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Customer Q&A with Paul Barry

Published: Thu, 18 Nov, 2021

Q&A with Paul Barry, Collaborative Procurement Programme Manager, for South Yorkshire Integrated Care System

Could you start by telling me a bit about you and your role?

I am the Collaborative Procurement Programme Manager for South Yorkshire Integrated Care System (ICS). I recently left a role as the Procurement Efficiency Manager at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, which is within the same ICS, and it was in my previous role that I first got to know and work with AdviseInc. I am now hoping to apply what we achieved at Sheffield across the entire region. My background is in procurement, and my focus in my current role, and in my old role at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, has been around efficiencies — predominantly, financial efficiencies. In the main, my responsibilities include reporting, delivering savings, and steering our workforce to conclude projects in a timely fashion.

When did you first learn about AdviseInc?

AdviseInc had been doing some work nationally, on the Price Benchmarking and Procurement Dashboard tools. This put them onto our radar as an organisation that had a great way of gathering data and turning it into meaningful information, which we used to help steer our procurement decision-making.

Where did the idea for AdviseInc's WorkPlan solution come from?

To give a bit of insight, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals has more than 100 people working in its procurement function, with approximately 45 of those people working exclusively in non-logistical roles. This is a very large number of people to manage, capture updates from, report on their progress, and document their collective output. In comparison, when I was working in smaller organisations within the same ICS, such as Barnsley Hospital and Doncaster Hospital, they had much smaller teams, and it was very easy to manage the work plan because you had much greater oversight. So, we had a need to better report on progress within the team and monitor how productive we were, to ensure that projects were being completed in good-time.

Our first instinct was to begin gathering information and putting it into our own custom-built database. The database kept a register of all of our different projects, with bespoke fields that gave insight into management-level information. But with more than 550 live projects across the trust, we found that the minute we wanted to take a wider view, and report on the data from a strategic level, it became very difficult. This led me to take on the management of a team of data analysts, which I thought was going to be the answer to all of my problems, but it became difficult to justify the number of human hours we were spending to get any meaningful information. This was causing us significant issues, and with a trust as large as Sheffield Teaching Hospitals — one of the biggest in the country — it was becoming increasingly difficult to steer the ship without high-quality data at our disposal. Keen to find a solution, I got in touch with Mat Oram and AdviseInc. Having used AdviseInc products before, such as the Price Benchmarking and Procurement Dashboard tools, we knew the level of quality they could deliver.

Can you talk me through the development of the WorkPlan solution?

I met with Mat to outline some of our pain points, and I explained to him what we were trying to achieve. We wanted to create a platform that would provide us with data in real-time, in a format that was visual and easy to digest, and he was confident that his team could build us something that was tailored to our specific needs. Soon after, I was introduced to AdviseInc's lead developer, Lee Smith, and we began to visualise the product. From here, we went through a few iterations of development, tweaking the platform and running demos with potential users. After eight weeks the solution was live, incorporating both our work planning and financial data.

What have the benefits of the WorkPlan solution been?

The final product provided us with a number of different ways of visualising our data, including an overview of work streams and their priority status; active contract management; savings targets; potential savings; project timelines; and level of project completion. It also allowed us to drill down into the data on a more granular level, so that we could identify inefficiencies and address them accordingly.

It has been really, really valuable. Without it, we would never have had the level of management information available to identify operational inefficiencies and sit down with individuals and ask why certain projects are taking longer than expected. As a result, we have been able to offer more targeted support to our staff and uncover a significant amount of potential savings. 

Will AdviseInc’s WorkPlan solution be rolled out across the ICS?

Absolutely, yes. One of the biggest challenges for procurement leads is managing the demand on your team and managing the progress of the projects. Sometimes it is out of your control what workload comes into a procurement team, and if you want to forecast work demand, you base your guess on seasonal trends. It is very difficult to predict who will need what, when they will need it, and how to prioritise it. This tool absolutely enables the effective management of workload, and because of it, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals is now getting to grips with managing the work plan in a much more effective way. Previously, this was like an uncontrolled beast, but staff on the ground are now only ever two clicks away from the information they need. 

My vision is for every trust within the ICS to capture an identical amount of data in a uniformed way, and for that data to be fed into AdviseInc’s Workplan. This will provide us with an ICS-level overview of all of the work that is happening, whilst optimising collaboration across the region. At the moment, there is a lack of visibility, with each trust working independently on various projects. For the transition to integrated care to work, we need to operate as a single unit. AdviseInc will help us to achieve this by providing us with access to a unified platform that shows what everyone is working on now and in the future.

