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SARDisms 02 - Kevin Monk and Phil Bottle


Kevin and Phil met in an unusual way, but quickly realised they had common goals. Their conversation led to founding SARD together, creating systems to improve the NHS.

Kevin always had an interest in engineering, even as a young lad. Phil’s career started in learning and development and he has always had an interest in making things better. With the duo working side by side, SARD has grown from strength to strength.

Episode summary

In this episode, Kevin and Phil discuss SARD’s conception. They debate how to scale the NHS Interoperability Mountain and explain the equipment SARD is packing to reach the peak first. From recruitment to procurement woes, there's a lot to consider in this episode!


Mariah [00:00:02]
Welcome to SARD JV's podcast, SARDisms, I'm Mariah Young, Joe Wilkinson's on holiday, but will be back next episode. We're both employees of SARD, where we love great technology coupled with great customer service. The main aim of SARD is to help improve the NHS, England's public health service. Healthcare and IT are ever changing and we are interested in the ways that we can help it evolve with the growing population. In today's episode, we have two very special guests, Kevin Monk and Phil Bottle, who are the co-founders of SARD JV. Needless to say, these two have been through it all, highs and lows, but mostly highs. SARD has continued to grow throughout the years with innovative ideas, unique collaborations, the future is bright with SARD.

Phil [00:00:42]
I'm very, I'm very energised now. Yeah, great intro.

Mariah [00:00:47]
Let's just dive right in, and, how did Sard JV start?

Phil [00:00:51]
I'll tell it from my perspective very briefly, and then obviously Kev can fill in his parts of it. But yeah, I used to work for Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust, which is a mental health trust in southeast London, and I was lucky enough to work for a wonderful H.R. director called Simon Hart, who encouraged me from day one with the sort of mantra, 'seek forgiveness and don't ask permission', which essentially was giving me a blank piece of paper to say things aren't really working the way we'd like them to work, and instead of coming in with lots of preconceived ideas, create something new. And part of that was building some system. So we were, I think, seen as quite a rebellious group, all about change, changing things up, making things better. So I was, I was given the opportunity to head, sort of, several internal software projects, which is where I met Kevin, and that was around, sort of, reporting learning management systems, appraisal systems and, and obviously not being a technical bod myself, I required the help of someone who could deliver these things.

Phil [00:02:04]
So I was introduced to Kevin, and Kevin said, 'yeah, not a problem. We could build those things'. And actually, the change that took place in the trust when we started to introduce these systems was, was, was massive. In fact, Simon said that he used to spend a good hour in every board meeting discussing the problems with the data, and once we introduced these systems, he said it took five minutes, because people trusted it. So it was a good start. And anyway, that then led to our medical director coming along and saying, we've got this thing called revalidation coming up and you've been successful in building these systems, could you have a go at this, of course, call on Kevin and...that's really the start of the process of building things. And it became so successful in terms of what it was, and I'll let Kev describe how, the moment that it kind of turned into something else. But around sort of November 2011, there was a few meetings going around about setting up a joint venture. And within the space of less than two months, we were live with, with Sard JV, and really, like any good software company, we started in a garage. It was albeit a converted garage. It was a garage. Nonetheless, right Kev?

Kevin [00:03:24]
Yep. It was a garage. It had cars going in and out of it, at some point, being fixed.

Phil [00:03:30]
There you go. So that's my sort of brief synopsis of where it came from and I'll let Kevin fill in the blanks about the, the where it really turned into something different.

Kevin [00:03:41]
Yeah, that's pretty much how I remember it. In fact I think our first meeting Phil, because what it was is one of those colleagues, who's now moved off to Australia, I sort of knew him from when I lived in Crystal Palace and I got talking to him down the pub, as these things happen. And he was talking about, you know, the work he was doing there, and he just phoned me up the following week and said, oh, we've got this, this, this thing we're doing at work, would you mind coming and have a look at it. And I think I'm right in saying that my first meeting with you Phil, I think I just turned up in my shorts and T-shirt.

Phil [00:04:15]

Kevin [00:04:16]
And a scrap of paper and a pencil. And I was like, what are you trying to do? And just try to fill it out fill, fill out that world, work out what your issues were. It was really refreshing for me because I'd seen the big organisation side of things when I worked for the Ministry of Defence, I'd seen how you have these massive entities and they're buying big battleships and these huge procurement has all this detail and quite understandably there's quite a lot of bureaucracy and admin. But then occasionally, and I saw this in the Ministry of Defence, you'd come across a group that was a little bit rebellious, a little bit full of pirates, I call them. People who are breaking out of the things they're supposed to be doing and trying to find new ways. I mean, I even remember in the MoD, a guy phoning me up on Easter Sunday, he was in the signals team there, and he was trying to defuse a bomb and he phoned up me on the beach. But that's not the normal way.

Mariah [00:05:10]

Kevin [00:05:10]
It's not the, you know, it was supposed to go through all this chain of command, but he spoke directly to what is a civilian, which is me the techie, and the, and they were a lovely bunch of the British Army to deal with because their life was on the line that just, they went to the thing that was going to make it work and ignored all the bureaucracy. And I turned up to this NHS trust and it felt like there was another one of these little groups of people who were like, well, this is the job we've been tasked with, here's all of the bureaucracy, but we don't wanna do it like that. Can you come in and solve this problem? And that's what Phil and his team and I think the culture, as Phil said, that Simon Hart created there. I'm not sure he was, I don't know, you know him better, but I felt like it came from you and Geoff, to be honest as much.

