At SXSW, Michael Dell talks technology’s role in the future of health care

Posted March 10th, 2018

Michael Dell says some of the same technology being created at his giant Round Rock-based company can power the future of the health care industry.

Dell, the billionaire founder and CEO of Dell Technologies, spoke Saturday at a South by Southwest session with Clay Johnston, dean of the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School.

Dell talked about the endowments he has made in the medical sector, how his company’s tech can connect to the devices being used in hospitals and research centers and about his possible future investments.

RELATED: Check out a photo gallery of Michael Dell’s talk at SXSW 2018.

“If you went to a company 10 years ago and said, ‘hey, what’s technology?’ They would say that’s the IT department,” Dell said. “If you go to a company today and say, ‘what’s technology?’ -- that’s actually how we make our products and services better. That’s how we interact with our customers -- that's everything that we do is about technology.”

Since 2004, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation has funded millions of dollars into the local health care sector, beginning with investment into the Dell Children's hospital and continuing with the recently opened Dell Medical School at UT.

At the same time, Dell has worked to change the face of his company, driving the attention away from the PC market that built Dell’s brand and into data storage, cloud computing and the Internet of Things, investments that came notably through Dell’s $67 billion acquisition of data storage giant EMC Corp. in 2016. The Internet of Things is an industry term for non-computing devices -- such as thermostats or kitchen appliances -- that are connected to the internet.

“What we see emerging is sort of the edge computing, which is all of the intelligent devices,” Dell said. “So if you look around and see anything that has electricity, it is either intelligent or its becoming intelligent. If you think of any city, building or car -- in every device, there’s tons and tons of data, and we’re seeing this with all of our customers putting these sensors in every single thing they're doing trying to figure out how in real time they can use this data to make a better experience, improve the outcome, etc.

“Increasingly, there is a decentralization of data and connections (assisted) by the Internet of Things.”

Johnston said artificial intelligence has already made its way into health care with devices such as those that use machines to read some X-rays for tuberculosis and AI that can identify cancer cells.

At UT’s Dell Medical School, Johnston said, leaders are trying to figure out what types of students will grow into the kinds of future doctors that will use new tech in the industry. UT has a highly competitive program, with Johnston saying that the school this year only accepted 50 new students out of about 5,000 applicants.

One of the concerns around using more tech in health care is the possibility of delicate systems being hacked. But Dell said those worries shouldn’t stop progress.
“This cat and mouse game has been going on for a long time, and it’s going to keep going on. Unfortunately, the attack surface is getting much larger,” Dell said. “I don’t think the answer is don’t go to the future because we’re scared of the security implications. We have to help our customers create a much higher level security.”

Dell did not discuss how his company might be specifically working with UT’s medical school regarding IoT devices, cloud computing or other tech.

But he did did hint that he could explore further investment into the health care space in the future.

When asked by Johnston why he had not joined Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase in their recently announced partnership to form an independent health care company, Dell first joked that he “was busy that week.”

Then he quickly pivoted, saying there should be no reason why a company like Dell can’t join the group.

“I don’t think they will have a problem with other large companies joining up with them if they actually come up with something interesting,” Dell said. “There isn’t going to be one answer here.”

Nick Wagner/AMERICAN-STATESMANMichael Dell talks with Clay Johnston, dean of the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School, during the SXSW conference in Austin on Saturday, March 10, 2018.