Sam Selby

South West Academic Health Science Network

South West Academic Health Science Network

Who are South West Academic Health Science Network?

The South West Academic Health Science Network  (South West AHSN) is one of 15 AHSNs set up by NHS England across the country in 2013. As an AHSN, they are uniquely placed to connect NHS and academic organisations, local authorities, the third sector and industry, using their position to drive the adoption and spread of innovative ideas and technologies across large populations.

 

How does Delt Support the South West Academic Health Science Network?

 

Case Studies

Our case studies outline some of the work involved in making amazing things happen;

Feeling Supported is Everything

Feeling Supported is Everything

There have been so many people that have helped and supported me in my career, and they fit into three groups, role models, team, and cheer leaders. 

I have been lucky to have some great role models. It started with my dad. He would never just do something for me, he would help me to do it myself. Everything from decorating to changing the wheel on the car when I had a puncture, patiently teaching me how, well mainly patiently, not so much on the learning to drive! He taught me I could do whatever I tried hard enough to do. He did not just fix things he gave me skills, made me strong and independent. I have had lots of bosses over the years, and they all taught me something, some by showing me the kind of leader I wanted to be and others by showing me the kind of leader I definitely did not want to be.  The good ones invested time in mentoring me, developed my confidence, challenged me to go out of my comfort zone. They sat on their hands and watched me fail then helped me pick the pieces up and try again until I succeeded. I remember them all and I try the best I can to be the kind of leader that inspired me. 

Team is everything. Without the right team you are nothing. I had a job where I was not unhappy, but I was not happy either, I was not thriving I was just going through the motions. I wish I had realised sooner that it was because I just did not fit. That does not mean the other people were wrong and I was right. I just did not fit; they were not my team, and I was not where I was supposed to be.   

You need the right balance of people with different strengths and skills that come together to form a whole. The team need to share the same vision, the same values, they need to offer strong support and strong challenge.  It is only when you are part of the right team that you can thrive. I joined Delt 4 years ago, on a 12-month fixed term maternity cover contract, now I am CFO. I think I have found my team! 

Where would any of us be without our cheerleaders? The people in our lives that are always there giving encouragement, picking us up when we fall down, celebrating our successes, a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, the bringers of wine. Our nearest and dearest that make it all worthwhile.  

So many people have helped me get this far and I cannot thank them enough. Somewhere up there I hope a proud dad looks on. Now the hard work and the challenge continues. I still have so much to learn and a very big role to continue to grow into. Being CFO anywhere is a privilege, being CFO at Delt is an even bigger one because of what we do and who we do it for. 

Karen Morris, Chief Financial Officer

One in a Million?

One in a Million?

On the 1st October, Delt will be 8 years old. I’ll have been here for most of those years and it is the longest I’ve ever stayed in a single job. Normally after 8 years I would have (been fired or) run out of interesting things to do and be seeking a new challenge. Delt is different [stick with me, this isn’t some longwinded sales pitch].  

We are significantly bigger than we were in 2014 with more people, more revenue and more services. What was 80 people and about £10m in revenue is now 230 people and £21m. What was just IT is now IT, Cyber Security, Print, Mail, Payroll, Facilities, HR, Finance, Procurement and Consultancy. Every day brings a new challenge. It feels like I have as big a job to do today as I did back when things started in 2014. We Help People Do Amazing Things and that makes coming to work not just a job, but a genuine joy. The impact of what we do is felt in places across the whole of the Southwest. To be able to consistently keep doing the right things for the right reasons speaks volumes about those who chose to start the company in the way that they did. I remain in their debt.  

Things that are very rare (and the success of a public interest shared service is very rare indeed) are sometimes described as one in a million. I wonder if we qualified as such? 

2014 was a good year for new businesses. It had the highest rate of start-ups for 14 years with 351,000 new company formations, an increase of 1% over the previous year. I am sure there are many worthy companies in that number but of the 351,000 I am of course, mostly interested in just one.  

By the end of the following year, 7.8 % of those businesses had folded, leaving 288,522. 

The next year was a bit worse with only 76% of the original formations left. That’s 266,760. 