Phil [00:05:54]
Well, he just got out of the way, which was the way to do it, because if we had done it the traditional route, we'd have to have written business papers that would have gone to groups of people that had some knowledge, maybe, which is often, as Kevin says, is more dangerous than having no knowledge in some respects. And it would have gone around in circles for months and months and months, if not years, but instead we're able to produce something which the first system became lovingly known as Pandora, because we didn't quite realise what we had opened up when we did it. It's solved so many issues, even issues that, as I say, when Simon talked about a board meeting, issues that, that weren't really relevant as part of the goal, he never said to me, I want to reduce the time I talk about this in the board meeting.

Phil [00:06:37]
But, but nonetheless, it did. So I think, I think we were very lucky to, you know, as Kevin said, the fact that he met Geoff down the pub, the fact that introduction happened, we were very lucky. So I think we understand that. That it maybe was just a moment that happened, that was supposed to happen, and led to next ten years of all of this.

Kevin [00:06:57]
Yeah. And then there was after that, there was a sort of like two or three year period where we after Pandora, there was like, this is great. Can we do this again, with this other thing over here. So we worked on other projects together and then eventually Oxleas were picked as a pilot for revalidation, which was just, just coming in, and because of that, Dr Okocha who's the medical director there and very much one of the founders of SARD, he said, 'oh, I heard about, you know', I think he said, 'I heard about these projects' and he'd seen the good work had been done on it, 'can you produce something for us here?' So we did. And under that same kind of framework, we, very slimline group of people, just me and Barbara our CTO and Phil got going.

Kevin [00:07:41]
And Buki Ogundi got going on building this pilot for Revalidation. And so that was great. We built a really good system there. And then there was this moment where Dr Okocha said to me, 'Oh this, this software's great. Can you come and show it to the other Responsible Officers in London? Because I'm sure they'd love to see what we've been up to, especially as we're a pilot site'. And me being really naive and green about these things, I had no idea why, why I was going there. I thought it was like an information sharing thing. I thought it was, oh, this is a nice, fluffy NHS, this is the project been working on, what do you, what do you think of this thing we've made? Like show and tell, like kids at school or something? And they'd go, 'Oh, that's really nice'.

Mariah [00:08:23]
Good for you.

Kevin [00:08:24]
And and they did do that, and they all sat around this, it was loads of medical directors and response officers for London, all sat around this table, I think it was probably about 10, 15 people there. So pretty much a good chunk of the most senior doctors in the country. And I presented this system and they said, 'oh, that's really good. That's great. How much is it'? And I went, 'oh, I didn't come here to sell it to you. I just came to show you what we built'. And they went, 'Oh, that's really good. But we control billions of pounds worth of budget between all of us. Maybe you should sell it to us'.

Mariah [00:09:00]

Kevin [00:09:01]
And then I didn't really think much about it for a couple of weeks. And then Dr. Okocha phoned me up and said, ‘you know what, we really should commercialise this thing because it'd be good for you. It's a good product. It will, it will really serve those people well. But if we create a joint venture, then it will benefit us as a Trust’. And we get, um, a really nice symbiotic relationship because everyone wins out of that scenario. The hospitals get the thing that they want, because it's been sort of grown from the ground up, it's come from the allotment of the NHS, it's come, it's home grown. The, the NHS trust itself, Oxleas our parent trust, this software company, that's been a good commercial success for them, and it takes a lot of hard work that Barbara in particular had put in to actually produce the software and making it more useful for a wider group of people. So, yeah, that was our, that was our what we would call like the accidental Dragons Den moment, where we turned up to Dragons Den, but didn't know we were in it.

Kevin [00:10:07]
And then, and then that sort of kick started it, one wonderful guy called Jonathan Wood, who was our business advisor, who sadly died a couple of years back, he, again, you know, I was very young, and we were both young when we started this. And I didn't really know anything about even running a business. So we had the software company, but I dunno share ownership and how we'd actually form a joint venture. So I just went to Jonathan, who was introduced to me via a friend, and I said, look, I just don't know what I'm doing, really. Can someone come and, can a grown up come and explain?!

Mariah [00:10:46]
Can I get a chaperone please? That's what he was.

Kevin [00:10:47]
I showed him a business plan, actually, and I think he was really impressed that I even had a business plan and it was thought out, and the cash flow and things like that, and, and that started a really lovely relationship, didn't it Phil?

Phil [00:11:00]
Yeah it did.

Kevin [00:11:00]
He was a wonderful man.

Phil [00:11:02]

Kevin [00:11:02]
Absolute genius. He was, he was a adviser to Number 10, so he worked for John Major and Maggie Thatcher and Tony Blair. And he did, yeah, he was a chemistry.... I think he got first in Chemistry from Oxford, have I got that right?

Phil [00:11:24]
Oxford. Yeah. Yes, that's right.

Kevin [00:11:26]
Yeah. Very smart man. Very, very clever, but very practical as well too. So he, he helped us form that company and I said, well, if we're going to do this, I really need Phil in on this as well, so we got Phil seconded, and then eventually he never went back.

Phil [00:11:44]
Never went back, no. Not a moment, not a moment of regret either.

Mariah [00:11:48]

Kevin [00:11:48]
He's been my business husband ever since.

Mariah [00:11:52]
What a special relationship you two!

Phil [00:11:56]
It is! We've seen it all haven't we. I was just, just, I mean Kevin said I think we were both really naive when we started. My, my favourite moment of all was when we went to our first demonstration and we went fully armed with Dr Okocha and Buki, the sort of Oxleas representatives and us, we went in and we had a great presentation and then Kevin and I were almost high fiving outside, 'oh that one's in the bag. Brilliant. This is so easy'. Course we didn't win it, but it was, we had to learn a lot of lessons really very quickly.

Phil [00:12:30]
And there's some great stories about our Guys and St. Thomas's first demonstration and our foam boards, which are still up in the office in Crystal Palace, and selling a system when you're not actually showing a system was, was fun. But, but the good news is, is we, we learn from all of these things and it allowed us to grow to where we are today.

