2016 CDC Technology Challenge

Event Summary:

IIU hosted the first CDC Technology Challenge to solicit impactful technology projects from across CDC.  IIU received 61 application from 21 CIOs.   The number and quality of applications received demonstrated the clear need for IIU’s services.  During the competition, five finalists pitched to a panel of judges and a live audience.  Based on public health impact and the feasibility, the judges selected NIOSH’s RAPID-TECH project as the winner.   IIU will work with NIOSH to develop a technology solution in FY2017.

Story Details:

The Informatics Innovation Unit (IIU) in the Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services (CSELS) welcomed finalists to the first-ever CDC Technology Challenge on October 26. This competition allowed innovators with challenging technology problems to present their ideas for product development.

With a guiding theme of “Pitch your idea…we’ll build it,” the competition was aimed at identifying public health problems that could be remedied with digital innovation and capability. In doing so, the contest offered participant expertise and resources for developing ideas and provided IIU a pipeline of viable projects to craft into a new frontier of high-tech systems and tools holding great promise for public health benevolence.

“There’s never been a CDC competition like this,” said Tom Savel, IIU’s director. He explained that the event is not a funding opportunity but is an opportunity for the winning program to have its idea built by technology experts, saving the program significant time and money. Savel went on to say, “Given that this was IIU’s first official technology challenge, we weren’t sure what type of response we’d get. It was also unclear if this was something we should host each year. However, based on the number and quality of applications we’ve received, the answer to the latter question is a resounding ‘yes!’”

A total of 61 applications from 21 CIOs were evaluated on significant public health impact and feasibility of development. Proposed ideas were to help the program:

  • Accomplish a difficult or important goal
  • Increase the effectiveness or efficiency of a public health program
  • Save CDC time and/or money
  • Reach a group of people that can drive change.

Additionally, the winning project should be capable of being developed within 6–9 months.

With the field narrowed to five finalists, innovators pitched their ideas to judges in front of a live audience while the competition streamed live on IPTV. Event emcee John Anderton, PhD, from the Office of Public Health Scientific Services (OPHSS) introduced each fast-paced presentation highlighting need, impact, cost, development, effectiveness, and reach. Division leadership was also a required element in the scope of proposed projects.

The judging panel of public health, data, and technology experts included Chesley Richards, MD (director, Office of Public Health Scientific Services (OPHSS); Brad Myers, MPH (director, Division of Communication Services (DCS), Office of the Associate Director for Communication (OADC); Richard Schieber, MD (director, CDC Vital Signs Program); and Tom Savel, MD (director, IIU).


Carri Cottengim, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) – Baby Data: Creating an App for Infant Death Investigators            
A system to standardize and improve data collected at infant death scenes, and promote consistent reporting and classification of SUID cases.

Victoria Jeisy Scott, Office of the Assistant Director for Laboratory Safety and Science (OADLSS) – User-Friendly Laboratory Incident & Near Miss Notification                
An app designed to track and monitor trending laboratory incidents and near misses across the agency, including campuses outside of Atlanta.

Eric Glassford and Kendra Broadwater, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – RapidAccess to Personal Investigation Data Through an Electronic Communication Hub (RAPID-TECH)
A technology solution that electronically stores individual personal information and medical test results in a secure and private web-based location, where participants can view and download personal results at any time and regularity.

Cyrus Shahpar, Center for Global Health (CGH) – RISE                                                        
A standardized, secure, coordinated platform for sharing information when CDC deploys staff to international emergencies.

Rachel Kachur and Duane Wilmot, NCHSTTP – Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS)
An expanded app to provide sophisticated functionality to facilitate uptake, improve DIS efficiencies, and promote patient care and treatment.

And the Winner…


After a real-time Q&A with each finalist, the judges deliberated and chose RAPID-TECH as this year’s winning idea. On the final decision, Judge Richard Schieber said, “The decision was neither simple nor quick. The other nominations were all considered carefully and each noted by the committee members to be good projects in their own right pp0scni. However, the proposed RAPID-TECH project hit a ‘sweet spot’ intersection of importance to those it served, urgent to the agency, of sufficient detail, feasible, with complexities that were manageable, and with likelihood of completion within 6–9 months. Congratulations to all for putting together high-quality projects.”

The proposed RAPID-TECH solution would provide a technology solution for easier, more efficient, and secure access to medical information for NIOSH study participants and reduce the problem of secure and verified information delivery─as can be found with traditional postal mail notification—and could potentially incorporate additional medical service providers. IIU will work with NIOSH to build a feasible solution and select specific features, all of which will be based on needs of the end users (NIOSH study participants).

In selecting the winner, Judge Chesley Richards stated, “While all five finalists were terrific, the RAPID-TECH proposal seemed best positioned to solve a tough problem in a compelling, innovative way.”

Creating a “New, Tangible Product”

RAPID-TECH team lead Eric Glassford said, “One of the benefits of collaborating with IIU is the opportunity to work with experts in a short, specific timeframe. Being selected gives us ‘permission’ to focus our energy and resources, tap into expertise previously not available to us, and create a new, tangible product that will benefit American workers. We think that the IIU Technology Challenge is a great opportunity for CDC employees to be innovative and quickly turn long-held, creative ideas into something tangible and impactful.”

As the winner, the NIOSH RAPID-TECH team will collaborate with IIU’s diverse team of public health, data, and technology experts to create a deployable technology product. All finalists will have the opportunity to consult with IIU experts on project design and receive computing support.

The competition included voting by the audience, and finalist Cyrus Shahpar of CGH was chosen as the crowd favorite. In addition to more than 300 viewers watching the action on IPTV, the first CDC Technology Challenge drew a large in-person audience, including CSELS Director Michael Iademarco, MD (CAPT, USPHS), and Sonja Rasmussen, MD, director, Division of Public Health Information Dissemination (DPHID), who announced the winner.

This 11/26/2016 CDC Connects Inside Story  by Patricia Warrick and Erica Jimenez.

Story Manager: Faye McDonald Smith