NIA Fellow and Founder of DrDoctor, Tom Whicher, explains why non-disruptive innovation can be the key to real transformational change

“Technology is plagued with buzzwords like ‘agile’, ‘gamification’ and ‘bespoke’, but none has been more damaging than ‘disruptive’. Disruptive has never been a synonym for better, or ground-breaking – rather the underlying principle is to radically transform by destabilising the current ‘way things are done’. This simply doesn’t work in many industries, especially one in which people’s lives are at stake.”Within large, complicated organisations, adoption of new technologies is crucial – change managers will create deployment schedules and communications plans, beta testing will occur to ensure that day to day operations will not be disrupted and the process will be smooth, without the client or customer feeling so much as a hiccup. The larger the organisation, the more gradual the deployment must be. From experience within healthcare, the nature of their complexities involved means drilling down hospital by hospital, department by department, and even team by team finding key experts who can champion change and be part of the effective uptake without rocking the boat.

“The key to non-disruptive innovation is the building of a long-term relationship with the purchaser, and an iterative mindset. Sustainable change is incremental – it is very rare to find a product in the digital space that intends to remain unchanged – instead the product is designed to evolve (‘agile’), and upgrade over time, often becoming more useful to the individual user over time (‘bespoke’). By buying into the process of iterative and staged growth, organisations will find the process of updating old systems goes smoother and the uptake is more universal.”Often the worst-case scenario with a ‘disruptive’ deployment is the chaos that is left behind by destabilising the old system before key users are comfortable with the new one. This inevitably results in users reaching for paper and pen to complete tasks rather than dealing with the frustrations of interacting with a new system.

“Finally, technology is evolving at an astounding rate with no slowing up in sight. The decision to adopt new tech needs to be endemic in an organisation, with clear authoritative decision makers free to trial, adopt and deploy new technologies before they become outdated or obsolete. Within UK healthcare we have seen huge strides being taken by the senior management of the NHS to set ups Global Digital Exemplars (GDEs) – individual trusts that are empowered to share their learnings with other trusts to grow and iterate digitally from their experience. Though there is a danger that decentralising decision making will give rise to sub-par technologies, a pragmatic and iterative approach will result in only the best and most successful innovations prevailing and spreading throughout an organisation.

“At DrDoctor, we are committed to tackling a colossal challenge – reducing the financial burden to our National Health Service – this wouldn’t be possible if we attempted to eat the whole elephant in one bite, but when we began putting our efforts into one single hospital after another, the results were spectacular. With an annual budget of around £100 billion, cutting costs is a mammoth task, however on a granular level, having saved one hospital around £3.5 million pounds in our first year’s deployment, the dent being made is sizable.

“Gentle, incremental innovation doesn’t have to be slow, what it does need is practical implementation, with a deep understanding of the needs of the client, coupled with the desire to deploy in a sensitive way to the organisation, iterate, improve over time.”

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