How do you see your relationship with AdviseInc evolving?

We want to bring contract management data into the work plan solution. This will allow us to see when contracts are expired, when they are coming up for renewal, and where across the patch we have similar contracts with the same suppliers.

Do you think procurement data and analytics are used effectively across the NHS?

I would say there was a lack of appreciation for data across the NHS. Looking specifically at procurement, there is a lot of data that is captured, but I don't think we're doing the right things with it. To change this, more needs to be done by NHS England, NHS Supply Chain and the third-party companies that are involved with handling data.

What is holding other Heads of Procurement back from working with companies like AdviseInc?

Heads of Procurement will be sold on the brilliance of the product. However, for many, the problem is that there is no guarantee that their team will be engaged with the new product. So, it is really a cultural consideration around getting a team to engage with the data. We're in the data age now, but a lot of people didn't grow up with a mobile phone or a computer, and so you need to factor in the demographic of people working in procurement roles across the NHS. Naturally, in time, this problem will resolve itself; there will be a generation of people that have lived and breathed technology everyday of their lives. At this point, I think we will see a major shift towards being data-driven, and a greater focus on capturing data and using it more effectively. In the meantime, there should be greater emphasis placed on training for the workforce we have, even though it can be extremely difficult to change the working habits of a generation that hasn't moved with the times. To do so requires strong leadership, from someone who understands and appreciates the value of data.

What has been your biggest challenge since making the transition from working for a single trust to working for an ICS?

Before the pandemic, I would have said communication, but this problem has evaporated with the advent of Microsoft Teams. Communication is very slick now; geographical proximity has almost no impact. So, I would say that the biggest obstacles we face are quite political. For example, at South Yorkshire ICS, we are responsible for two mental health trusts, four acute trusts and one specialist trust. Each of these organisations are their own legal entity, with their own governance structure and funding, and they all have vastly different needs. As a result, they all have their own agendas, which we need to account for, without being seen to favour one organisation over another. As the largest trust in the region, there is a perception that whatever Sheffield wants, Sheffield gets, but it is important for us to remember that the smaller trusts like Rotherham, Doncaster or Barnsley might do something different to Sheffield, and it might be that their approach is better.

Are you receiving support from the centre to manage the transition to integrated care?

Yes, there is plenty of support available. Of the three options, in South Yorkshire, we requested the 'light touch' approach. We wanted to model our own destiny based on the parameters that were set by the centre. So, from our perspective the support has been more than adequate. Everyone is learning as they go, and there is a degree of autonomy being offered to ICSs, as long as they are achieving certain milestones. I think they've approached this quite sensibly because if it was a dictatorship the centre would be criticised for giving people a lack of choice, and if they didn't, they would be criticised for not giving enough guidance.

Are you working with AdviseInc on the development of Control Tower?

AdviseInc recently pitched the concept for Control Tower to our ICS Director, Andrea Smith. They've got some trusts that have already invested in the project, and they've got others that are excited to see how it progresses. Although we're not in a position to invest any money at this stage, I think it is a brilliant idea and it is something that we are very interested in. It is important to remember that, at the moment, procurement is very much low on the agenda for ICSs — and that will be the case across the whole of the country. Much of the focus is geared towards delivering high-quality patient care, and procurement is not necessarily a big consideration when you're worried about things like A&E waiting times. That being said, once ICSs become legal entities in April 2022, we are hoping that more money will be made available. At which point, Control Tower will be high on our list of considerations.

What were your initial thoughts on Control Tower?

I think it would remedy two things: (1) problems at local trust level; and (2) problems at ICS level. I think the issue starts at local trust level, in that no single organisation has the full integration of its catalogue management, its contract management, its purchase and pay systems, e-tendering, and also its work plan and CIP savings planning. It is all very disconnected. Control Tower is in its infancy, but I think it has the potential to bring a lot of these different functions together.

If you built a brand-new hospital tomorrow, you would be looking to purchase something that doesn't exist: a system that has everything integrated. Instead, what you find is that over the years, companies have found solutions to individual problems and bolted the different systems together. There is a complete disjoint. AdviseInc has recognised this, and through the development of Control Tower it is connecting all of the dots, as part of a more collaborative and integrated future.