Rob Knott, Health Sector Procurement Leader, Joins Software Firm Virtualstock

Hot Topic

To our regular readers who may have noticed that our first post this morning was missing -- this was due to a technical error (blip, as they say) -- so here it is now, late but still timely! 

Rob KnottOur hot topic this month of NHS Procurement was chosen mainly because of the HCSA conference at the end of the month, but as it happens there seems to be quite a bit of activity in the procurement technology space within the NHS.

We spoke last week to Rob Knott, who will be known to many readers, particularly in the health sector although his early career was very much in private sector procurement. More recently he was Procurement Director for a major NHS Trust and then a Director at the Department of Health (DH) where he did much of the work on the NHS procurement strategy of 2013. He left DH a few months ago, and we wondered where he might end up. We don’t agree on everything, but he is one of the most forward-thinking people in the health area, without a doubt, and has an excellent understanding of technology, which is rarer than it should be in the profession.

Anyway, the answer is that he is taking up a new role – he is joining software firm Virtualstock Ltd, who seem to be coming up in conversations with increased frequency these days. As we described recently, we learnt that they are the firm behind the product information management / catalogue and stock management initiative at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Trust in London that David Lawson wrote about here.

Whether or not their solution is relevant to every hospital, we can’t say – see the “comments” on David’s article for an interesting debate – but there seems no doubt that Virtualstock is an interesting product for the sector and beyond. We will take a closer look at the solution shortly, but for the moment, we asked Rob Knott a few questions about the new role.

Congratulations first of all –what are you going to be doing with Virtualstock?

I’m joining as part of the executive team as Director of Healthcare and Public Sector.  The role covers both the NHS and private healthcare providers, potentially, and whilst the focus is initially mainly NHS, it may extend into other countries too. The company also works with a range of blue-chips in the retail sector, although my role will not cover this, but there seems to be significant potential for the sectors to learn from each other.

And not just the NHS in term of public sector?

No, any organisation that has a lot of product data to manage at the front-line of public service is of interest. We think there are other parts of the public sector that could benefit from the solution.

I know you have been looking at a few options since you left DH – why Virtual Stock?

I’ve always been interested in disruptive technology, back to my days in the banking sector, in the early 90's, when we built our own eProcurement system – ahead of the times! Combine that with my work on international best practice and future operating models for the NHS when I was in the DH, then Virtualstock seems to have something that is truly disruptive and meets so many of the needs that hospitals have in terms of supply chain management.

How did you first come across Virtualstock?

As part of the DH work, we were looking at the read-across from the retail industry. There are real parallels - major retailers have to manage a huge number of different products, stock and supply channels. Now they have to have multiple, efficient “front-ends” to their customers - stores, online and now mobile – but backed up by some very clever interoperable systems which manage huge amounts of data. Initially, I saw Virtualstock working in Tesco and thought this was something that should be of real interest to hospitals.

We featured the programme that David Lawson is introducing at Guy’s using Virtualstock– I guess you think this is applicable to other Trusts?

Yes, this is a solution that is available now; indeed the information and products from suppliers who participate in the Guy’s programme will be immediately available to other Trusts. But I would say that, using technology in new ways to achieve benefits, including this and the GS1 initiative in health, it is not just about the technology. It requires a new culture of disruptive technology adoption and change management in hospitals if we are going to get the most out of the eCommerce. Like disruptors in other sectors, we need to think big, start small and scale fast.

Why did you decide to take the leap from procurement directly into the tech sector - and a job on the supplier side too?

Like many senior practitioners in the sector, I am obsessed with making a difference and helping the NHS to be more successful! I hope this is a way I can contribute to that.

Thanks to Rob Knott and we will feature more from Virtualstock soon.

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