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Video: How to lead a successful digital implementation

As the curtain came up on HTN Now June 2021, we were joined for our first live webcast by the digital healthcare company Ideal Health, to discuss how to lead a successful digital health implementation.

Offering a ‘how to’ for health and care organisations, Jonah Aburrow-Jones, Director of Ideal Health, delivered the session, mapping out the main areas and challenges for managers, as well as what’s needed from a leadership perspective during digital transformation processes.

Explaining that he was keen to focus on “leadership rather than the meat and potatoes of actually doing an implementation” – Jonah highlighted the need for more development in this area, based on his discussions with NHS trusts up and down the country.

“I think it’s important to understand what leadership roles actually bring,” he stressed, “it’s not just management. We talk about programme managers and we talk about programme directors. It’s those leadership qualities that make a real difference to the success of the programme itself.”

The areas in which great leadership could have an impact, he outlined, were in: controlling the group and separate entities to accomplish a goal, and an ability to influence, motivate and enable that programme and the people within it to contribute to the organisation’s overall success. However, Jonah noted, “those things are very different”, highlighting how sometimes within the NHS “decision paralysis” and a “closed loop” can occur.

“You need someone who is actually there to give confidence, to take your programme…and push it forwards,” he said, having cited qualities such as charisma, composure and patience.

However, Jonah also allowed that “those elements are not common to everybody; a good programme leader is not the same as a good programme manager.

“Those qualities, and having good leadership, are needed regardless of what type of programme you’re dealing with – whether it’s large or small, or the type of organisation you’re dealing with…an individual trust, ICS or even a national-scale programme.”

Moving on to how this links with the technologies, Jonah explained: “Digital transformation is not about implementation – it is a transformational programme. If you are considering starting a programme, particularly a large scale one such as an EPR, EPMA, something that touches all parts of an organisation, then you must have it tied into a transformation programme; not try and do it in standalone fashion. Because what will happen when a programme comes to an end?….the benefits won’t be realised.

“People think that when you get to the end of a programme, you flick a switch and benefits fall from the skies; it simply doesn’t happen. The investment in terms of realising benefits only starts at the point of switching that system on.”

The other aspect, he advised, is that “although we always look for leaders who have done it before” it was important to recognise that you can’t simply take templates and apply them everywhere, as “every implementation is different.”

“The vendor that you might be working with,” he added, “will often have a particular implementation methodology” but “how you apply that to your own organisation is really critical.”

“The most difficult part of any implementation,” Jonah considered, “involves the people, the processes that need to change and be adapted and, as much as anything else, the actual organisational culture.”

A key area, the Ideal Health Director explained, was investing early: “Resourcing, people, time, and budget in front end of programmes will ensure better results further down the line.”

Bringing it back to leadership, however, was again, not just the planning and organisation, but the “buy-in from all staff…clinical and non-clinical staff as well; maintaining that buy-in through the overall programme.”

Placing an emphasis on the early stage phases of programmes, Jonah took the audience through ideas around clear transition continuity and the need for strong governance.

“Above all though,” he cautioned, “when you’re doing any programme of work, the worst thing you can do is do it to or on staff – that is just not the right way to actually engage with them; it must always be done with [staff]. It will, I say this with complete certainty, affect adoption; it will affect the benefits that can be realised.”

“Communication is absolutely critical,” Jonah continued, suggesting that leaders must create an organisational identity that “people want to be part of.”

Engagement and identity, he said, will help everyone stay on message and enable a wider, external stakeholder community as “no trust or organisation is an island now” and having everyone involved means “no-one is left behind.”

After focusing on a ‘one team approach’ Jonah questioned, “what does that good leadership bring?”

According to Jonah, it’s all about understanding “what’s the right activity at the right time”, especially when it comes to implementation and an implementation’s main components, which he described as mobilisation, build, prep for go live, training, actual go live and transition to back to business as usual, as well as optimisation going forward.

Taking us through main “pinch points” – Jonah presented a visual guide for digital leaders that would help people “become the great captain of the ship”, highlighting areas from organisational and operation readiness, through to different dependencies between work-streams, integration, change – “the most difficult and important component of any implementation” – as well as data migration, go live and cutover, adoption and optimisation.

Among Jonah’s key guidance and takeaways was feedback he’d heard from a CIO, who had told him: “You simply can’t start an implementation early enough or invest enough in it.”

He also recommended engagement with other third parties, outside of software vendors, such as others trusts who can share “their lessons, their experiences”. Most vendors, he allowed, would put programme leaders in touch with other organisations but that these were likely to only be “those which have been successful.”

“As much as you want to know about that success, you also want to know about the challenges that are taking place, as well,” he said, urging leaders not to simply rely on their vendors but to do some digging themselves.

Jonah also highlighted three main areas for leaders to focus on: organisational clinical readiness, technical readiness, and creating a change and comms strategy.

“Those are the three things you need to do right at the beginning and you need do them well. If you do, everything is positive; if you don’t, it will come back and bite you,” he said.

In conclusion, Jonah added: “Leadership that has the right qualities to see a programme through makes such a huge difference. If your organisation was considering what are the qualities of someone we need to bring in…look beyond the CV, look beyond what they might have done but at the way they’ve done it.”

View the full session via the video below: