Interview Series: Jane Rendall, MD, Sectra

In our latest interview, we spoke with Jane Rendall, the managing director at Sectra, to hear about some of the company successes, learnings, advice and plans for the future.

Can you tell me about yourself and the company?

I am the managing director here in the UK and Ireland for the Swedish company Sectra. We are an image management provider and have been in the UK for some time now, working with a large number of trusts across the country to enhance how patient imaging flows across healthcare. We are a global company with around 700 people worldwide with our core development in Sweden but we also have two hubs here in the UK.

Initially we had just one customer up in Elgin, Scotland, from there we became the PACS subcontractors for BT in the London area, as part of the national PACS programme, and then won a large contract in Northern Ireland comprising; five trusts, 27 sites. That’s essentially how we got our foothold here in the UK and we’ve been managing the contract for the last 12 years.

Through this early period, we gained experience of large contracts and it was interesting learning and working as a sub-contractor with BT as we gained a great deal of experience and got close to a lot of different customers with different needs. The national programme came to an end, and that’s when we took the decision that we wanted to retain as many of these customers as possible, and not work as a sub-contractor anymore; to go out and be the direct provider to those customers. That was really the big change for us, and we were very successful and lucky to have had such a close relationship with our customers and where we were able to hold on to a lot of the sites even after the national contract ended.

It taught us how to move from the relationships of the past, to the relationships of the future, which would ultimately make us successful now. The NHS had moved on I think; it really needed these big systems integrators to manage contracts but as those services were stripped away, mainly for financial reasons, it decided to work with providers such as ourselves who were seen as different compared to the main large corporate companies on the market at that time.

Could you tell me about some of the projects you have worked on?

The earlier projects were fundamental to how current projects are run. One of those early projects was one of the London sites moving away from the national programme and that was Barts Health. Barts Health was a number of different trusts that merged to come together at that point in time. They presented us with a challenge because they had different EPRs, different RIS and even a different PACS and that’s when we had to develop a new product, which was unique to solving the organisation’s multi-numbering issue.

This development work then became a global product within Sectra. It has been so valuable and the Sectra Connectivity Hub allows us to manage these complex environments and present back to the end user a single consolidated record. That was a huge leap forward in solving customer problems. That is why, in a time in the NHS where there were lots of mergers, consolidation and collaboration, customers needed to present information in a unified way but didn’t really have consolidated systems. Do you buy an all-consuming mega system, which would be really expensive, or do you find ways of managing maybe a transitional path?

This is how we have grown our success; it is our ethos to not just say “we can’t do that, so you’ll just have to look at the product as it is” – they perhaps would have bought the product as it was, but it wouldn’t have delivered all the efficiencies that they needed, and it is about getting the opportunity to talk to the customers’ IT department and developing that knowledge inside our own organisation. The product is now in every single installation that we deliver, particularly useful for bespoke installations or something ‘off the wall’ that they may need to deliver, and so this is part of our core solution product now.

What are some of the key learnings from that project?

One of the key things for us was ‘an open mind’; when you come in with preconceived ideas about the problem, where you are trying to solve the problem before you even understand it.

If you get the right people in the room, and actually not too many people in the room, you do come up with some really innovative solutions to problems, and we’ve done that time and time again. It is through dialogue, that the customer and the supplier get the correct result.

What would you say is the biggest achievement of your organisation in the past 12 months?

We are excited to have the opportunity to progress significant regional programmes in the NHS. For me, that will be the one of the biggest things Sectra will do in the near future, as it has the potential to be something very special.

Equally, over the past 12 months we are really proud of penetrating the digital pathology market, something which has been talked about for many years. We have competitors in that space and it is actually great to have competitors because they help you drive the market awareness and the adoption. That has been fantastic for us, working alongside competitors, trying to educate the market about what suppliers can provide. But also, the market willingness and demand; such as the NECA project (North East Cancer Alliance) which is a really large project across seven trusts.

We have also gained research collaborations with Leeds and others soon to be awarded. We are really heavily involved in the research side; Sectra is a spin off from a Linkoping University. Trying to support change in working practice is something that really interests us.

