Tech will become obsolete; your mission must be timeless

Devices don’t always age well, but there is a secret to future-proofing care-tech procurement says Clare Morris of Rethink Partners.

Search as we might for the most intuitive digital devices, and seamlessly integrated systems, we have to face an awkward reality: tech ages fast. 

Even if your kitchen doesn’t have a drawer rammed with old smartphones, MP3 players, earphones and watches, your organisation probably has a cupboard (or three) of abandoned kit that no longer cuts the mustard.

So how does a cash-strapped social care commissioner meet the expectations of all stakeholders in a marketplace where a better solution is always around the corner? I think that the answer is one of mindset: hearts and minds, not devices, must be our focus. 

“It’s not just about buying a device; they will be obsolete before the contract ends,” Gavin Bultitude of Suffolk CC’s adult care team told an audience of social care commissioners at our recent LGA masterclass. 

“We want to find people who we can work with in a long-term partnership that changes as the tech changes, as the demand changes.”

This is a quite a shift. You may be focussed on getting THE right solution at the cheapest price;  nailing down a specification and sticking to it could well be the received wisdom from departments with decades of getting the best return for your council’s budget.

But breaking with traditional approaches to procurement could be essential to pursuing ambitious goals and securing the long-term value – including real savings – that will inevitably follow if you get this right. Ultimately, of course, the biggest prize up for grabs is the life-changing impact this tech can have on the adults in your care.

Care commissioners in Essex, Suffolk and Worcestershire councils who have recently walked this path made the brave decision to pause initial commissioning plans, even those already in motion, once they found the price-driven model didn’t have headroom for their evolving demands and ambition.

Each quickly realised the roadmap they were following wasn’t taking them to their true destination.

“We went to procure a county-wide service in 2019, and our initial commercial strategy sought to balance price with quality,” explains Rebecca Jarvis of Essex County Council.

“But we hit lots of delays, and because of the pandemic we had to look at how Covid has amplified need. We made a decision to stop the procurement, review our service objectives and go back to the market with a 100% quality framework with 20% social value embedded within our commercial strategy and a fixed price envelope.

“The return/value will come from a quality model that is able to deliver positive outcomes and reach more people. The real drivers are the socio-economic impact we’re seeing from Covid and the need for our strategic partnerships not only to deliver a transactional service, but one that evolves and develops.”

This approach means that Essex can confidently compare different providers and different technology solutions on the basis of outcomes, quality, impact and realizable savings.

 Essex’s shift to 100% quality could be a game changer, and it’ll be interesting to see if other commissioners follow suit. After all, getting your procurement approach and evaluation framework right is key; otherwise how do we lift value over cost and free commissioners up to REALLY focus on quality outcomes and long-term value creation? Quality outcomes must be the absolute priority in decision-making. 

Choosing the right partners, and proceeding together with a curious mindset and ambitious goals, means viewing procurement as a journey, rather than a destination. As councils and commissioners learn from each other and become more savvy it’ll be interesting to see how the market responds.

Clare Morris is a former NHS leader and co-founder of Rethink Partners, working with health and care organisations to visualise and implement change for good.

This blog is part of our Digital Care Technology Support Programme commissioned by the LGA

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