Unravelling IT tangle for health service

Technology is set to transform the health service – just as long as someone can make it work and train people to keep it running.

Tuesday, 9th October 2007, 9:45 am

It’s a massive challenge – and a massive opportunity for companies such as the Barnsley-based Capex Group.

Capex was founded five years ago by former health service planner and strategist-turned business consultant Charles Lilley, who now runs the business with IT consultant Amanda Grossman.

The firm has grown rapidly since moving from the south to Barnsley, starting out as a specialist training and services provider and expanding into providing health testing services through the internet and remote patient care systems.

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Amanda, who worked for international IT services group Logica and in interim management before agreeing to do a week’s consultancy work with Capex, then staying, likens the NHS IT initiative to trying to move from quill and ink to state-of-the-art computing in just two years.

The lack of previous IT investment – the health service was spending less than one per cent of its turnover on IT while other sectors were spending three to ten times as much – meant major hardware and software businesses had shied away from developing tailor-made health service products.

To make matters worse, as the IT industry was responding to the new NHS investment plans, it became clear that neither the NHS nor the private sector could provide enough trained people to install, configure, maintain and update the new systems, not to mention train and hold the hands of staff when they started to use them.

“You need lots of people on site,” says Charles Lilley, and that is where Capex came in, offering to take that problem off the hands of the companies that had won contracts to deliver major health service IT programmes.

It was on the back of a contract to supply 100 trained IT specialists for Accenture that the firm moved to Barnsley – and the company has never looked back.

Charles Lilley is full of praise for the response they received.

“Coming to Barnsley has been a really good thing,” says Charles. “There is a labour pool we can access. Thanks to European funding, we didn’t have to raise money from an investment house and as a result we still own the business. European funding also gave us access to a network of contacts which meant we could do things a lot more quickly than if we had been doing things from cold. There were a lot of people helping us for free.

“In the first year here we must have had a couple of hundred meetings and only one of them was negative. That makes a huge difference in business.”

Amanda agrees. “One of the things that staggered me was how quickly we were surrounded by a group of people who demonstrated enormous goodwill for us to succeed.”