their true out-of-pocket costs for each health plan, and hopefully avoid surprise fees. We’re also investing in benefit utilization technology, to help consumers with simple tasks like specialist referrals, healthcare concierge services, prescription optimization, and virtual doctor assistance. There’s tremendous value in these tools to our business as well, as an informed consumer is often a satisfied consumer that will remain a GoHealth customer for years to come. 
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