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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

“We pick tech companies that match our values rather than pointing to the contract and saying they can’t help,” says UHL CIO John Clarke

Several years ago, University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) brought in some strategic partners to work on its digital future, modernising its approach and ensuring that it could be an organisation equipped to run 24-7, 365 days a year.

The hospital had a £48m project to build a bigger emergency department with the capacity to see 160,000 patients per year. The aim was to improve patient care and the experience of staff.

According to the organisation’s CIO, John Clarke, this required the need of new technology and clinical processes.

“We were behind the curve at the time and we had very little chance of catching up, and that’s why we brought in external partners on that journey,” he explains.

One of the vendors brought in was Japanese IT services company NTT Data, initially working as an IBM partner. The company upgraded the network services, applications and data across desktops, displays and portable devices and migrated them to the new emergency department.

Clarke suggests NTT was selected after a long procurement process, and that value was a key reason for its choice.

“From a technology perspective I can line up 10 or 15 technology companies that can always tell you they’re the best – and at the end of the day we’re a ‘values organisation’, predominantly dealing with the most vulnerable people at the most vulnerable times,” he says.

This meant that UHL wanted to pick a vendor which would match its own values of giving back to society.

“We wanted to work with partners that felt the same as us – we know they’re commercial and want to make profits but we wanted to know that when push comes to shove they will turn up with you, and that they won’t point at the contract [to say they can’t help],” Clarke states.

“NTT know the space they’re working in and the value they can bring and that’s why we call it a partnership and not an outsourcing agreement,” he states.

But while this is something all healthcare organisations should aspire to – has it actually worked in reality?

Clarke says there are numerous examples where NTT has shown it matches UHL’s values. One non-technology example was of an NTT employee buying an overhead projector at the last minute to replace a broken one at UHL – which was particularly important as the regulator CQC was coming in to inspect the organisation.

“The NTT DATA employee bought it with no prompting; it’s a different type of relationship and what it means is that we agree to fix the problem in front of us and then we come back to deal with the costs,” he says.

But while that could be a risky approach with some vendors, Clarke says NTT has a different feel to to other suppliers, particularly because there is a 10 year agreement between the two organisations.

However, many of the biggest public sector IT issues have stemmed from long-term contracts that are not flexible and require huge additional costs as technology and needs change.

Clarke says that this particular agreement is different in that there is flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the organisation and in line with developments in technology.

But the technology that NTT Data has provided has also been important.

“The key thing we’re able to do now is run the organisation from an IT perspective 24-7, 365 days a year – we couldn’t do that before,” Clarke explains, adding that this was within a “cost envelope” that UHL could afford.

Previously if the IT team went home then the hospital wouldn’t be able to get IT support at certain hours. The overall modernisation project has brought several other innovations too, including the ability for staff to log on to a nearby PC using a smart card and pick up their work wherever they are, and on-demand printing.

Clarke says the organisation is also busy looking at other technologies such as AI.

“With NTT, we’re looking at bringing AI Into an intensive care environment and getting data off machines, and changing how we look at that data, and how we use our research and turn it into clinical practice and change for patients,” he says, adding that the emerging world of technology is bringing UHL some interesting opportunities.