Mariah [00:12:51]
So how would you guys describe the use of software in the NHS currently?

Phil [00:12:55]
The application of software in the NHS is definitely improving. I think for such a long time, it was always seen as something to capture the outcome of something? Like a process that we need to record it. That's what a lot of the systems, especially in our area, you know, I'm not, I'm not talking about all technology in the NHS, but in our area it was more to do with catching it rather than, sort of, supporting the process and even, sort of, helping to gain efficiencies and improve how processes work. I think that.. That that was always a difficulty. But I think there has been a shift, and you've seen the shift sort of moving along in terms of NHSI and other groups and NHSX, where they're starting to try to think about, 'how can we really utilise systems to, to give us an advantage in, in the NHS as opposed to not'. I think, but we also have to realise it's really complicated.

Phil [00:13:55]
There's, you know, can be thousands of systems in play at any one time in the NHS. And part of the real problem that they've suffered with is, is that they all sort of work in silos. You know, these systems are, are used for a task or, or maybe one or two tasks. And actually the NHS being the sort of complicated animal that it is, requires data and information to flow. You know, they need information about patients. They need information about what their staff are doing, things, areas that we're involved in, Revalidation, Rostering, they need all these things, but they all really need to talk to each other. So they, they definitely sort of shifted the focus around interoperability, and I think one of the things that we're really trying to do to push that even further forward is, is to think about what that really means, and how it can really work. Because I think the danger is, is because of the, the legacy of systems within the NHS, I think the, the view is about interoperability is more around how things used to work than how things should work and how they could work in the future. So, yeah, I think we're seeing definite signs of improvement and hopefully we are, we're helping in our own little way to, to push that forward.

Kevin [00:15:18]
Yeah, that's a great answer. Glad you did it. One each.... No, it's right. Like, so much of the data capture was about just visibility and pointing at things and going 'this is, this is how many of X has happened'. And it's something that we keep on at in our own company, is that if we have KPIs and we have monthly business management meetings where we look at those KPIs, and one of the things I keep saying and something that we keep coming back to is that those KPIs are only useful if you look at them and it changes your behaviour. If nothing's moved, some process hasn't got easier, if that's not information that's actually helping you make better decisions and move towards some some long term goal, then they're not useful KPIs. And I think that's probably true of every organisation, is that they, those systems need to be useful for the executive team to make better decisions and better strategy and work out if what they're doing is working. But they also need to make it easier for the people using their systems for their everyday life. So, you know, like the appraisal stuff, it should be easier for that doctor to just do their appraisal, not have a system just so you can record that they did that appraisal.

Phil [00:16:43]
Just in addition, the stuff that we're talking about only really works, and I'm going to pay you a nice compliment here..

Mariah [00:16:49]
Wow. Rarity.

Phil [00:16:51]
When you have someone at the head of the organisation that is able to, sort of, see over the horizon and say, well look, there's a lot of things that work in a lot of places, and there's a lot of new, sort of, innovative technology that's coming in, and it's really something that we can apply. But how do we utilise these things? And sometimes the NHS will only, or the landscape around software in NHS, will only improve when people start to take what they probably consider to be rather large risks around things like open-source, using artificial intelligence, when they have people that are able to, as I say, look over the horizon and say, 'well actually, these are the benefits, and then the pitfalls are, are relatively small and it's a future'. I know Kevin says it a lot, you know, it's a future that you can look at and it's coming whether you want it to or not. You know, this, this stuff is already part of our life, as it is, let's utilise it to, to improve the way you do things and allow you to, sort of, get on with the jobs that vocationally, the most, most people in the NHS, you got into to help people. You don't want to be spending all your time operating software.

Phil [00:18:05]
So let's, let's think about things that. So that's something that Kevin is, is really passionate about and also drives the team forward and is, is looking at these new opportunities, seeing how technology can actually change that landscape. And I think, you know, hopefully our influence is, is growing in a good way to that, and that's not about capturing the market for ourselves, it's actually beneficial for all system providers to look at these things. So, yeah. Good job Kev.

Kevin [00:18:35]
Thanks. Well, unrelated to SARD, and there's been some low level improvements, so I think there was a poll two years back, maybe about five years ago, that they were asking people what changes need to make, change in the NHS to improve technology. And I, and I think a number of other people, just said, 'just update your Internet browsers, please'.

Mariah [00:18:59]

Kevin [00:18:59]
There's one thing you could do to improve the NHS technology generally, it would be to update all of the browsers, because they were all running on really old browsers, and that made building apps for them, and they were missing out, I think, on this, this coming revolution of Internet-only based applications, which I think is the world that we're all familiar with now. Like, I think we've all got into that place where like, oh, most applications we use are Internet-based, like even Word and Excel. More of that stuff is going online and you do it online.

Kevin [00:19:35]
And we could see that coming. We're there now. Five years ago I don't think that was obvious to people. And it was like, we're going to miss out on that, but for whatever reason, they seem to have caught up. And I think there is more of an emphasis on, on technology in the NHS. Obviously, Matt Hancock himself has got a tech background, I think his family come from, they built those postcode address finder things, so he's, he's, you know, I get into the politics of it, but it's very clear that he has got a technical interest. And I understand that some people are against that idea as well, that 'oh technology'll save us'. You know, the techno utopians that believe that the only thing that needs to be done is for technology to come in. And I've actually seen, a bit of criticism of A.I. and technology in response to Covid was, yeah, we've had this massive problem come up, and you know, what, what did the technologists do for us? Nothing. It came down to, you know, nurses and doctors doing what they've always done. And the technology didn't really, really help. And to that, I would say actually, people communicating on Twitter and sharing all of this data and, you know, sometimes technology so, so familiar to us, we don't even notice how it's helping us.