By 2017, we were down to 214,110 from the original cohort. 

By 2018 it was 171,990. 

By 2019 we were down to 150,930.  

After 2019, things get a bit vague as business survival rates jump from being reported annually to being measured over a decade. However, we know the approximate 10 year survival rate (36%) so can calculate the missing values. This tells us that by 2022, only around 137,943 of our cohort businesses are still trading. Making it this far is a victory in itself but perhaps not one in a million. If we are looking only at our longevity alone, that makes us about four in ten which sounds a lot less impressive. Still good though and I’d certainly rather be in the four that are still going, than the six that aren’t. 

But Delt was never just about staying the course. It was and is an amazing experiment in thinking differently and by doing so, delivering very different results. For those of the class of 2014 who remain I am certain of one thing: we are unique in that 137,943 and that’s good enough for me. 

Happy 8th Birthday Delt. 

Giles Letheren, Chief Executive Officer

 

All data from ONS. 

Embracing change is the way to success

Embracing change is the way to success

Way back when in June 1989, aged 15 years and 11 months, in a smart beige New Look suit with rolled-up sleeves and kitten heeled shoes (trust me it was a very fashionable look at the time) an incredibly nervous young me turned up at Grant Thornton for her first day at work. Somehow, I had convinced them to take me on as an AAT trainee. I had calculated that it would be a quicker route to qualification than A levels, a degree and then graduate conversion. Plus, I would learn on the job, get paid and have 5 years’ experience by the time I qualified. Sounded so easy when I formed my plan. 

Fast forward 33 years to March 2022, aged 48 and 9 months, in a smart top, cut-off jeans and slippers (standard Teams meeting fashion of the modern world) a slightly anxious middle aged me received the news from the Chair of the Delt Board that I had been appointed Chief Financial Officer. After several months acting as interim, a recruitment process that was certainly not for the faint hearted and an intense period of proving I could step up and deliver at this higher level, I had done it, I had convinced the Board that I was the woman for the job! 

I have got to admit it has taken awhile to sink in and has caused me to reflect a lot on what happened in those 33 years in between. Apart from the obvious of learning my debits and credits, passing exams etc it all really comes down to the ability to adjust to and drive change and the people you have around you.  

There has been so much change in the last 3 decades, especially in technology and culture. Back in ’89 on my first day one of the first tasks I was given, after the tea run, was to add up a column of the phone book using an add lister (a calculator with a till roll print out). I wondered if this was a joke but back then using a calculator was a skill all accountants needed. These were pre computer days and were very different times.  Everything was manual and on paper. The data centre was a massive room of filling cabinets, and its firewall was a band of secretaries that would tackle you to the ground should you try to enter their domain.  

I remember the first portable computers being delivered to the office, the biggest change in my working world. It was a HP Compaq, the size of an Ikea bag, weighed a tonne and had a strange pop-up orange screen – but I loved it. I just thought it was so cool and it added up quicker than me and my add lister! Fast forward 33 years and now you can do pretty much everything from your phone if you need to.  

The changes to culture are also beyond recognition, we now have leaders not bosses, diversity not the old boy’s network, Gordon the Grope is no longer welcome. Most organisations now understand that the workforce is their biggest asset and must be nurtured and looked after, that having engaged, and motivated staff is critical to the business. 

Change can be carefully planned for and managed, or it can just hit you out of nowhere, like a global pandemic! The fact is there has always been change and there always will be change so you have to be able to deal with it. I learnt early on to embrace it, to see it as an opportunity not a threat. Continuous improvement is so important to business and people and that only happens if we continue to evolve and change. It is not always easy, but it is almost always worth it.  

Imagine if we still had manual ledgers, life without Excel… does not bear thinking about.  

Karen Morris, Chief Financial Officer

The Power of a True Partnership

The Power of a True Partnership

“A partnership is a relationship in which the participants exchange equal or fair advantages or benefits, have common interests, and form an alliance or play on the same team(1). 

True partnerships between organisations can be a powerful combination, if “true,” and lead to significantly more value being delivered than, for example, a supplier relationship.  

