Transform, innovate, modernise

Transform, innovate, modernise – these seem to be the buzzwords of the day, and cloud epitomises all of these, so what’s the best way forward? Neil Everatt of Software Europe, which provides cloud services to NHS for people, expenses and contracts, shares his top tips for building a cloud business that’s right for the NHS.

So you want to sell your cloud software to the NHS? Well, why not? The centralised National Programme for IT is long gone, the Government wants to encourage competition, and particularly SMEs into public sector and everybody knows the Government protects the NHS budget, right?

Do your product research early. A few years back, as a small firm of 18 people, market research was really tough for us to perform. However, we made it a priority, did it anyway and learnt exactly what our customers needed. One thing we discovered was that to be a truly effective cloud service, our staff expenses solution would need to connect to the NHS payroll system, a system called Electronic Staff Record [ESR]. This would mean that approved claims could be sent direct for payment. It meant adapting our product, but it would reap big rewards in the end.

Work with customers – not for customers. Early in our development path, we opened dialogue with the NHS central team who were incredibly helpful in guiding us through the process and the necessary security checks for providing a cloud service to the NHS.

[easy-tweet tweet=”If you want a cloud business to work with the NHS – Security, security and security!” user=”Neil_Everatt”]

Security, security and security. We found that gaining an ISOIEC 27001:2005 certification was incredibly helpful, but not always acceptable as a data security check in isolation.  We would often host NHS data security staff visits who would like to check how we were planning on looking after their data.  We found another unexpected advantage in that our office was purpose built in our reseller days, and it included a whole host of security additions that added a huge amount of confidence to those data security officers.  We always made sure we had the highest rating on the NHS’s Information Governance Toolkit, the internal security check used by the NHS organisations.  We’ve recently moved to ISO27001:2013, an even more rigorous standard, which I’m guessing will be the minimum requirement within a few years.

Spot the influencers. Over the years we have noticed that there are a few influential innovators and early adopters in the NHS – these people could see what we’re trying to do and bought into the idea.  We nurtured relationships with these people, valuing their feedback and appreciating that if they liked what we did, they would tell others.

Companies must have a clear need for their cloud service. For us, working with the NHS, we know that all trusts are looking for compliance with rules, to reduce costs and to remove paper from processes [this is being driven by the top now]. We make certain our cloud services meet these needs. 

Understanding the procurement imperative. When businesses look at the NHS they often think every organisation is the same – trust by trust, CCG by CCG, CSU by CSU – or even that it is one business, but it’s not. In the early days, we thought procurement would be easy; we could replicate our efforts with similar thinking across customers. But, tender processing is very deep, it takes a long time and trusts are rightfully careful to follow the rules. The sooner a firm understands this, the easier they’ll find it. We embrace the fact that we’ll need to modify our cloud service for every trust.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Want to work with the NHS? Stand out and be seen. Attend NHS events, and get noticed! ” user=”softwareeurope”]

I should add there are now a number of framework agreements that can be utilised which makes the process slightly easier and, with the G-Cloud model growing in awareness, this can be another excellent route for your NHS prospects to your products and services.

Be flexible. We’re agile and we’re flexible. Not just in the procurement process, but in our cloud services. We are slightly fortunate that our expenses system, for example, was already very configurable, but the NHS needed a whole new layer on top of that.

Communicate to customers regularly. We make sure we have a great team communicating with customers on a regular basis about our cloud service roadmap.  We have annual user conferences and now have a roadshow strategy when important new features are planned.

Stand out and be seen. We decided to attend and sponsor NHS events as we could afford them, turning up with our roll-up banners and quirky artefacts to get us noticed.  One year, we used a ride-on remote control car which was meant to link to our duty of care and driving features in the product.  We then hit on the idea of offering it as a raffle prize… it was a huge success, everybody wanted to win this car for their kids or their grand-kids. This gained us a rock-solid and bang up to date database of contacts for our sales team to work with.

Software Europe provides cloud services for people, expenses and contracts. The company is transforming businesses in the NHS, wider public sector and commercial markets. It already works with 65% of the NHS handling staff expenses. Customers include: 5 Boroughs NHS Foundation Partnership, South West Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust and NHS South, Central and West Commissioning Support Unit.

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Neil Everatt, CEO, relaxing rules and empowering people at Software Europe

Neil is not the sort of man to quibble over a dentist appointment or an extended tea break from his team; he’s relaxed on rules, but quick to empower and an ardent fan of driven, hungry people. He describes himself as motivational and fun, which is a pretty rare combination for the leader of an IT firm, and says if you get the right people they’ll deliver results because they want to, not because you dictate it. He gives his team the freedom and environment to do their jobs. 

The only guide he has for himself and his team is to keep focusing on customers and believing in their cloud services, describing himself as not a great entrepreneur, but someone who helps keep the company on the right tracks. Over 25-years in business, he has learned the right route by trusting research and making sure his company is building something people want – primarily through logic and numbers, not just a hunch and whim.

Neil has been with Software Europe on and off for nearly 25-years – sales, marketing and now CEO. He joined the firm when its greatest physical asset was a tin-shed office in Lincolnshire; he led an MBO in 2012 and now empowers an amazing team of people, a growing list of cloud services and hundreds of customers.