Paul Cortellesi is President of the ECM Metropolitan User Group (EMUG) and longtime FileNet lead for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He is also a Lifetime IBM Champion, based on his many years of sharing best practices and lessons learned at IBM Events. I sat down with Paul recently and talked about his commitment to Community.
David: Let’s start with your history and how you came to what is now called IBM Automation.
Paul: I graduated with a degree in economics in 1984, but I was quickly using punch cards as a COBOL programmer with Chase Manhattan in the mid 1980s. At the end the 80s, there was this brand new technology called imaging, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time, when I was offered a chance to become the imaging consultant for Chase Bank. The next thing I knew, I was taking a two-week class on FileNet. This was in 1989 and I have been working with FileNet exclusively ever since. I have been lucky enough to work in several industries, but for the past 25 years, I have worked in healthcare, which has been enormously rewarding. I have been part of a significant team that has been able to make a difference in the way that patient care is handled as we moved from paper medical records to electronic medical records.
David: How did you become involved with the NYC User Group, EMUG?
Paul: The best way to explain my involvement is that I inherited the user group. It was a significant force in the 1990s, and then it faded a bit and lost some energy and was held in life support by Franklin Alvarez, from Con Edison. He asked me to get involved and finally wore me down. This was more than 10 years ago. We continued with him as President, and then he moved on, as people do, and I took over the leadership of the group. I was joined by Maria Venezia of the United Nations and we tried to bring our energy and grow membership again with a monthly call and an annual get together.
David: You tend to have your annual EMUG meeting every November. Why November?
Paul: When we started, November was right after a large annual IBM ECM show, and some of us would attend and bring back all the new stuff introduced at the show to the local user community. In a half day event, we try to get a mix of sessions. We feature an IBM Senior Executive who presents a roadmap with recent developments and future direction. We always have a series of customer panels and we talk about the successes and challenges – Upgrades, migration, new software, new hardware. The difficulty we have is not finding topics, but finding someone who is willing to stand at the podium and deliver their story. The idea is we create a forum for the customers to share their experiences and therefore make it a little bit easier for those who have yet to do it. It is one of my favorite days of the year.
David: You have presented many sessions at IBM Events over the years and, as a result, you have been named a Lifetime IBM Champion. What does that mean to you?
Paul: Being an IBM Champion means that I have an obligation to continue the message. I think the key thing that distinguishes a champion from a normal, very technically skilled person, is that the champion is willing to share their knowledge. They get up from their seat in the audience and go to the podium in order to help mentor everyone in the room and move the ball a little farther. And sometimes it’s a tough sell to convince people to share their innovation with others rather than keep it to themselves. To me, the name champion is the right name, because it evokes the idea that you are a champion for the cause. It’s not that I am a champion, it’s that I am championing a cause and that cause is the technology that I support and the strategies and best practices that help it achieve its promise to the organization.
David: Speaking of causes, you are a long time EMS guy and firefighter in your hometown. When people run from a disaster, you run towards it. For example, this spring in the midst of the global hotspot for COVID-19 in New York, you took on a new role for Memorial Sloan Kettering, assisting with their emergency response. What was that experience like?
Paul: I was on the COVID ICU floors at the hospital and my role was to develop the protocols and design the Personal Protective Equipment – the ensemble – that we were building around the clinicians, who were going into the operating rooms to perform specialized procedures on known COVID patients. One might question why would a computer guy be tasked with this? But I have 40 years in EMS and 20 years as a firefighter, so I understand respirators and how to protect yourself in a hazardous environment and it was another example of being in the right place at the right time. It was an amazing experience. I spent three months doing this. I got to go into the rooms and see the environment – to make sure these ensembles were effective – and the proper way to get medical staff dressed and, more importantly, undressed as they came out. It was the most exciting three months of my entire career. It was sheer adrenaline. I went 41 straight days without a day off and I was quarantined from my family. But it was what we had to do to keep ahead of this terrible scourge.
David: Thank you as always, Paul. I look forward to attending the next EMUG User Group Meeting.