I purposefully used the word “true” as I have become quite cynical of the term ‘partnership’ where marketing a business is concerned. We all strive to achieve the holy grail of partnerships – but what does this look like in business terms? 

I have been reflecting on our recent, successful take on of the Devon NHS Partnership Trust (DPT) IT service back in June this year. Both Delt and DPT had been working tirelessly, for over 12 months, to make it a success and one of the key foundations for this success was the true partnership we worked hard to build and continue to nurture. Our partnership was, and is, built on the following foundations;  

  • Shared values – which engenders complete trust – for example, honesty, mutual respect. A public sector organisation is often routed in their values and that is something us at Delt have in common. We understand what is important because it matters to us too.  
  • Shared ambition – we both want to leverage technology for the benefits of patients and staff. 
  • Shared benefits – neither organisation is incentivised to benefit more than the other and it is not a relationship based on one organisation focusing on profit for remote shareholders. Whilst of course money does exchange hands, for Delt, it is more about the value we can deliver and of course the benefits of having a new customer. That in turn further strengthens our ability to grow and add incremental value to our existing customers and future customers in the public sector.  
  • Shared resources – both organisations operate as one, creating a team who drive towards common goals and sharing in the success of those achievements.  
  • Shared accountability – when things go wrong (we would be kidding ourselves if we said we never get it wrong), both organisations jointly take accountability, there is no blame. Only a commitment to finding and implementing sustainable solutions. 
  • Shared commitment – both organisations are committed to a successful partnership and put real skin in the game, whether that be financial investment or hiring additional resource. 

I have learnt over the years that it is better to start small with a new “partner” to allow time to test the relationship, as often what is said on paper [like an RFP] is not the reality of what you get. 

It is through this consideration of mutual foundations that we have been able to establish a true partnership. Something all of us at Delt are proud of and will take forward into developing more partnerships and improving those with our current customers.  

Paul Jones, Chief Information Officer

 1. The Politics of Powerful Partnerships (gartner.com) 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Peter Honeywell – Non-Executive Director

Peter Honeywell – Non-Executive Director

Pete has been employed by Plymouth City Council for 15 years. He is currently responsibility for the design and delivery of the modernisation of ​the organisation as well as managing the IT and print and document management services provided to the Council by Delt. Pete has spent his career focused on delivering business change in a range of organisations and functions. Prior to joining the Council, Pete was a Senior Executive at Accenture UK/I, leading their customer relationship management practice for communications and high technology clients. Despite 30 years’ experience in delivering change, Pete still feels there is a lot to be learned from Scott Adams Dilbert cartoons.

Pete lives in Cornwall with his wife and 2 Greta Thunberg daughters.  They chose to move to the South West because of the range of outdoor activities available, with paddle boarding and walking current favourites.

Can AI really take a selfie?

Can AI really take a selfie?

In late July, Google dismissed software engineer Blake Lemoine for apparently breaching employment and data security policies. The consensus though, is that he was fired for saying that AI had become sentient. Fans of the Terminator franchise will know that sentient AI doesn’t end well. 

However, I was intrigued by this as a way of getting fired and decided to conduct my own experiment. It was time to have a conversation with AI. 

I made an extensive search of North Cornwall bars and nightclubs but was unable to find any AI willing to converse with me. I have much the same problem with real people, so perhaps I was going about this all wrong. Maybe internet dating was the answer? It didn’t take much research to discover this wasn’t going to work either. Chat forums are awash with stories of internet dating users finding they were flirting not with a real person, but to some sort of bot which was designed to extract personal information, money, or preferably both. For my research, that would be perfect but the risk of finding myself talking to a real person instead of machine could have made for an uncomfortable conversation with my wife. 

You can find good examples of AI conversations posted online – I use one when teaching, where I ask the students to listen to a recoding on an AI/Human interaction and figure out which side of the conversation is AI and which is real. Often, the listener guesses wrong – which means the AI is more human than the human. That’s a little freaky. This should be perfect for what I want, but these are just recordings of AI conversations. There is no easy way to talk to the AI yourself. 

