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A Year in Review 2022

Tap Tap…is this thing on?…Testing 1, 2. Forgive me, this is the first time I have had a go at writing the SARD Christmas blog and end of year review and to be quite honest I am finding it quite daunting. It has been quite a year, with so many positive things happening, the odd sad thing and many more exciting things to shout about for the new year to come. My aim is not to bore you with every small detail but instead break this blog up into themes or bite size chunks, if you like.

Like a fine wine

It would be wrong to start this blog with anything other than the fact that at the start of this year we turned 10. I never doubted we would get to that point and go beyond it, but it was still a real achievement. We had a wonderful celebration with colleagues and clients, a night to remember to mark a decade to be proud of.

There is a phrase, “Life is a journey, not a destination”, and I feel the same can be said about building this business. I have loved this journey so far, the people, the relationships, the ups and the downs, the challenges, and the successes…but mostly the people. SARD was never about building a business in the traditional sense. It was about making change, starting a different conversation, beating the odds, and dare I say it, a crusade. We had a passion to help improve the health service in our own little way and hopefully soon in a big way. That passion still runs as deep now as it ever did.

That journey and where we are now, with a bright future ahead, could and would not have been possible without the fabulous team we have now and those who were part of the SARD family over the years. Without being too mushy, these individuals, each and every one of them are superstars. My only regret is that not everyone gets to see how great they are, how hard they work, and their commitment to making things better. Luckily not only do we see it, but we also get to work with them every day. Like a fine wine, we are only getting better with age.

Saying hello. Saying goodbye.

As mentioned above, the core of our business has always been its people; a company cannot work without the people that help build and maintain it. We have been very fortunate to have the most amazing set of individuals who give their all to making SARD work. Yes, yes I know everyone says that, well if you don’t believe me just look at this testimonial:

“Best Company Ever”

Sorry not that one, that’s my testimonial…maybe this one:

Companies never stand still, and over the last year, we have added some new faces to the SARD family and very sadly had to say goodbye to two cracking Sardinians (yes, that’s what we call ourselves).

Let’s start with the sad news. Firstly, we wished Fransceca Monk a fond farewell as she decided it was time to focus on new challenges. Fran had been with us since day one, over a decade, and had a significant impact on our success over the years. As Marketing Director, Fran helped shape our identity, organise awesome events, and made sure our messaging was on point. Do not worry though, Fran hasn’t gone too far, as a co-founder and wife of Kevin’s, Fran is still around.

Secondly, it is also time for us to say goodbye to one of our beloved developers. RobL (as he is known) will be moving on in the new year. As any good developer, most of RobL’s work happened in the background, but believe me when I say it was integral to all we have achieved. One of our unsung heroes, internally his legacy will endure. It is with a heavy collective heart that we say farewell to RobL who is going to start a new tech adventure. I know I speak for all of us at SARD when I say that you both are and will be missed but we are excited to see what the future holds.

Now for the less sad bit. For our first new team member, I need to tell a little bit of a story and it goes a little something like this: about a year ago an esteemed NHS psychiatrist was enjoying the first day of his well-earned retirement. Although a great loss to the NHS Professor Joe Mcdonald had given decades of his life and career to our health service, had helped set up the Great North Care records (a raging success even today), and was due break before embarking on new projects. I would guess he probably enjoyed about 3 hours rest before receiving a call from my good friend and co-founder Kevin and that was the end of that. Kevin convinced Joe that he didn’t really want to retire and instead should come and work with us, which I am delighted to say he did. Subsequently, Joe has become our Medical Director and has brought his wealth of experience and knowledge to the company. Providing insight into the life of a senior clinician who had a firm grip on technology and its benefits. Preaching from the teachings of Margunn Aanestadt, Joe has helped us to focus on how we can improve on our success. If you want to see further into Joe’s mind, may I recommend his blog post.

It has also been a great honour to start working with Brian Jones, or as we call him ‘Brian-Man’. I think the only way I can describe Brian is as a rockstar of the healthcare workforce world. I am always astounded at his depth of knowledge and attitude to put right what once went wrong (Job Planning and yes, a quote from Quantum Leap). Brian has been working with us for about nine months now and has poured his heart and soul into developing a game-changing Team Job Planning tool, but more about that later.

The rest of the team are still awesome, btw.

Playing well with others

A long-held stated goal of the NHS, in terms of systems, is a drive toward interoperability. Don’t worry, I won’t get technical. Basically, the dream is that systems should talk to each other allowing information to flow where it needs to and lessen the manual burden. While this is a noble target, it doesn’t always happen. Companies can be a little guarded, scared it may take away their competitive edge. Well, we thought about that fear, stared it down, and decided the benefits to the NHS are too huge to be daunted by anything as petty as ‘edge’ and carried on regardless.

