29 Jul 2021

Why buying another piece of software is not the answer to your problem


I’m going to stick my neck out here and say whatever the issue you face, your knee-jerk reaction to buy yet another piece of software is not the answer. Sure, a point solution may solve the immediate problem but it’s likely to cause many more at the same time. Public sector organisations, like the NHS, need to ditch the “fix it” mentality and, instead, take a more strategic, longer-term view.

And that’s not just my point of view. In his recent article on the challenges of digitalisation across the NHS estates and facilities [1], HEFMA National Chair Jonathan Stewart concludes that the issue isn’t a lack of good software but the inability of the various software solutions to integrate with each other: “The problem appears to be the lack of integration and common data sharing available.”

The NHS has long had what Jonathan Stewart wryly describes as “a difficult relationship with information and data management”. Any facilities manager who’s ever had the pleasure of completing the annual ERIC return will attest to the challenge of getting hold of even the most basic figures required.

Digital transformation is a crucial part of the NHS’ five-year strategy. In its strategy document, CQC sets out its goals for 2016 to 2021. One such objective states: “Organisations are encouraged to use resources as efficiently as possible to deliver high-quality care.” Having a clear picture of where the NHS hospital is starting from is fundamental to achieving this.


Root of the problem

I would argue that the problem doesn’t lie with facilities managers but with those at the very top of the NHS organisation. They take one of two opposing approaches, both of which are wrong. They either take a sticking plaster approach, focusing narrowly on fixing the current, specific problem, or go to the other extreme, attempting to “Digitise the NHS” at a macro level. The harsh fact is that NHS IT infrastructure has been cobbled together piecemeal over decades without any overarching plan. The resulting lack of interoperability between the numerous systems and regions means a ‘big bang’ approach is doomed to failure. No matter how many millions are thrown at external consultants.

So, what is the answer?


Future-proof technology

Rather than waste valuable resources buying disparate pieces of software that don’t talk to each other or apps that do not have a supporting database, the NHS (and other large public sector bodies for that matter) should instead invest in a configurable, modular platform that can easily integrate with the majority of existing systems in use. It doesn’t have to be Crimson Tide’s mpro5 (although, obviously, that’s what I’d strongly recommend 😉) but, whatever workflow system you choose, it should be capable of being scaled up or easily reconfigured to accommodate new workflows and users as necessary, making it future-proof.

mpro5 is already in widespread use throughout the NHS, helping implement national standards for cleaning, managing hospital assets and tracking planned maintenance. NHS trusts find its PO Request process particularly useful as it gives real-time budget information, whereas their own financial reporting is typically three months in arrears, which often leads to budget overruns.

A configurable platform, coupled with integrable solutions, gives an organisation agility and flexibility. Gartner calls this ‘composability’[2], explaining that this means “creating an organisation made from interchangeable building blocks”, and describes this model as the future of business.

The benefits of such a business model were demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted vulnerabilities in businesses’ models that for years had primarily focused on efficiency. Organisations that were once lauded for being efficient suddenly became fragile at a time when they needed to be flexible. Smart organisations pivoted to a more modular setup, creating a composable business – one that allowed them to plan for multiple eventualities.

My message is the next time you’re called on to solve a problem, don’t just look at the issue you’re facing but consider the bigger picture – what else is the Trust struggling with? Forget the sticking plaster and position yourself on the right trajectory to solve these wider issues. The gains may be minimal at first but, as my healthcare clients have found, they will soon mount up.


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[1] HEFMA Pulse May/June 2021 pp52-54 https://flickread.com/edition/html/6099046bc093e#52

[2] https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/gartner-keynote-the-future-of-business-is-composable/




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