Could you take me through the company background in research?

Sectra was a spin off from a Linkoping University. Our current president and co-founder was a bit of a propeller head I suppose; he’s a really interesting character but always deeply embedded in research and that’s a big part of our business.

Most of Sectra is actually made up of the medical business; we have a cyber security business, which is the Sectra Communications business doing Tiger encryption, cyber security for major infrastructure, providing telephones to the UN and Swedish military, so we have that kind of background in research – not just in medical but also in encryption technology and cyber security.

We even have a mention in Darren Brown’s book, ‘Inferno’ and a collaboration with Samsung for encryption technology on the phones that are more readily available to the likes of people such as heads of state, celebrities etc – a personable type layer of security product.

We have recently developed a level four VPN encryption within our communications business and we are looking to see how that could fit into our market. N3 and HSCN will eventually be stripped away from the NHS, to look at more commercial solutions for connectivity to a certain extent; this VPN technology could deliver a solution to the NHS for greater security and protection. That’s the research on the cyber security side, but we are also part of the centre for medical and imaging visualisation which is a collaboration underpinned by its triple helix – industry, healthcare and universities working together. We are one of the founders of that.

That centre also work with GE and Siemens, and people within this environment, specifically looking at technologies to improve the visualisation of imaging. There are PhD students and clinical students being both technical and medical and they will work together to deliver real world solutions.

Through our collaborations with customers, we really want to elevate ourselves in the UK, where we will have a greater platform for things like AI. Fundamentally, the solutions we are delivering now, our customers want them to be a research platform as well as a production environment.

They want us to bring in AI, either something which has been developed and has certification, such as CE or FDA or in the research stage, and they want to be able to drop that into their environment. We have always had very open APIs, we need to be able to give developers who are designing and creating a platform to be able to develop AI algorithms onto.

What are some of the problems and challenges in your market that you are finding at the moment?

I would say problems in the healthcare market are about the change required in mindset; there is kind of an adversarial approach. If we can get over that and have contracts which represent partnerships, the way that we work can be less restrictive. The checks and measures that are probably rightly put in place through the current contracting methodology or principals that are adopted restrict us. If we can somehow elevate that process to seeing suppliers as partners providing the ability to collaborate across the traditional boundaries; this is where we can be most successful.

In traditional radiology for example, we don’t just have solutions in pathology, but we can provide solutions across any of the visible light technologies; any of the imaging required in an enterprise. Getting that joined up approach so that the health service and its suppliers and partners are not departmentally led, but are more patient pathway led, has real potential.

It is really trying to make sure that we have that move from suppler to partner – this is the biggest challenge. We are actually now moving from a situation where imaging technology has traditionally been owned by radiology to an enterprise wide approach and that some of our customers are integrating that into their strategy which sits squarely alongside the EPR strategy.

A great example of this is Morecambe Bay, where working in collaboration with a customer can greatly benefit the patient, but there needs to be the strategic will within an organisation to say ‘this is our mission statement, this is our overall strategy’, if you have that from a high level, you can always align yourself with that strategy; you are basically taking steps towards the long term objective of their organisation. Rather than just having people working organically, when the strategy is defined from above, it gives people a mandate to act. It opens the door for us.

What advice would you give to other organisations?

My biggest piece of advice is to invest in your own teams, don’t worry about what the competition is doing, understand your customers and invest in your teams, but also invest time and money in your customers because it will pay dividends. If you spend time with them, you will become a partner to them. But fundamentally, your employees are the most important asset you have to drive your business.

What do you have coming up over the next 12 months?

We have more pathology projects rolling out which is great news. We are excited to have the opportunity to progress regional opportunities for enterprise imaging, which really fits into our wider strategy for the future – encompassing AI and population-based health. Regional approaches offer a unique opportunity to create a new blueprint of a virtual diagnostics department across a region, which is integrated into research projects, AI projects and focused on population health.

They are other areas we really want to get involved with such as genomics where we have lots of information about the patient. Integration is key: integration into the EPR, and into wider systems including social care systems, where can we develop a deeper picture about that patient, in order to be able to predict and intervene sooner.