I had about given up (very low boredom threshold) when I came across something that has exploded in the last couple of years. Exploded isn’t hyperbole either. Although AI art was first produced in the 1960’s, it didn’t catch on until January 2021. And then… BANG… it seems like everyone is producing better and better AI to create original art. The speed of development is astonishing. 

It works like this. You imagine something. You describe those thoughts in words to the AI. The AI produces a piece of original art based on those words. When asked to ‘imagine anything’, a large number of people apparently say ‘dog’. AI isn’t excited by ‘dog’. Give it something more challenging! Something like ‘space dog standing on a volcano juggling bananas’. That’s fun because nobody in the history of the world has been crazy enough to imagine that before, so you know the AI isn’t cheating by just stealing a picture of a dog from someone’s instagram account. Within about 30 seconds you will have a new, original artwork that represents what you imagined. It might look like a cartoon, it might look like a photo. It might be awful, it might be stunning. More often than not, you have to concede that it is very clever. If you are interested, google ‘AI generated images’ and marvel at things like Teddy bears working on new AI research underwater with 1990s technology 

My favourite game at the moment is to ask for one thing in the style of somebody who wouldn’t ever have created it. My favourite artist is Steve Hanks, whose watercolours of people, animals and children are just stunning. But Steve Hanks would never have painted the Terminator at the beach. Until now. 

But is it intelligence? To quote David Holz, founder of Midjourney, one of the image AIs I’ve been playing with ‘Every time you ask the AI to make a picture, it doesn’t really remember or know anything else it’s ever made. It has no will, it has no goals, it has no intention, no storytelling ability. All the ego and will and stories — that’s us.’  

AI is smart, but is it intelligent? Is it close to being sentient? I wanted to find out. I asked the midjourney AI to make me a picture of ‘AI looking at itself in the mirror’ 

It seems that AI knows what it looks like and, personal taste notwithstanding, it looks pretty good. But why isn’t the AI that it sees in the mirror a collection of wires and chips and circuit boards? What about pages and pages of code? AI is not a person, even if it has been educated by consuming millions of things that people wrote, painted, photographed or drew. Has AI decided it looks like a person because it really thinks that it does? That would suggest a lack of self-awareness rather than intelligence. Has it guessed what I would like it to look like and is playing to my wishes? That would certainly imply some level of intelligence. But no – to start seeing things like that that starts you on the road to thinking that Ai has become sentient. 

The reality is less interesting, for me anyway. I’m genuinely curious about how these image generation engines work, but the tutorials I can find are full of language like ‘score-based generative models’, ‘accurate mode coverage of the learned data distribution’, ‘parameterized reverse process’, or even the dreaded ‘differential equations’. I’ve never been very good at maths, just about scraping a pass at O level, but I have just enough grey matter to accept that I’m not going to fully understand how these things work. That same (albeit limited) brain tells me they work based on maths. Maths is all about quality, structure, space, and change. It is not magic. It is not intelligence. It is not sentience. 

But, as I glance again at the selfie AI sent me of ‘itself’, I think this research project should probably end now, before I get in trouble with my wife.  

Giles Letheren, Chief Executive Officer

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Teamwork vs Collaboration, is there a difference?

Teamwork vs Collaboration, is there a difference?

Teamwork gets a lot of love. The ability to work as part of a team is seen as a critical skill in many job roles. However, equally important is the much less understood ability to collaborate.

Teamwork is what sent man to the moon. It’s also partly what lead to the Challenger disaster of 1986. This was an occasion where people became too focussed on the team goals, to the exclusion of almost all else. In great teamwork, you put the objectives of the team before that of the individual. You associate yourself strongly with the team. Teams inherently seek to compete with other teams. It’s what makes them so awesome.

However, the work we have just completed with Devon Partnership NHS Trust would never have happened if we had focussed too much on Team Delt. There were multiple other teams, from other organisations all working on the same thing at the same time. The danger of going or staying native and failing to realise that actions that help your team may hinder others, is very real when team comes before collaboration.

There is a fair argument to say that collaboration is just an extension of teamwork that involves multiple teams or that collaboration requires just one big team. The problem is that when you have multiple teams, there’s always a first team, even if you pretend it’s a first among equals. The problem with creating one big team is that it’s hard to do. Unless you remove people from their other teams to focus entirely on the new one, you are just back to competing sub teams.

