Harnessing the power of people and tech to improve health data

Harnessing the power of people and tech to improve health data
Jan 16, 2024

Tonja Kyle thrives on building great teams and embracing new technology to help clients use data to achieve better health outcomes

Tonja Kyle headshot

The only thing Tonja Kyle likes more than a challenge is solving one. She leads ICF’s research science, survey solutions, and data modernization work for federal health clients, and has a passion for overcoming big obstacles.

For over 15 years, Tonja has led ICF’s work managing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) HIV Data Coordinating Center (DCC) and its two largest HIV behavioral surveillance systems. Over this time, she’s had the vision to bring the right people with the right skills to the table to engage in iterative conversations with our client, leading to ongoing system enhancements.

So, when the infrastructure behind these systems reached the end of its life in 2020, Tonja led the way in collaborating with CDC and our 20-person team of health experts, data scientists, and technologists to develop a modern solution. Integrating both platforms into one cloud-based solution to improve data management, flow, and production. And streamlining CDC’s retrieval of critical data to daily rather than monthly. It was the first HIV surveillance system built on CDC’s cloud environment.

And when the COVID pandemic hit, Tonja’s team brought this same formula to lead another crucial CDC data modernization for the COVID Seroprevalence Study to produce timely estimates of COVID’s impact. Using CDC’s system framework, they created an automated solution within two weeks, enabling CDC to report reliable data every two weeks to the president, Congress, and the public, later expanding the system to track vaccines and deaths.

Quiet work, big impact

Though the programs they support receive a lot of national attention, Tonja and her team get the most satisfaction knowing their work is changing people’s lives. She shares, “One day I was driving home from work and heard a radio report citing an HIV study and the success of a clean needle program. I knew it was based on data we had collected, and the fact that it was being used to inform real evidence-based public health interventions gave me goosebumps.”

“We’re very much behind the scenes, but our impact is very visible. Publications, new initiatives, revised policies that will improve people’s lives—all driven by data that we can now capture, see, ingest, and report on at an astounding rate.”

Pulling the right team together

Balancing skill sets and expertise to build a great team is just as important as the technology you’re using, and Tonja recognizes that results are a direct reflection of her team. Tonja says, “Helping our CDC HIV client realize their goal of faster and better data was a team effort to achieve what seemed like an insurmountable task. We worked together in new ways to do things never done before by this client.” Which involved Tonja orchestrating the integration of new teams and new people with existing legacy teams from a previous contract, doubling the combined team’s size in a couple of months. She continues, “We had to learn very quickly what each of us brought to the table, and how best to use it.”

“The way we supported and riffed off of each other, layering our skills and ideas, and bringing it all to bear—we couldn’t have reached our goal without every single person on my team.”

Tonja would like to bring the same type of service and solution to other clients struggling to manage, digest, and gain insight from their legacy data. She says, “We know how to marry research, advanced data analysis, and tech to help clients improve these types of surveillance systems. I’d love to help others do the same.”

Bringing her passion

Tonja is passionate about overcoming obstacles, making her a perfect match for ICF. She measures her accomplishments in how many people she’s helped and lives she’s impacted.

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She shares “We’re a bunch of people who love what we do. We all care deeply and take our work personally. That’s where the magic happens. Not everybody is lucky enough to work in an environment like this, but that's what connects the passion and ‘work together’ components of ICF’s culture.”

At home, you’ll find animal-lover Tonja with her dogs or at the horse barn with her daughter. She says, “My youngest is a competitive equestrian, as I was, so I love spending time there. The barn, the horses, and the horse shows are a place of peace for me.”

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