Breaking into NHS was harder than nuclear industry
The global CEO of an award-winning tech firm which handles government contracts says innovative leaders must be prepared to challenge the status quo to succeed.
Elizabeth Vega’s Informed Solutions was the only digital company in the North West to be named among this year's winners for innovation at the coveted Queen's Awards which were announced on Saturday.
The Altrincham-based IT consultancy was recognised for its digital transformation work across government projects, including digital claims portals which make it easier and less stressful for innocent victims of violent crime and terrorism to receive compensation.
It was also appointed to develop the NHS Patient Safety Incident Management System late last year. However it has been a long road for Vega and the firm she set up 25 years ago in Stockport.
“We were working with major oil and gas companies globally, for example with Shell in 40 countries, but we couldn’t get any government projects,” she told BusinessCloud. “I said, ‘what do you mean we’re too small?’
“You have to challenge that perception and reimagine things: you can either remain where you are in the pecking order or, in a smart way with good intentions, challenge it.”
She added: “We won the technology excellence award for our nuclear energy big data hub, which is capable of identifying if there is a leakage into water tables, land and air. It is very sophisticated: it uses advanced analytics and IoT technology, assimilating live data feeds with laboratory systems and historic data to analyse trends and anomalies.
“It took us three years to break into the nuclear sector, including all of their accreditations; yet it took us five years to break into the NHS because in their view they were more risk-averse.
“I used to say to procurement officers in the NHS: how can you tell me that you’re more risk-averse than the whole nuclear sector?”
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Vega has served on the Cabinet Office SME panel since 2012 after writing to then Prime Minister David Cameron outlining her views.
“Government is a very big beast and has got a big turning circle,” she said. “Having worked with it, I can now so much better appreciate the challenges it has in changing its own structure. Not just structurally and from a process point of view, but changing legislation, the regulatory environment and also hearts and minds.
“Cultural change is really hard: when people feel under pressure, they revert back to the things they feel safe doing.
“We're in very uncertain times: just as we emerged from an awful, long, dark, deep recession and were just bouncing back, we were hit with Brexit – so people are going to be risk-averse.
“However government procurement has got a bit smarter: they let you keep intellectual property so you can productise and commercialise it.”
Informed Solutions' head office is a converted bank
On winning the Queen’s Award, the most coveted prize in business, she said: “It is a fantastic honour… from modest beginnings we’ve weathered numerous economic challenges and scaled up the business to work globally with blue chip clients and governments.
“Our talented and committed people have helped us achieve lots of digital firsts along the way – from being the first company to commercially put maps on mobile phones which changed the way people navigate their world to being the first to deliver a secure cloud-based service for UK government.”
Informed Solutions was also the only British winner at the World IT Congress in Hyderabad, India earlier this year - dubbed the 'Olympics of Tech'.
Headquartered in an elegant converted bank in Altrincham, Greater Manchester, the firm also has offices in London, Edinburgh and Australia, from where Vega originally hails.
Minister for Implementation Oliver Dowden, who has responsibility for the Government Digital Service, visited the Altrincham base recently to discuss the government’s commitment to awarding more contracts to SMEs with key stakeholders, including BusinessCloud.
Jonathan Symcox, right, and the Minister
In discussion with BusinessCloud the Minister said SMEs can help deliver innovation into government at all levels. In Vega’s experience, innovation can be a difficult sell.
“One of the biggest challenges is looking at a business case for something that doesn’t yet exist,” she said. “If you're swapping out one finance system for another, you've got a baseline on the economics and the business case.
"It's a lot more challenging to get a commercial baseline for an innovation project because you have to imagine in your mind’s eye what the efficiencies are going to be and have a stab at it.
“That's why a lot of people say innovation projects aren’t well-funded: you get a little seed but often it doesn't scale.
"We're interested in an innovation project that will genuinely scale and be resilient and secure at large scale rather than just a little prototype that's really good if you've got five users on it – but what about if you've got 65 million users on it?”
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