Phil [00:20:53]
But that's, that's moved, but it has moved things forward a lot, because actually, I think what some people in the NHS have realised is that the use of that technology would have really been helpful, especially around rostering staff where, you know, half of your workforce may be off at any one time, or whatever, because they're having to self isolate. Actually, it becomes even more difficult when you use old, sort of, systems that are reliant on doing things in advance, you know, like six months in advance, then you're, you're kind of stuck. So I think, actually, you know, as much as Covid is not a thing to, to celebrate in any way, I think one of the positives, if you can pull them out, in terms of technology, is that people have started to realise that it isn't going to create a utopia, but it can certainly help. It can certainly enable people to get on with their jobs in these sort of difficult times. So I think it, I think in that respect, it's moved technology forward and software forward quite a lot in the space of six months, actually.

Kevin [00:21:52]
Specifically video meetings.

Mariah [00:21:53]
That's huge.

Kevin [00:21:54]
You know, Microsoft teams, and.. Does make a massive difference, we've been able to engage with clients much more directly instead of travelling up and down the country for what is relatively short meetings. I think people are more inclined to, to do those things. And it does bring a lot of progress. I'm not even a big fan of, of online meetings. I much prefer meeting people in person. But I do think that's, that's been one, one big benefit.

Mariah [00:22:20]
If you had a magic wand, what technical admin software challenges, general kind of challenges would you solve right now?

Phil [00:22:27]
I think it's really for me in two parts. One of them is something we've already, sort of, mentioned, which is I think one of the challenges is, is... It's not just the idea of what you're trying to do, but doing it in the right way. So interoperability is, is a big challenge, not necessarily because it's a, sort of, insurmountable mountain to climb, it's, it's a case of saying, 'well, how are you going to climb that mountain? Are you going to make it very difficult for yourself? Are you going to leave all your equipment at the bottom, and sort of try and climb without ropes or what have you? Or is there a way where things have been proven to work very efficiently, so you could almost just take a helicopter up to the top'? It's, you know, in this case, it's not about shouldn't be looking at it in terms of the success of, sort of, man versus nature, or woman versus nature and and the, the journey to get to the top, in some cases, the case of saying how do you get to the top the quickest and most easiest way that benefits everyone. And I think that's one of the challenges, is about how interoperability is going to work. And I think that's something certainly that Kevin is sort of very passionate about.

Kevin [00:23:38]
To stretch your analogy, I think when it comes to interoperability, you do have all these people trying to climb this mountain. And I think Phil and myself, the rest of the team, are kind of like 'got a helicopter here, guys?' There's a nice, sort of, easy way to do interoperability, it works in other industries. And, and I share the passion for getting interoperability working in the NHS, I'm really concerned about how we're going about it, but that is an entirely different podcast I think! That would probably take a couple of hours on its own.

Kevin [00:24:12]
I mean, clearly, I have a problem with bureaucracy and administration, but I do think it's becoming over-specified, that there's an interference in that interoperability, a belief that a central organisation needs to dictate the shapes and interfaces between those systems, rather than heavily encourage purchasers to push their suppliers to make sure that they have good function APIs. And so it's a mess, really. Unfortunately, I think some of the work that's been done on interoperability is actually going to hold the industry back, and it's also going to prevent new entrants to the market. That's a big gripe of mine, and I'd love to explain in more detail, but it would take the rest of this, this podcast to do.. So in short, there is a helicopter, we'd rather show you the helicopter... There's a helicopter, we'd rather show you the helicopter, rather than this really painful way to climb the mountain.

Phil [00:25:05]
If you talk about technical solutions, I think you can just look and you can say, oh, actions, too numerous to mention that we'd love to be helping to figure out bed management, the rostering stuff that we're already doing, risk management, and something I become more passionate about, which is the patient journey, how you move through from, sort of, diagnosis to referral, to treatment, to, sort of, outpatient clinics and so on. And where your records go, because I think that sort of interoperability or sharing your data is something that doesn't really exist.

Phil [00:25:35]
But, but for us, it's as much of a, sort of, a curse as anything else, because it's really easy to get distracted, because you can see all these things and think, 'oh, you know, we could just... If we could just tweak that or change that or make it simple', but, but then you take your eye off the thing that you're working on at that particular point in time, and I think with the rostering staff, for example, that, that should create a massive change within the NHS, in a really positive way, in terms of how you use your resources, how you save money, how you rely less on, sort of, bank and locum, and, and agency staff and things like that. But it is, it's really interesting because Kevin and I over the last 10 years, have talked about numerous things that we'd like to, to get involved in. But I think it's just one, one step at a time in terms of, 'let's change how that works and then we can move on to the next bit'. So, it'd need to be a pretty big magic wand to, to do everything I think we would like to do.

Kevin [00:26:38]
Yeah, I mean, the, the obvious massive technical problem, which I think, you know, you don't need to be working in health care tech to notice this, is case management of patients. I think we've all experienced that thing where you go to a doctor and you have an MRI and then you go see another consultant, and they're completely unaware that you had an MRI, and like, why did I get you to do that? And why have you come to see me? I don't know. I was referred to you!

Mariah [00:27:03]
You tell me.

Kevin [00:27:03]
You know, and so there's that, there's that big problem that we are all aware of. That's, that's, that's the big monster tech problem for the NHS. I've got opinions on how that should be sorted. But, commercially, we're not going in that space. And actually, it's for the reasons that I fear a little bit, with this interoperability, with workforce systems, is that actually it's a very, it's actually very heavily regulated in terms of like fire standards and HL 7 and... It would be hard to build a really neat, simple, cheap, case management system for the NHS. Actually, it wouldn't be hard, I take that back, it'd be really easy to do that, it'd be really hard to sell it and really hard to make a success of that business in the NHS, and throughout the world, in fact.