Collaboration is harder than teamwork. It requires you to recognise a myriad of potentially conflicting goals and find a path through them. More than anything else, it sometimes means you need to leave Team at the door.

Giles Letheren, Chief Executive Officer

Photo by Parabol on Unsplash

The only time you love your current system….

The only time you love your current system…

More than once I’ve found myself in front of a prospective client whose big ERP, Financials/CRM implementation hasn’t gone quite to plan.

In a recent case I went to see an organisation for whom we’d been commissioned, a few years ago, to help with an assessment of their rather old and tired system. Nobody liked it very much. There were some significant functionality gaps,

After much debate they decided to make a multi-million-pound investment in buying something new. They hired a specialist partner to help with the implementation and we assumed all would go well. Jump forward a couple of years and we are right back trying to figure out where it all went wrong.

First things first we started by writing down a list of all the things that were wrong with the new system. Funnily enough, most of them were the same things that two years before, had also been wrong with the old one. Most of them, when you really dug into it, weren’t system issues at all but process issues.

Having spent several years as a project rescue specialist, this is embarrassingly common. The only time you love the system you currently have to use, is when you have just been made to replace it with something else. Suddenly, the thing that made your life a misery before now seems way better than the new one you just spent a zillion pounds implementing.

There are times when a system change makes sense. Software becomes unsupported or unstable for example. It lacks important functionality. For me, the best reason to spend a lot of money on changing enterprise systems is because it’s a way of forcing people to change their operating processes. However, that’s so much harder than just implementing a new piece of software. No matter how much change management you do, it’s not enough.

Up to 75% of enterprise systems implementations fail (Gartner) and yet time and again, we buy into the idea that the system is the answer. It rarely is. And, on those occasions where a piece of enterprise grade software really delivers something exceptional, don’t think it will save you money. There is a reason why software companies make up six of the ten most valuable companies in the world. Buy something brilliant in software and you’ll most certainly have to pay for it.

Before spending big money on software, remember that the investment in changing your processes will probably dwarf the costs of everything else.

Giles Letheren, Chief Executive Officer

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

The Grass is Brown Everywhere

The Grass is Brown Everywhere

Like every other employer we’ve seen some workforce churn this year. Our rate is about what it used to be pre-covid, but it probably feels higher because of a couple of slow lockdown years. Either way, people are seeing and taking new opportunities. Many of these are good but some are not all they seem to be. At least a couple of the Delt family have been offered silly money or silly Ts and Cs to recruit them. They have been sold a trip to the promised land but the reality is sometimes it is not what it seemed to be on the tin. The money might be good but has the flexibility you used to have gone? Does the new employer have values that match your own? Do you have any ability to influence or are you just a cog in a giant machine?

I’ve made this mistake, in my case, making a move just to chase the money. This didn’t end well for me, or the employer. Chasing money probably works just fine for a lot of people but I think it depends on why you work and do the job you choose. Yes, I work to earn money, to support my family and fuel my addition to millennia old dinosaur squeezing’s – and on that point I really need to follow Gary’s lead and go electric. However, work for me and many of the Delt team is as much about the belief in what we are doing, as it is in the paycheck. This isn’t just something we see in the higher paid either. I did an induction interview a few weeks ago where a new starter, in an entry level role, said that they had chosen to join Delt, in significant part, because of the investments we make in people, both formal and informal. How many organisations have an events team, funded by the company, specifically to get people together outside of core business hours doing things just for fun?

As well as increased churn, this year we’ve seen something else. More people coming back. A handful of people have boomeranged – gone for less than 3 months and then come straight back into their old jobs while we were still in the process of trying to recruit their replacements. They all have their own stories but broadly the message is that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

Like every employer, there are things we don’t get right but if I’ve learnt one thing from having a blissfully varied career is that despite what things look like from across the street, the grass is brown everywhere. Its what’s under the soil that matters.

Giles Letheren, Chief Executive Officer

Photo by visnu deva on Unsplash