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P-ing for success

With apologies for the clickbait-y title, Stephen Sutcliffe, director of finance and accounting at NHS Shared Business Services, ponders the vexed question of technology in the NHS. In his latest blog he asks why surgeons are using technology that is cutting edge (literally!), whilst accountants are still wrangling with spreadsheets. The answer may depend on three Ps.

Stephen SutcliffeAfter over 25 years working in the NHS, I have 'NHS' running through me like the proverbial stick of rock. I sometimes think that if I'm cut, I'll bleed blue (Pantone 300, as if you didn't know).

But being NHS to the core doesn't blind me to the faults of our beloved National Health Service.

One of these faults is technology - particularly in the back office.

Don't get me wrong. There's a huge amount of truly fantastic tech being used in the NHS. Much of it was on display at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester recently.

As I wandered round that vast exhibition, feeling like a child in a sweet shop, I noticed that most of the really groundbreaking technology was clinically focused. Interestingly, it was often not that the technology itself was new; it was that someone had found a way of using existing tech in a new way - for example, it turns out that observing the way a patient uses their smartphone can give clinicians important clues about their mental health.

All of which got me wondering. Why is it that clinical technology is accelerating so much faster than the back office stuff - where the last big change was probably when we dropped Lotus 1-2-3 in favour of Excel in the 1990s?

There's no single answer to this, of course. But, for what it's worth, here are my thoughts - in a useful (and only slightly contrived) three Ps format.

Firstly, PARTNERSHIPS. A grossly overused word at the moment, with the definition of "suppression of mutual loathing in pursuit of public funding" being only slightly tongue-in- cheek. But despite this, strong partnerships are at the core of all successful technology.

Expo Video StillTrue partnerships occur when suppliers, NHS organisations, clinicians, universities and the third sector collaborate and compete. When organisations are determined to cut through the noise and produce something that works. Something that will become the norm throughout the healthcare system.

Which leads me neatly on to PERSPECTIVE. The most successful innovations aren't hampered by organisational boundaries. They work with, between, through and across the health and social care systems, sharing and building on the best wherever they go. The best innovations take something small, and look at it through a telescope - how can it be magnified and built upon?

Finally, PASSION. Yet another over-used word, I'm afraid, but for me, it's possibly the most important P. As a friend of mine with an abiding love for fruit flies once told me, "anything is fascinating if you know enough about it". That's the sort of passion I'm talking about - a deep understanding, motivated by curiosity and humility. Why humility? Because it's only when you know a huge amount about a subject that you can really grasp what you don't know. And that's where the opportunities are hidden.

Nurturing and releasing the passion of employees isn't a new thing, although it may not be phrased in quite that way. Google famously encourages its staff to devote 20 per cent of their time to side projects, which is one reason it remains one of the most innovative companies in the world.

I appreciate that formally allocating 20 per cent of NHS time to pet projects might not go down well with the Treasury (or the Daily Mail, for that matter). Despite that, my slightly heretical view is that side projects - particularly in technology - can have intrinsic and extrinsic value. The extrinsic is relatively easy to measure. Twitter, Slack, Gmail, Groupon and Google Maps all started as side projects. The intrinsic value that side projects can have in sparking creativity, ownership and passion is more difficult to measure, but no less valuable.

If you have any examples of how you've encouraged passion, perspective and partnerships within your organisation, I would genuinely love to hear them. I'd also like to hear stories of how you've successfully integrated side projects into business as usual. As ever, please contact me by clicking here, or tweet me @sasutty

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