In my role as Principal Analyst for UK Health and Social Care Technology at GlobalData, I have witnessed a shift in the mechanics and culture of Public Service procurement to learn from prior mistakes and prepare for the FUTURE. While these characteristics have been displayed thus far in healthcare, they will underpin procurement across the entire Public Sector over the coming years.
NHS Digital states that, as of 1st April 2020, the number of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) had dropped to 135, a 29% drop from the original 191. Despite concerns over local representation in commissioning activities, this will undoubtedly lead to leaner and quicker procurement cycles as in many cases, there will be a single CCG working on behalf of an entire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership or Integrated Care System. On top of this, we have also seen faster decision-making adopted during the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic and so this may empower the NHS to relax the procurement cycle further once this has settled.
The Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) Digital Marketplace recorded an average annual growth rate of 47% in its framework sales from 2014-19 with SMEs accounting for around 43% of these sales. National framework agreements like these are levelling the playing field for SMEs. The marketplace is becoming increasingly commoditized, which will see competition focus more heavily on attributes such as quality, innovation and value. Whilst joining frameworks is definitely advisable, it should not be an SME’s sole go-to-market route. SMEs should also be following traditional sales strategies such as engaging with the market, seeking out partners and ensuring their solutions align with central guidelines and regional strategies. We will also see fewer instances of buyers locked into lengthy, expensive and inflexible contracts, as central bodies such as NHSX actively push the market towards shorter contracts and more interoperable solutions.
The term ‘Digital Transformation’ is widely used but poorly defined. At its core, it implies that the changes are more strategic than tactical. For labour-intensive sectors such as healthcare, it is easy to get bogged down in daily duties and unwittingly ignore the broader picture. With the guidance of regional and central entities, buyers will find themselves cognizant of making decisions that feed into plans that are bigger than themselves.
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We recently saw Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, highlight the importance of having Chief Information Officers and Chief Clinical Information Officers on every NHS board across the country. Representation from various lines of business will also combine business, financial, technological and, in the case of healthcare, clinical priorities to achieve well-rounded procurement decisions. This collaborative effort and vision will, theoretically, result in benefits for the customer (or patient), the end-user, the organisation, and in some cases, the region rather than an individual IT department operating in a silo to simply keep the lights on.
One of the primary goals of the Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) initiative was to provide blueprints for other NHS organisations looking to follow suit in becoming more digitally mature. The Digital Aspirant Programme hopes to achieve the same objective for those lower down the pecking order. Despite slow adoption rates thus far, the blueprints should play an important role going forward. Clients frequently cite heavy selection criteria weightings for suppliers’ client references. Essentially, they are looking for assurances that a supplier can deliver against their SLAs, and so a proven solution that requires little customisation will become increasingly attractive.
As NHS buyers become increasingly digitally literate, suppliers will face a more educated audience who will be able to follow the conversation astutely. Suppliers may also find that they are called out on inconsistencies and flaws that may have previously flown under the radar. This will make conversations richer, more productive with free-flowing ideas, and in turn, we will see more client relationships transform into partnerships.