For us, open platforms are the only answer. Our job is to make it as easy as possible for users to interact with our systems and get the information they need. As such, we play well with others. One such example of this is our relationship with Think Learning, a wonderful bunch I might add. We started talking about how we could improve a user journey by working together, talking turned into action and now we have two best-in-class systems that are linked. When you log into SARD your Stat and Mand Training records are now live in your evidence portfolio for your appraisal and recommendation and likewise, your real-time appraisal status is live in your training portfolio. It’s a complete win-win for us and as a Trust, think about the time that will save. If you haven’t already (and you should have) go and check out the Think Learning system.

This is one example of many of these link-ups that we have put in place or are working on. I would of course be happy to regale you with these tales over a nice cup of tea and biscuit if you want to know more. Email me.

Playing well with others extends further than just linking up functionality within a system and interoperability. This is about embracing numerous best-in-class systems that work well together for the user and client. It is about cultivating the ground to ensure that an ecosystem can grow. I firmly believe the future of the NHS system approach needs to be two-fold, technical innovation which works hand-in-glove with the Trust’s needs, and building strong partnerships with other providers to deliver the best most efficient end-to-end solutions.

Good Technical Choices

Anyone who has sat through a SARD system demonstration with me will know I talk a lot about continuous development. Well, to be honest, they will say I just talk a lot, but that’s beside the point. The reason why I talk about it so much is because it is integral to successful deployment and maintenance of systems. It is also one of the key attributes that separate a partner from a supplier. Equally, quantity is not everything, you need quality, which is why we pride ourselves on making good technical choices.

The technical developments over the last year are too numerous to mention here, so let’s have a short highlight reel:

  • QR codes for patient feedback
  • Appraisal Summary and Personal Development Plan Audit Toolkit (ASPAT)
  • GMC connect integration
  • Individual and Group Appraiser feedback reports
  • CSV Updates
  • Appraisal Compliance
  • eRostering ‘new’ features
  • Team Job Planning
  • Attaching multiple documents
  • User Appraisal Compliance PDF
  • Custom Appraisal Leads
  • Anonymous Appraisal PDFs
  • Job Planning ‘new’ features
  • Mandatory Categorisation
  • Automatic Job Plan compliance csv exports
  • AHP Job Planning
  • eLeave ‘new’ features
  • SARD Products page
  • Automatic addition of certificates of learning to doctor appraisal portfolios
  • Consecutive Appraiser warning
  • Advanced User Search ‘new’ features
  • Calculating Job Plan due dates
  • MSF action needed reports

All of the above developments and many more show our agile response to system development, help users to get the most out of the system, and ensure that what we offer continues to be relevant.

Development like this relies on two things, firstly having an internal development team (which we have, we are more of a tech company than anything else) and secondly an amazing group of individuals that make up that team. They are a truly gifted bunch, who work tirelessly in the background to make our users’ lives as simple as possible. Superlatives just don’t quite cut it with this lot.

On the road again

After numerous Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, Skype, and good old-fashioned phone conversations, this year finally saw us back on the road again. There really is nothing like engaging with people in real life. I get that there is a real convenience to online meetings, you can fit more in, you don’t have to travel, and when one meeting ends another can start. Convenience however is not always best as online meetings lack that visceral human interaction. So we have been delighted to get out and talk to clients at a multitude of conferences. There will be more to come, so please if you see us at an event come and say hi, there may be a bottle of Gin in it for you. Gin seems very popular in the NHS and I am not sure I can put my finger on why.

Welcome to SARD

Outside of the new members of the team, we have welcomed it would be remiss of me not to highlight our new partners. Whenever we start working with a new trust or organisation we aim to build a strong relationship early. For us, we are not entering into a contractual relationship alone, but rather building a partnership. Our aim is to supply relevant systems, industry-beating support, and real solutions to real problems.

So without further ado, please join me and the team in welcoming the following new partners:

  • Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust
  • Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust
  • University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (New modules)
  • Isle Listen
  • Medefer Limited

We will as always endeavor to provide exactly what our partner require both now and in the future.

Would you like any help with your packing?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who asked, if we offer such simple and intuitive systems, why do we need the best support in town? It was a good question, why do we? Well, the answer is pretty simple really. We don’t offer support because our systems need it, we offer it because we deal with complicated processes. Our support team is not there to merely say things like ‘have you tried turning it off and back on again?’. They are there to help the end users work through some complicated processes, such as job planning, for example.