Kevin [00:27:54]
It doesn't seem to be done very well anywhere. You know, maybe Estonia or a country like that, that seems to have got a handle on it. But these things are not easy to access. And I worry that some of that's coming into our workforce system, but as Phil said, the NHS has got loads of problems, and it's really easy to get distracted. We don't really deal with clinical systems, as in patient systems much, just on the fringes of where it connects to job planning. But we don't really touch that. But I do look at it and go, 'oh I'd love to sort that out'.

Phil [00:28:26]
One day mate.

Mariah [00:28:27]
I was gonna say, down the road, maybe? Yeah? No.

Kevin [00:28:29]
No.. It's so simple in a sense, like we, you know, we talk about our own CRM, like, customer relationship management system. You should be able to look at any, any one of our clients and see a history of Mariah spoke to them, Phil spoke to them, here's what it was, here's the emails that went through, this is a meeting that we had with that person, you know, to have a paper trail of their, of their journey. Now, loads of companies do that. You can go to loads of companies and say to them, what happened to this person here? And they'll say, 'oh, they're connected to so and so, or they left that company and they went over here' and you'd get all that data. So, yes, yes, it's very sensitive data. Those concepts are not alien to other industries. Just basically, having knowledge and information about a person, and seeing it all the way through. And so it's, that to me, is really frustrating because it's something that could be solved. And everyone, everyone knows it's a big problem, and it's not solved. And I can't really see it getting solved. That's depressing isnt it.

Mariah [00:29:29]
That is very depressing. Yeah...

Kevin [00:29:33]
I do, I do think pirate groups, you know, permission-less innovation, sometimes technology arrives that allows people to do the job to fill that process unofficially, so you've, you've seen it in WhatsApp with doctors and rostering, like that technology was not built to help organise rosters in hospitals, but wow, there's a lot of people using WhatsApp to sort out their rosters in hospitals.

Mariah [00:29:58]

Phil [00:29:59]

Kevin [00:29:59]

Mariah [00:30:01]

Kevin [00:30:02]
Doctors would struggle without WhatsApp, I think.

Phil [00:30:05]
They would.

Kevin [00:30:05]
Not everywhere, I'm sure there are places, but there's definitely lots of WhatsApp groups for doctors all over the country. Unofficially. So, you know, that's piracy right? That's permission-less innovation, coming from the ground up. People have gone, 'I really need to be able to talk to all of my cohort. I need to be able to talk to them quickly at the weekend, say, oh, can you cover that shift? It's not an easy way to offic- there's no easy way to officially organise that, but people, as always, find unofficial ways to do the same thing.

Mariah [00:30:36]
This seems like a great time to discuss SARDs newest product, eRostering. The thing about eRostering is that it's actually really hard to describe. I recently recorded a video with Kevin Monk, co-founder of SARD, with his explanation, which you have got to see. He really explains how e-rostering works, which I'll try to sum up now. Basically, it's all about a declarative artificial intelligence. And no, we're not talking about robots here, but essentially a system that does the maths for you. Most people understand rostering, which can be a really complicated and difficult process, trying to match up the needs with the wants. eRostering takes that very complex method and simplifies it, it essentially does the job for you. It takes out the guesswork in a matter of seconds, creates the perfect roster for the workplace, as well as the employees. To find out more, please visit our website One of our chat boxes will probably pop up and you can get in touch with our customer service team straight away to learn more. And in terms of that video, we'll be giving more information soon.

Mariah [00:31:39]
Is there a particular way you've set up SARD to meet the challenges of the NHS?

Phil [00:31:43]
Yeah. No well there is. I think, I think we, we set up SARD to be sensitive around the varying requirements of each Trust. We.. because we came from a trust, it was really easy, when Kevin was working with sort of Booky and Iffy and the other consultants to do stuff, it would have been really easy to think that's the way all NHS trusts operate, and therefore this is a standard system that everyone uses. But actually, fortunately, during the, the development, Oxleas merged with two community trusts, so we instantly got to see that there was going to be some real variations in things like culture and processes and ways of working. And, and it, I think it led to the backbone of, sort of, the system as well as the company to say, there's got to be quite a large amount of flexibility and configurability in how we do things, and what we do, because every time, and it has been true for the last 10 years, every time we go to a new trust, they present a different challenge.

Phil [00:32:47]
Even though it's all around the same areas, they've got different things that are in their policies, in their processes, that they've got to, they've got to deal with. But the way in which we do that, in terms of setting up SARD, which was intentional, and I know Kevin sort of brought things in very early, that other people, sort of, wish they had done as well, but is very difficult to replicate, was around chat support and the support team. We listen to all of our users and any user of our system, from the administrator to the end user, can talk to us directly. And that was an intentional set up because it allows you this, sort of, beautiful, constant feedback of 'this works, this doesn't work, this is something that would be beneficial for all trusts, or it would work within our trust and help us out'.

Phil [00:33:33]
I think, unless an organisation really understands their market, and the only way you can understand your market is by being involved in it and listening to it, then you're going to get stuck really quickly, and I think as such, one of the main things we've done, and I know Kevin is, is very passionate again about, sort of, making sure that you have the right skills, like, skillsets or skill stack in an organisation that people are always looking for new things and new ways to do stuff, it's about not standing still. We as a business are in no way like we were 10 years ago in terms of what we offer, but culturally, and the way in which we do it, is almost exactly the same as how we started. Listening to clients and delivering the things that they want. So, yeah, I think, I think the simple answer to that question is, yeah, we did set it up in a particular way to meet those challenges and, and touch wood... It's worked.

Kevin [00:34:35]
Yeah, well that's pretty much what Jeff Bezos said, and he seems to know a thing about running a business.

Mariah [00:34:40]
Just a little bit.

Phil [00:34:41]
Yes, he's doing alright.

