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!
The final part of our three part AI Series will focus on the ways you can consider adopting AI for your own systems, how to approach decision-making and the ways in which Bitjam can assist you with the transition.
How Can You Introduce AI into Your Existing Technologies?
At Bitjam, we use the R&D cycle to understand the needs of your business, the technology you have available and the most effective way to introduce AI to your systems. The initial discovery phase helps us to understand your system and business objectives to provide an accurate and “right-first-time” solution.
Bitjam will then explore the possibilities of how machine learning can augment your existing technology, and push the boundaries to see if it can allow diversification of your business.
To prevent overwhelming both you as a business stakeholder and the actual technology available – man and machine, if you like – we always recommend starting with a smaller project within your existing technology-reliant infrastructure that could benefit from cognitive technology.
Using co-production techniques and agile methodology as a tool for collaboration, Bitjam and your business can then consider ways in which AI could be introduced to simply update your system rather than require a complete overhaul that might cause disruption to your workflow.
Bitjam are keen to introduce the idea of AI adaptation to move businesses – both locally and globally – forward in a positive way, and we understand that a huge undertaking both financially and in terms of re-organising massive infrastructure is not usually a viable option. We’re here to lend you our experiences and help you make small yet revolutionary changes to your business.
Call or email us for a chat! Maybe you’re not sure how AI will even fit in with your business, but with so many of our projects now demanding IoT solutions, we’re sure we can help you find the right solution to bring your services up to date.
Part three of our co-production series discusses a successful case study where an agile development framework and co-production techniques were used within the healthcare sector to improve processes and minimise disruption when moving to new systems.
“Adopting SAFe has set in motion the skill development and mindset for successful organisational change even as we scale to new programs, release trains, and people”
– Gary Dawson, Assistant Director, Solutions Delivery.
The NHS Blood and Transplant department (NHSBT) is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority service. They deliver blood supply and solid organs to to hospitals nationwide, which requires safeguarding, collecting, testing, processing and storage that contribute to saving countless lives each year. With an increased need for this service, NHSBT recognised that effective technology was crucial for delivering a safe service for patients. Replacing an ageing infrastructure, migrating to cloud-based technology and replacing critical operational applications was the goal. This required careful consideration with regards to choosing the most efficient way of working, since so many other agencies were interdependent on the current infrastructure and the transformation was of a complex nature.
Adopting a scaled agile framework would allow them to implement the required systematic changes with minimal impact on the existing culture.
- NHSBT needed to improve business processes and supporting IT environment, realigning infrastructure to cloud based technology
- The project would also evaluate current IT systems in line with organisational needs
- NHSBT were challenged to incorporate new technical platforms and architecture with minimal risk to management – the threat of effects on the culture of the organisation
- The teams involved worked collaboratively to introduce solutions and training so internal changes were manageable and everybody was working from the same page
- Introduced SAFe – Scaled Agile Framework: hands-on software delivery
- A two day workshop to managers explained SAFe
- Management were given definitive roles within SAFe
- Planning sessions were organised across the larger organisation to explain SAFe to all employees
- Developed and worked effectively as a team and projects delivered on time
- Early delivery of significant business benefits
- Skillset and mindset for successful organisational change
Bitjam recognise the ways in which these modern working methods are highly adaptable and efficient, and have been adopting them across many projects for some time now. One example of where we used co-production with a client to create a project that was delivered on time and to a high standard, was Logga – a system for communicating timetables, homework and student progress in collaboration with Sixth Form College. We ran a number of design workshops with the students and set up beta testing groups via Android and the Apple app store. Meeting with teachers and admin staff weekly also contributed to the success of the project, as regular progress was updated and we were all given the opportunity to “give and get”. Read our case study for more details here.
In summary, the adoption of co-production within an agile framework for working, when applied within the public sector has some proven powerful benefits for improving efficiency with the NHS. It’s encouraging to see that the healthcare sector are trying and testing new and better ways of working in order to ultimately improve the end experience for patients, whilst upholding a duty of care to NHS staff who are subject to a fast-paced and evolving environment and need extra support from management during projects and changing processes.