Name: Carl Plant
Position: Director at Bitjam
Carl is a director with a unique skill set. He originated as an NHS practitioner, with a background in creating technology and software applications, from web development to building high-impact and secure software solutions for public sector organisations. As director of Bitjam, Carl fuses his experience in frontline healthcare with his avidity for technology and a passion for creating solutions that have social benefit.
How did you merge your experience as a healthcare worker with your enthusiasm for complex software development to found Bitjam?
Most of my earlier digital work was building websites and applications, using very early – almost primitive – technologies compared to today. Much of my early work, especially in health and data visualisation, I began to share through a blog. I then got involved in the open data movement looking at ways to turn data from spreadsheets into stories or applications such as maps and graphs.
During early 2005 I was successful in getting the position of National Development Officer (NDO) for the UK Association for Solution Focused Practice (UKASFP). While developing the platform and building an online community I got the chance to develop a website for an NHS Mental Health Crisis resolution team. Soon after I began to work on numerous digital projects including an online support platform for people with learning disabilities which tested the ability to build accessible web applications. Meanwhile my datablog was attracting support, presenting opportunities to present and consult with the Royal College of Nurses, National Institute for Healthcare and Excellence (NICE), Nursing and Midwifery Council, marathon open data hacking sessions at The Guardian plus numerous health data hack sessions around the UK.
What advantages did this experience give you to develop Bitjam in to a niche software solutions company for public sector organisations?
Over the years I’ve led on many digital projects in the public sector, working through the challenges of creating a solution that solves the problem at hand, rather than making a solution fit a problem. Understanding the barriers to adoption is a key learning point, using an agile approach that works closely with the end users, and not being afraid early in the project to reject assumptions.
Bitjam prides itself on working with organisations and projects that have a social benefit. As director, why is this important to you?
I used to work in a company that made wiring harnesses for the military, I left this career to work with people, to make a difference to society and that need has stuck with me. This led to working with those with learning disabilities, then on to Mental Health as a nurse after going back to University. This need to do good remains with me today, I’m driven by the desire and understanding that digital technology can improve the lives of people. I see lots of companies who only see health tech as a commercial opportunity and you can see the effect that has on the products, when they don’t achieve the desired outcomes. I believe I can find the balance between creating a strong business while achieving good outcomes for society.
Bitjam’s tagline is “Developing technology from small ideas to global growth”. How do you achieve this using co-production techniques and agile methodology?
We work in partnership, walking side by side with our partners. I guess it’s my nursing experience that allows me to listen and develop equal relationships with clients. I believe the clients and the users of a digital services are the experts in their sector or life experiences and we need to tap into that rich resource. This isn’t always easy especially when working with marginalised groups, or people who have accessibility barriers to breakthrough.
We have expertise in how technology can be wired together and deployed, we can only create success by working in this close relationship with a shared set of goals with the users of the service.
I believe it’s important to allow flexibility in the development process, to allow testing and revision, and crucially, to allow your assumptions to be challenged.
After spending many years working with technologies and keeping on top of newer stable versions, and importantly having fantastic staff, we have the ability to launch solutions to scale, in some cases taking them global.
What do you think is crucial for digitalising the healthcare sector in the future?
Sometimes the best solutions are simple, they perform a singular task and perform it very well. We see the opportunity for emerging technologies like AI, VR etc. These will only work if they are designed for a specific purpose and not off-the-shelf solutions designed for other sectors bent to look like it solves a problem in health. Also as Clay Shirky once said, “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring”, this is true with many technologies.
We must not shift our focus too heavily on new technology and forget that older technology such as SMS and MMS provide perfect means of building effective solutions. Lastly, we have been sidetracked by Big Data and having been overlooking small data we use daily in datasheets, databases etc. We have yet to fully harness small datasets, and we need to continue connecting systems together. I believe the work that NHS Digital are doing to improve interoperability is key.
If Carl’s history and experience are suited to your own healthcare technology project, you can get in touch by sending an email here. He’s always got the kettle on!