Kevin [00:34:41]
You know, with Amazon, I think one of his sayings is 'invest in the things that don't change'.

Phil [00:34:47]

Kevin [00:34:47]
Whatever system we're building, whether it's eRostering, whether it's this fantastic patient case management system when we're all 70 years old...Whatever it is, customer support is always going to be there, right. You're always going to need that. You're always going to need customer support skills, you're always going to need people who know how to handle a problem, how to deal with it. You're always going to need good account management, you're always going to need techies that aren't necessarily focussed on the specific problem of trying to solve, but have got that talent stack to go wide, and take this new problem and go, 'oh, I'm skilled enough from the previous things I did, that I'm able to adapt. I know how to manage this technically, I know how to manage the feature requests, I know how to manage the variability and cultures of the organisations we face'. And so all of those things are a really long term investment.

Kevin 00:35:35]
And the chat system, particularly, is, is just, it's a bit of a flag for us, because it's such an obvious, important thing that we do, and did do really early on. It seems so obvious that it just seems to symbolise that. But there are many chat system things that we've got in our company that, that have served us really, really well. One of which is just a more general emphasis on customer service. There's just not enough really high level customer service in any company. I don't think. You, you don't feel handled... We were saying the other day on our internal chat system that once you work for SARD, you will forever be disappointed with most customer service for every company you deal with.

Mariah [00:36:17]
So true.

Phil [00:36:18]
.. Like us.....

Kevin [00:36:18]
Oh, can't I just talk to the same person? I have to explain it all again? And then when you do find someone who's got really good customer service, you become really creepily, like, high in praise for them, and you're like 'that's great, I love this. This is great. Oh, you treat me so well'. I gotta go tell your boss, and I'm gonna tell you how good you are at customer service. And they're looking at you like 'my job man...'.

Phil [00:36:45]
It's easy when you do it right, as well. And also, let's not forget, that, that used to be managed for us by someone who is now a celebrity. So, you know.. if you've heard of Nish Kumar then, that's one of our...

Kevin [00:36:57]
We don't like to talk about our famous friends.

Mariah [00:36:59]
No name dropping.

Phil [00:37:00]
We don't. But, you know, he used to do it. He used to do it, so.... Before he became famous and we decided at that point that we should maybe let him go. And do the thing that he loved.

Mariah [00:37:12]
Ahh, that's very kind of you. So how do you guys, talking about your team and staff at SARD, how do you guys encourage creativity and innovation within the SARD family?

Phil [00:37:21]
Yeah, I think what Kevin was actually saying before, we mention it and we talk to even in, sort of, interview process about this autonomy, mastery and purpose thing. And, and I think that's regardless of what role you're perceived to play in the organisation. It was Dan Pink that described it best, saying that, you know, 'autonomy was the urge to direct your own life, mastery was a desire to get better and better at something that matters, and the purpose was yearning to do what you do in service of something larger than yourself'. And I think that... That idea, that when you work in SARD, that there isn't, as Kevin's already said, sort of, anti bureaucracy, this, this idea that you are constantly asking permission to do something, what we really want, with people that work in the organisation, we work very hard when we bring people in, to make sure that they've got that, is, is the ability and the capacity to make their own decisions about stuff.

Phil [00:38:24]
To see what's in front of them. You don't employ people that you then go and micromanage, you employ people that should be better at their jobs than you could ever be.

Mariah [00:38:33]
Of course, absolutely.

Phil [00:38:33]
You know, that's the point, right? You don't... We didn't, we didn't employ you Mariah, and then say, 'right, this is how you do all the content stuff', we trust in the fact that you will have your, the focus on what will work best, and you'll see all the challenges in front of you. And I think, I think that... It's really true, you got to sort of foster this environment where individuals can identify the problems that come up, whether it's on chat or a technical issue, they can discover solutions and they can execute them without having to go through this long, drawn out process of, you know, please Phil, please Kev, can I possibly do this? I mean, it's so antiquated and it doesn't make any sense. And, and it cuts out all of the rubbish. Basically. You get, you get.. You solve a problem in a far more efficient way. And then it's all to do with sort of your intrinsic motivation then because you've got, because you're doing something with purpose, it leads to more, sort of, intrinsic motivation and more innovation.

Phil [00:39:38]
And I think that the very fact that we started with one module, we're now on, I don't know how many, seven? All trying to deal with specific issues, because one of the things that's also true is we don't, we don't deal with narrow problems that have like a simple...again, I think Dan Pink said this, it's sort of a simple set of rules, and a simple outcome, it's far more broader than that. And Kevin talked about it before with, sort of, talent stack, when you look at a problem, you've got to be able to see in the peripheries of what have people not tried? What, what are they missing? What's really simple? And we, we try our best, as I said, maintaining the culture throughout the last 10 years, to instill that in people to say, 'look, I'm not going to tell you what to do. You know, I'm sort of line manager in name only. It's a relatively flat hierarchy in terms of what you can and can't do. You tell me what you think the best thing to do is, and then go and do it', you know, and, and we're both fans of David Marquette, who says the same thing, but, but essentially, yeah, we encourage people by giving them the responsibility to do their job as best they can.

Kevin [00:40:53]
It's, it's amazing how much creativity flows when you give someone some autonomy. I think that's, out of those, those things, obviously, the mastering being good at what you can- mastering being good at your job and feeling like you're really good at it, a purpose that you feel like you're working towards something that is meaningful. But that autonomy one is the one where people are particularly creative in how they come up with solutions to problems, because they don't, they don't have someone looking over their shoulder to confirm that it's the right way to do that thing. That's really, really important. I tell you a funny story.

