Atamis and customers show flexibility in times of crisis for the greater good

It’s good to hear that the covid situation has produced some feel-good stories too, among all the uncertainty and fear in the health sector with regard to sourcing. In December 2019, UK-based procurement solutions provider, Atamis, was awarded the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) contract to implement a single eCommercial System across DHSC, its Arm’s Length Bodies (suitably termed The Health Family) and NHS trusts (The Health System) that wish to use it.

The platform would incorporate the e-procurement capabilities of e-sourcing, contract management, business case approval and supplier relationship management, all in one system to bring uniformity, visibility and better control to all spending departments. The implementation completion date was set to be June 1, but when the covid-19 crisis hit, and pressure mounted on the NHS and care sector to source suppliers, respond rapidly and achieve what seemed like impossible-to-find products in extreme short supply, Atamis was asked to pull forward the activation of the SRM module by two months.

As we know, a rapid implementation such as this can bring all kinds of challenges, not least the knock-on effect on the rollout of other modules, user acceptance testing, training and user adoption for an industry as large and complex as the health sector. But Atamis responded by prioritising resources to this project, and what makes this a particularly relevant and feel-good story, is that on the basis of complete transparency and openness, Atamis reached out to its other customers explaining what it had been asked to do for the heath sector - overwhelmingly, the client base responded positively, urging Atamis to put this effort before their own implementations for the greater good. Owing to sheer resource-management skill, it turned out that no other customer implementation was adversely affected while the project was completed under time and under budget, but the show of goodwill and solidarity among the customer base was testimony to how firms can pull together in times of need.

The ability to be flexible in times of crisis is crucial for vendors, so we spoke with Steve Balding, the Health System Commercial System and Data Strategy lead who led the Atamis implementation, to learn more.

“The Health Family, a huge collective of Department of Health bodies and subsidiaries, were using a diverse range of procurement systems,” he explained. “Two years ago we embarked on a roadmap of change to replace DHSC and ALB systems with one unified approach and a single commercial data strategy, with the economies of scale a bulk deal would bring.”

In December 2019, after a robust market research programme, the competition for a single eCommercial system, run by NHS Digital on behalf of DHSC, was awarded to Atamis. It was a fully collaborative project, and Health Family organisations submitted their specifications and requirements to be evaluated to make sure everyone would be happy with the new system.

Testing and training had commenced in January and user feedback was really positive. By March, users liked it so much that many didn’t want to wait until their existing system contracts expired, and wanted to migrate across sooner.

“Their reasons were based on ease of use and functionality, which were our primary requirements,” he said. “But it wasn’t just our users who would benefit – for suppliers it means they can register just once in the system and provide all their responses to NHS Digital, NHS England, DHSC and other organisations in one place, making it easier for them to do business with us. Because the Health Family organisations frequently use the same suppliers, it provides us with one supplier record, a single view of all contracts awarded to that supplier, their performance status, their contract status, right across the whole Health Family all aggregated into one dashboard, making it easier for us to improve supplier communications and relationships.”

The implementation was due to complete on June 1, but when the covid situation struck, and given that PPE manufacturing was being tracked in spreadsheets, the need for a configurable system was accelerated, especially the supplier performance part.

“We asked Atamis if they could bring that rollout forward by two months. We needed to be able to see all our PPE manufacturing opportunities in one place, and to monitor critical suppliers more efficiently. Atamis were able to deliver this, and introduced features that would aid us further, like automatically tracking supplier financial robustness through D&B credit scores, Companies House information, and other third-party sources to mitigate risk.”

The result is that all the health organisations involved in using the system are working together. As Steve notes, “to be united in our commercial teams, and work together as one virtual team in our category strategies and our response to covid, having a single system to do it in is so much more powerful than having different organisations doing different things in different ways. It is this platform that helps support the covid response we are delivering.”

DHSC has successfully migrated to Atamis, and organisations like NHS Digital, NHS England and CQC are due to come onboard as incumbent system contracts expire. “Success to me,” says Steve, “is that I’ve got departments knocking on my door asking to be onboarded, and this is a nod to the Atamis team for their technical project implementation skills and a well organised approach to bringing it forward to give us the right solution much earlier than we originally anticipated.”

Given that the Atamis team were operating at a point when the country was in lockdown, when people were learning to work remotely yet together, this was a challenge successfully overcome.

Nick James, Managing Director at Atamis, tells us that the project’s success was helped enormously by the collaborative work of DHSC and ALBs, from the way the competition was delivered to how the project was facilitated to keep it on track, so much so that suppliers who did not win the contract were vocal about how well it was run.

“We were impressed with the collaboration across DHSC and ALBs,” he said. “When we set out on the project we were expecting there to be a lot more disparity between the various authorities in terms of how they saw a common configuration for the system, but actually we were overwhelmed by the level of mutual understanding and compromise, resulting in fairly few requirements from each participating authority. We were honoured and proud to have been able to make such a difference at such a difficult time, and to have supported DHSC and ALBs by delivering what they needed when they needed it most. It was all down to teamwork, from DHSC and ALBs, Atamis and our wider community in recognising the need for the greater good.”

Since completing the implementation to replace nine different e-procurement and contract management systems with a single one, The Health Family team has been shortlisted for the annual CIPS Excellence in Procurement Awards best collaborative teamwork project, and for the Go Awards for best healthcare project of the year (below £20m).

We wish them success, and look forward to the results in the autumn.

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