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Doing the hard work to make it easy

By Stephen Sutcliffe, Director of Finance & Accounting

Stephen SutcliffeWhen I'm not examining spreadsheets at NHS SBS towers, I can often be found in water.

Not bathing or showering (although I do those too, I promise) but swimming. In fact, swimming is so much part of my identity that I mention it more than my day job in my Twitter profile (check out @sasutty for proof).

Swimming is a beautiful thing. It simultaneously energises and relaxes. It clears the mind, tones the muscles and burns some calories. I'm an open water swimmer, which brings an extra frisson of adrenaline (or so I like to think) but in essence, all swimming is the same - just use your arms and legs to propel yourself through water.

I was chatting with colleagues the other day when the s-word came up. We realised we were all swimming that weekend. For me, it's about cold, endurance and neoprene. For Colleague 1, swimming meant Personal Bests, individual medleys and a great tumble turn. Whilst Colleague 2 liked breaststroke because she keeps her hair dry.

The fact was, we all had a radically different take on what swimming actually is. And whilst Colleague 1 and I shared a secret smile at Colleague 2's unwillingness to get her hair wet (this is swimming, after all!) her experience was probably nearest to the pure dictionary definition I gave above.

All of which convoluted rambling brings me to a question. Why does simplicity get so complicated? Elitist, even? Do we get so caught up in our own cleverness that we fail to see what really matters?

The answer, of course, is yes. Disappearing down a rabbit warren of your own invention is something that's a constant temptation to all of us. And it's something the NHS has to guard against every moment of every day.

I don't think it's any coincidence that the biggest tech revolutions have been the simplest. Google's iconic white page. The iPhone's single button. The menu-driven layouts of MS office products. The irony, of course, is that achieving simplicity can be very complex.

Here at NHS SBS, we've come to realise that we need to do the hard work to make it simple. (If that phrase sounds familiar, it's because it's the fourth design principle of the government's digital service.)

We have a whole raft of products which are designed to do exactly that. Many of us as consumers are already very used to buying online in our everyday lives. By taking this best of breed e-commerce technology, and providing a user-friendly purchasing platform, NHS SBS and technology experts, Virtualstock, are working together to deliver a consumer-style online marketplace, The Edge4Health, which will realise millions of pounds worth of savings and efficiencies for the NHS.

Our partnership with another leading technology company, cloudBuy, has led to an innovative care marketplace for Personal Health Budget (PHB) holders. Known as PHBChoices, it provides the PHB holder with a virtual budget through an online account created by their Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). Here, they (or their carers) can buy products and services in line with a support plan that has been agreed with their CCG - a seamless end-to-end process for the management of a very modern day care package.

More recently, our innovative payroll app, MySBSPay, gives NHS staff access to their payslips on the go, with the added bonus of exclusive discounts from hundreds of high street and online retailers.

It's not all about retail-style solutions, either. In the next few weeks, we'll be launching a new tool for planning, budgeting and forecasting. Because we know most finance professionals are familiar and comfortable with Excel, this powerful cloud-based tool will look and feel like a spreadsheet, whilst incorporating things like QA systems to make automatic checks and workflow tools to enable collaboration across the organisation. Clever simplicity, really.

You can learn more about all of these services elsewhere in this newsletter. And, as ever, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we can do the hard work to make things easy. What else can we do to eliminate complexity and make our services simple?

Now, where's my wetsuit?

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