Kevin [00:41:26]
When I was in the Ministry of Defence and I was out working with this Squaddie, and we had a van, well it was a big protected vehicle, let's just put it like that, I can't say much more, I don't wanna get shot or something, but it was full up with lots of sneaky beaky material, so it's really clever technology, amazing, we had a whole procedure for shutting this thing down, you know, a certain process for closing it down at the end of the day, and closing it, but I remember getting out and we went to shut the door and I said to the squaddie, what's the snooker cue for? And he went, 'Oh that, what I do is, I stick the snooker cue through there, and the magnetic fuses at the end, I just flick them with the snooker cue and switch the whole thing off'. And I found there was loads of people using these snooker cues to turn the equipment off through the doorway because it was too hard to reach the switch. And I was like, oh, that's, that's really smart. Like, we need to develop a wooden stick that we now provide to those people so they can switch the fuses off at the other end of the van.

Kevin [00:42:31]
But, you know, that's, I know it's a silly example, but that's when, when someone's got some autonomy, I think the particular groups that I was working with at the MoD did have, they could, they could do things like that. It just always made me laugh.

Phil [00:42:45]
Yeah. Don't ev- don't over-engineer it, you know someone is going to create some metal robotic arm for it. where, a snooker cue is fine.

Kevin [00:42:52]
Yeah exactly. You know, you ask someone to climb the mountain and they don't, they forget the helicopter like, oh yeah, how would I climb a mountain, there's a helicopter.

Mariah [00:43:02]
So you touched a little bit about the interview process and, and hiring the right people, so you guys really pulled together a really great team. I have realised that there's quite a few employees who you have met through doing theatre? And I was just wondering... and the pub as well... and just wondering if you can touch on that a little bit?

Kevin [00:43:26]
Yeah. Because I'm, I'm normally the main cause of those things. Look, it's difficult, right. Because you don't, you don't want to favour friends and family and stuff, like I get that kind of anti-nepotism thing, but, um, there's a book called Good to Great, which is, sort of, studies companies and how what is, what is about those particular companies that got them up there and exceeding and doing really well. One of the things that comes out of Good to Great, and one of the main suggestions is that you, you employ who, not what. So sometimes you think, oh, we need someone to fit into this role. So there's the what recruitment, and then there's the who recruitment. Sometimes people come along and particularly if you've met them in your daily life and you see how committed they are, you see, like, you see their loyalty and honesty and their ethics and their work ethic and, and how they interact with other people, particularly in theatres, because in theatres, you know...well in....we do, you're doing it for love, right? Amateur.

Mariah [00:44:32]

Kevin [00:44:33]
For the love. Right? So... the people who turn up, and aren't, was gonna say aren't late, I’m always late for rehearsals, people who aren't late, you know, people who are committed, people who get on with their fellow cast members, people who are respectful to the crew, just see, you see good people. You see people who work really well. And so, yeah, there is a bit of nepotism, but I think it's... I struggle with it because I do think it's sort of warranted sometimes. Sometimes people, you just see, you see what people are like and you think, yeah, I want, I want some of that personality in our company. But we, having said that, we've had some fantastic hires who we've never met down the pub.

Mariah [00:45:18]
That's good.

Kevin [00:45:18]
So, you know, it is a mixed bag. And you want to be.. One of the things that we've had a lot of fun with recently, because we've moved on to the University of Kent campus, is having a bit more of an interaction with the computer science department, and Kent Uni there, we've brought in, three of the, well actually four including Lucie, of the, of the computer science department have come and started working with us. And that's, that's been a great source. But again, it's sort of like being in a place and being familiar and building up friendships, if you like, with places. And I think there's more, there should be more of that. And actually, I know it's one of your later questions, which is, sort of, what's the one thing that really, that people should sort of talk about? And I think it feeds into this, is procurement. I think there's something analogous between hiring people you know, because you know their character and you know their mentality, and you know their work ethic. There's also that with software. And I don't even care if it's us, but I don't think it's even an NHS thing, or a health sector thing.

Kevin [00:46:24]
I see it everywhere. I was talking to one of my neighbours who's a managing director of a marketing, erm a research company, and he was talking about all the procurement hoops he has to jump through, you know, and they've already got in their head who they were already going to assign the bid to, and who's going to win it, and we have to go through, all of us, all industry, it's so frustrating. It's not even a public sector thing. It's a private sector thing as well. I know Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy talks about this in his book Alchemy, about how, you know, advertising tenders and everyone pitching in for this work and, just, it must be so impactful to the productivity of the UK, more generally, that we, that we have to do this.

Kevin [00:47:05]
And I don't, I wouldn't even care if it was us losing out on a bid, I would rather a trust that said, 'yeah, I've been working with these people over here'. It might not be us. Been working with these people over here, we've, I understand they've been building some stuff for us. So we've been working closely. They really understand the needs, and now we want to buy that system, now we're going to go and do a tender, and we're going to pretend that we don't have that relationship with them. That we don't, that we haven't done all that work with them. And we're going to make everyone jump through these hoops, and, and then we all fill it out and hey presto, they win. Or they don't win, which is possibly even worse. Like, that you ignored, you ignored that relationship. It didn't matter. And I think we all know this. We all know, much like we all know that patient case management is a mess, we all know that tender-based procurement is a terrible way to pick a product.

Phil [00:48:00]
Yeah, well, I, I, I had a conversation. I had a conversation with Jan, who works with me about this, and it was, it was an interesting one because we talked about.. It's not just the tender process, it's the questions that are asked. And, and when you're looking at technology, everybody knows that technology doesn't stand still, they equally know within the NHS that policies don't stand still either. Yet, they write a series of questions to say, what features can you provide today, that solves my problem today, but then I want a five year contract? And it's about saying, well actually, maybe some of the things that you should be looking at, in terms of those tenders are around, what sort of work do you do? Have you got a proven track record of being able to move with the changes? To innovate and develop new things? Because they're, in terms of your relationship building, right, like with recruitment, when we, when we hired one member of our technical team, Alex, we hired him because one of the main reasons, was because he had this fantastic work ethic... And he didn't, he didn't necessarily fit the bill in terms of all of the qualifications...