They are also there to support system administrators and to make sure key stakeholders get the most out of the systems they use, both for the end users and for the organisation. This is why with more than 50,000 users we only have five support team members. Outside of being awesome, they are focused and always go the extra mile to ensure partners are getting what they need from the system and from us. So once again I would like to tip my hat to the immense work and commitment the support team provides.

Game Changing

I have mentioned a couple of times one of our new systems, which we launched recently at the NAMPS conference: Team Job Planning. The truth is the name doesn’t do it justice. Job Planning can be a bit of a dirty word in the NHS…the reason? Well in isolation it doesn’t really achieve a great deal. How can you plan your capacity when you don’t really know what your demand is? Our new Team Job Planning system took us forever to name, because it does so many things, and the name ‘Game Changer’ just didn’t really identify what it does, although does express the impact it will have. This tool now more than ever is vital in the NHS, with the current pressures and challenges being faced. Vacancy rates rising, agency spending caps and large efficiency savings amongst other issues are presenting a real headache.

So our system, which comes with a workforce expert to take the pain away, deals predominantly with Demand and Capacity, service design, and team job planning. It provides both the foundation and the meaning behind individual job planning. We presented it the other day to another provider working within this space and I bet you can’t guess what they called it…yes 10 points for you, ‘Game Changer’. It is so important and in such demand that we simply cannot offer it to everyone at once so please get in touch to make sure you’re not left behind.

I also think it is worth giving honourable ‘Game Changing’ mentions to our AHP Job Planning system and our Links to external provider systems too. Our offering is growing and so is our ability to make life easier for users working across multiple modules too.

'The Perfect Serve’...SARD 2.0

When I started to write this piece I knew we had got through an impressive amount this year, but it wasn’t until I finished the last paragraph that I thought, damn that’s a lot, more than I thought. Well, when you have a top team that’s what happens. Reflecting on what has gone beforehand is great and really important, but what about the future?

Well again that’s simple…and when I say simple I don’t mean the answer is simple, I mean the approach is to ‘compete on simple’. Over the years we have endeavored to work with our partners and deliver the perfect dish from the menu that satisfies their appetite. Or as our Operations Director Naomi so eloquently puts it, when you start out in a new marketplace, as we did over a decade ago, your aim is to get consumers to want to buy your product and that can lead to you being all things to all people. The problem with that is that the menu over time becomes impossibly large. Naomi used the drinks market rather than food, but the point is still the same. Her answer to this is a concept known as the ‘Perfect Serve’. I will not try to do it justice here, instead read her wonderful blog post about it, which is worth it on its own.

The essence though is for a company like ours to use the knowledge and expertise of our products strengths to develop the optimal, signature serving suggestion. Too much choice can be overwhelming especially for new clients, sometimes ‘comprehensive’ can be translated to scary. So what are we going to do? Again Naomi says it best:

“SARD’s software is super customisable, and has the capability to do a whole lot, depending on your needs. But when presented with a baffling list of mixers, how can you be sure that you’re choosing the ones that best suit you? And, hang on, what are you paying the bartender for? We know SARD’s ingredients better than anyone and with over a decade of experience of what our customers want, we now know how to mix and present you the optimum version of SARD from the get-go.”

This doesn’t mean that current and new clients cannot change things up and configure, of course, you can and this is where the value of your dedicated Account Manager is found, but our job is to make sure we offer up to you the ‘Perfect Serve’ each and every time.

The focus moving forward is to simplify everything. We have a decade of hardcore experience, working in partnership with Trust’s that come in all shapes and sizes. We listen all the time to users, stakeholders and the market. The cry we hear the most is, we want to make things easy, not our systems per se but in general. How can we make the things we have to do, as easy as possible, take the pain out of painful (I know that is not a real saying but it felt good).

So SARD 2.0 is a focus on simplicity, more game-changing development, and building a strong ecosystem. Our capability to achieve these aims can only be matched by our ambitions, which let me tell you is sky high. 2023 will be a bigger and more successful year than 2022 and that is saying something.

So to finish up (about time too), I would like to take this opportunity to first turn to my colleagues and say a massive thank you to each and every one of you, another great year which could only be achieved by the hard work, commitment, integrity, and immeasurable talent you all possess. Let’s take our passion and ambition and smash it year after year.

Now to our partners (or as some of you call them clients), from myself and the entire team at SARD, we would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. I would like to thank you for your continued support. We will continue to be here for you in the new year and beyond and our commitment is the same as it ever was.

Oh, and by the way, if you managed to make it this far and you are interested in knowing more about anything I have written above please give us a shout, we are both friendly and accessible. I would love to have that cuppa with you and listen to your situation.

Warmest regards,

Phil Bottle MD and CO-Founder SARD JV Ltd

(Switches the light off as he leaves the office for the night)