Digital journey
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Denis Lafitte, Head of Digital Transformation at Spire Healthcare Group plc, shares insights and advice for the digital road ahead from his own digital journey experience

It’s been said that leadership is the ability to translate vision into reality. But getting every board member to align and buy into your digital transformation vision can be more time consuming than you might expect. And ensuring adoption, user engagement and cultural change brings its own set of challenges. As someone who’s been through it, I’d like to share a few insights and lessons for those about to embark on their own journey.

Ten years ago, board members were not overly aware of or focused on emerging technologies and the cyber world. A few nerds in the IT team would be the handful of people in the company who were familiar with technology, delivering what they believed was the best solution. Today, all of the C-Suite has fairly good business knowledge of IT providers. This is a double-edged sword because it also means everyone has their own perceptions about vendors based on experience with previous projects or anecdotes from colleagues. Like all of us, our perceptions colour our lens, so if they differ, obstacles may appear.

‘Don’t focus on the software’

In the beginning, there can be a tendency for the board to focus too much on vendor selection and the platform itself, rather than the outcomes you’re trying to achieve as a business. This can be a sticking point. If this occurs (and it most likely will), it’s important to keep bringing the conversation back to functionality. Often, meeting resistance when using a vendor is largely based on pre-conceived notions dating back to the 1990s rather than today’s modern functionality. My message, in these instances, is always the same: ‘Don’t focus on the software, let us worry about that. What do we want to achieve as a business?’ Most likely, you will need to find ways to get everyone to put vendor bias or preferences to one side, as only then will you get clear direction and good alignment on outcomes.

Once you have this nailed down, you can run various vendor comparisons against your functionality and risk mitigation. In my case, I had to repeat this process several times, each time starting from scratch as there were changes to our Executive Committee during this period.

Cultural changes

The other important area to factor in is the cultural change required. In the healthcare industry, we are historically very hierarchical and old-fashioned – despite the digital changes now taking place in the NHS. Cascading from the top down is vital for a vision to be properly executed.  For example, healthcare has historically loved paper, and culturally, many people in healthcare feel safer if they have printed materials – patients included. This is due in part to lack of familiarity with technology, a wide variety of systems in use by a wide variety of parties, and finally it’s been ingrained within the healthcare culture – paper won’t let you down.

Our response has been to demonstrate the same diligence with IT that we do with patients. We have so many safeguards in place to protect and care for patients, and likewise we give our clinical team the same rigorous confidence that they have 100% data availability, as well as explaining the business continuity procedures in place.

Typically, a small select group of people in the company carry a lot of influence, authority and respect. They are the fastest route to making a company-wide cultural pivot. And of course, compliance requirements are always a great way of assuring adoption of new digital processes.

Digital experience

Something that’s often an afterthought for many companies is the digital experience itself. In healthcare, for example, our user experience was not initially front of mind as it was largely for our own internal view (we had black screens which did the job but weren’t user friendly). Now, the UX is completely paramount, not only for usability and adoption, but also because we wanted to create a world class patient experience. Patients and employees are all used to the digital world through their iPhones and other mobile devices and they expect all digital interactions to be as simple – otherwise it’s a fail.

Finding areas for true innovation and disruption are key when selling your vision to the board. One of the common frustrations in healthcare, for example, is around booking appointments. We’re proud to be the first private healthcare company in the UK to share consultants’ calendars online with patients, insurance companies and medical secretaries through an innovative app powered by SAP. Patients can choose a day, time and location that suits them, and consultants can use their mobile phone to view real time information about their clinic schedule, patient information, and even the availability of specific operating theatres. Today, we have thousands of consultants using our app. The UX went from an underfunded afterthought to a major area of innovation and competitive advantage for us.

The journey ahead

Of course, our own digital journey hasn’t finished. We are working on new areas of innovation, embracing electronic patient records, embedding the digital mindset, and exploring machine learning and predictive analytics for forecasting. We’re not finished but we can honestly say that it’s transformed our business performance and the care we deliver.

Whether you’re standing at your own starting line trying to get the board behind your vision or are further down the path, overcoming vendor misconceptions, ensuring good user experience and identifying areas for true innovation will all be fundamental to your successful transformation. Enjoy your journey!


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