Kevin [00:49:13]
He had a first in history, I think.

Mariah [00:49:14]

Phil [00:49:15]
But the point was, is we knew, Kevin and I nailed on knew, and we fought to get him, that he was going to be a roaring success, not because of the skill that he had in the locker on day one, but because of where the capacity that he had, because of how his work ethic was, and I think it's these things are reflected everywhere. You know, and actually Alex went on to be a great success with us and developed some amazing things and, and loves us so much he keeps coming back. Which is great.

Phil [00:49:48]
But, staying with the tender process, you know, you need to just think about how you frame things, right? What is it you want? Do you want an innovative company that's not going to stand still? And therefore, don't ask specific questions that are pinned to a particular point in time or a particular process? Ask questions that really open the company up to say, show me how you've changed things over the last 10 years in your business? Are you the same business today as you were 10 years ago? If the answer is ‘yes’ we're not interested.

Kevin [00:50:19]
It comes down to this idea that not everything that matters is measurable, and not everything that measures is measurable matters. You know. And you see this in KPI, you see it in procurement, you see it in lots of things. People go, oh, I can measure it. Therefore, this is what I'm going to use as my guide. And my other big gripe about tender procurement is that it is spec based. It's like, here's the things that will solve my problem. I've, I've worked out what the solution to my problem is. I'm just asking you if you do these things that I know are the solution to your problem. And I've got a blog post about this, which is, you know, don't bring me, don't bring me solutions, bring me problems. So when we engage with a client, they often will say to us, this is what we need, and you know, it's going to do X, Y and Z. And often we need to pop, what we call pop the why stack on it, you know, ask why five times to get back and find out why, why do you want to do that?

Kevin [00:51:16]
Why do you.. You know... Let's keep going back to this climbing a mountain analogy, but why do you need a rope? Why do you need, why, why do you need tea that boils at a lower temperature? What's the...? Why do you need a pressure cooker? Oh, because if you actually found the problem they were trying to get to, which is to get up the mountain, you go, oh, I got a helicopter. And, and we see that so much, that it's like tender's is so often, here's a big list of all the things that we think will solve our problem, here's.. It must export out to CSV files, or it must do this, or you must have a ticket support desk, like, we've got chat support. Like, we do have ticket support desk, but you don't need it because there's this other thing that solves it. And yeah.. So..

Kevin [00:52:00]
Or training. Like training, training is often a requirement in a tender and we're like, well you've got online chat support all the time. If you get stuck just speak to that person, and they'll talk you through it, there and then.

Phil [00:52:13]
I think, I think just to add to that, I think a lot of the times though, when you have that, you know, people bringing you what their solutions are, just to take that analogy to the final step-.

Kevin [00:52:22]
We love stretching analogy don't we.

Phil [00:52:24]
Yeah, we do. We do. But sometimes it's a realisation that you're trying to climb a mountain that you've created, and actually you don't need to climb a mountain at all. Do you know what I mean? Not even take a helicopter up to the top, not use ropes, it's.. People focus on so much about how things have been done, that they turn that into something that seems insurmountable and they add to it and the mountain gets bigger and bigger and bigger in five years time they need something else. And sometimes it's just a case of literally pushing them out into one side and saying that, that's not where your problem is. That's not, you know, that's, that's something that's taken place because somebody else is focused on a programme, you picked it up and you've moved forward with it, and you've got a little bit further up the mountain, but you still can't see the top.

Phil [00:53:10]
So I think that that's, that's something we've really tried to do. And again, I keep putting words in Kevin's mouth, but it's, you know, it's a case of saying compete on simple. You know, let's, let's think about the simplest path from point A to B that we can help you to get through. What do you really need? What are your outcomes? What, what is it that's going to actually affect what you're doing? Not what is it that we can do to help you with all the things that just happen to be there because of history, or because that's the way it's worked before, which is why this kind of rebellious, rebellious attitude worked so well, sort of going back to the first question, because we threw all of those things out of the window and said, right, let's just, let's just focus on what is is. I'm a qualified teacher and I used to do training, and every time I'd go into a meeting, they'd say 'oh our numbers are down on this. Phil, we need training'. And I'd say, 'why do you need training? What is it you're trying to achieve? What, what outcome do you want? Is training the, it's like a capture all solution?'.

Phil [00:54:13]
So yeah, we're both, I think we're both very passionate about the fact that sometimes you just, sometimes this is as much about helping people to see that there are different routes sometimes, and we're there really to, to, to help that and to lift it up and say that, you know, there's a better way. Let's help you find it.

Mariah [00:54:36]
I think that, that's a common theme, too, with SARD in general, is that you guys just want to help. That's all you want to do.

Phil [00:54:43]
We're very caring.

Mariah [00:54:43]
And you, and you have, you have the capabilities to do that. And that's, that's awesome. So there's another question, but I think maybe we should stop here and revisit it another time.

Phil [00:54:58]
I literally had one answer and it said AI as simple as that. And that was it. That was it.

Mariah [00:55:03]
Oh ok. Oh, that was easy. Cool all right. Well, then we'll revisit that on another podcast if you're up for it.

Phil [00:55:10]
Oh, brilliant, well thank you for setting all this up.

Mariah [00:55:13]
Thank you, guys. I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

Mariah [00:55:16]
Thank you to all our listeners who tuned in to today's episode of SARDisms. We really enjoyed having you and hopefully you enjoyed hearing about the foundations of SARD and where it's future lies. You can find out more about SARD by visiting, or send us a tweet on Twitter @SARDjv and use hashtag #SARDisms. I'm Mariah Young. Until next time, have a great week.