Health and care services report

Cross-border collaborathon

In September 2018, Health Business Services (HBS), the business division of the Health Service Executive; Business Shared Services (BSO) from Health and Social Care Northern Ireland; and Ervia cooperated to host a digital ‘collaborathon’. Ciarán Galway attends the event in TCD’s Innovation Centre and speaks with the organisers.

Prior to the Joint Digital Collaborathon, the first of its kind in Ireland, each of the three organisations – HBS, BSO and Ervia – identified and submitted three challenges that they face in their digital journeys. This enabled the capacity crowd of 140 attendees to each select – in advance – one of these challenges to then be tackled on the day.

Opening proceedings, Jane Carolan, National Director of Health Business Services and Ervia CIO Ashling Cunningham provide an overview of their organisations’ digital transformation journeys. Carolan, in particular, emphasises the aspiration of developing a staff culture which fosters a common belief that “digital is part of everyone’s job”.

Taking a moment to speak with eolas, Carolan explains the rationale for the organising the Collaborathon as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for solutions. “Firstly, both Ervia and the BSO are companies that I have done business with before. The more I talked to them, the more I realised that we all have similar challenges,” she says, adding: “The second reason for holding the Collaborathon is that I have seen similar initiatives in health tech areas which were very successful. When I was interim CIO of the HSE, for example, we had days where we worked alongside the tech companies.”

Turning to the selection of the nine challenges, she indicates: “Even as we began to tease them out, we realised that we already had solutions for each other and, as such, those challenges never made it to this room, because we were actually able to help each other long before now.”

However, the HBS National Director also highlights the fact that when the tech companies think of the HSE, they don’t think of the business side – they think of healthcare. “While HBS is a huge business engine, people don’t really know it’s there. We’re in the background supporting a €15 billion organisation. I wanted to set aside the patient-facing stuff and showcase the business needs of the HSE.

“The day has been very interesting, the engagement levels have been high and the networking phenomenal, but we want to have tangible product as well. We are really hoping that some of the companies come up with solutions that we will be able to take forward. We have had our head of procurement here from the HSE because we are always conscious of conducting business in a compliant way, so he has been giving advice to industry on how it can do business with us.”

“We have some very significant business transformation under way. Today is about the little changes. Can we get simple solutions to the more minor, everyday problems which will make a timely and fundamental difference to how we deliver to our customers and our partners?”

In the business sphere of healthcare, the Collaborathon is the first cross-border collaboration of its kind. “On the healthcare side and the patient-fronting stuff, certainly there is an ecosystem, but this is the first cross-border business solution and the first tripartite, because having Ervia here is very interesting and it is bringing a business acumen. I don’t think this will be a one-off either,” Carolan asserts.

“The day has been very interesting, the engagement levels have been high and the networking phenomenal, but we want to have tangible product as well. We are really hoping that some of the companies come up with solutions that we will be able to take forward. We have had our head of procurement here from the HSE because we are always conscious of conducting business in a compliant way, so he has been giving advice to industry on how it can do business with us.

“Our door at HBS is always open and it is only through working together that we can improve the healthcare that we deliver to patients,” she concludes.

Throughout the day, challenge owners and facilitators keep the nine teams to a tight deadline as they prepare three-minute elevator pitches, after which the judging panel – comprising the senior management of all three organisations – evaluates the proposed solutions.

The three challenges presented by BSO:

  1. Real Time Feedback
  2. Digital Communication Tools
  3. Data Warehouse Challenge

The three challenges presented by Ervia:

  1. Procurement Management
  2. Contract Management
  3. Innovation Hub

The three challenges presented by HBS:

  1. Closed Loop Challenge
  2. Agency Staff System Challenge
  3. Data Quality Challenge

Speaking with eolas, BSO Chief Executive Liam McIvor indicates: “Today was about leveraging the wisdom of the crowd. Bringing in academia and the private sector to help us to understand these challenges and consider what opportunities there are to address them spurs innovation. We have emerged from today with a number of ways forward and with a new perception, but importantly, we now have a realisation and a reassurance that we are not alone.”

Julie Erskine, Chair of the BSO adds: “We talk to each other a lot with regard to ehealth and clinical-related systems, but this was the first time that we stood back and actually looked at our business of supporting back office services [on a cross-border basis]. We very much appreciated the opportunity to receive feedback from others look at our challenges with a cold eye.”

Ervia’s Ashling Cunningham emphasises the alignment of mutual challenges across organisations and the importance of collaboration between academia and industry experts. “Our challenges are not just unique to Ervia, we see similar problems in both the HBS and BSO. By putting our three alongside their six, it has been an opportunity for us to network and find potential solutions.

“I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who turned out for the Collaborathon, from across different areas of industry. The guys in the field have produced some phenomenal ideas that we will be in a unique opportunity to take up and roll forward in the best interest of the organisation for better business outcomes.”

Subsequently, the three organisations have since held their own internal reviews of the Collaborathon outcomes and lines of communication are being kept open.

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