Appello’s Business Development Manager, Gareth Bracher, recently had a chat with Nathan Liptrot from Clarity Procurement Solutions, a specialist procurement and bid management consultancy to the housing industry about procuring digital telecare and supported living solutions to discuss the challenges housing providers are facing in procuring digital telecare technology that is fit for purpose.
Gareth: It’s interesting to see how the conversation has moved on in the last few years. No one needs convincing of the benefits of digital over analogue telecare systems anymore – modern technology-enabled care systems have a broader remit and many benefits over an analogue warden call system. They act as tools to provide intelligent and proactive activity monitoring, allow the possibility of self-care, help residents overcome issues around social isolation and provide a means to connect them to the digital world. And, we are seeing a high awareness of the fact that digital is a technical necessity due to the changes in telecoms infrastructure.
But, I am getting increasingly concerned that the systems some housing providers are ending up with are not delivering this.
Nathan: That’s a classic problem. Contracting for external services can be a daunting and costly exercise. When starting any procurement, there are two core considerations – the first is pre-market engagement and the second is internal expertise.
The role of pre-market engagement is not very well understood at present, but it’s an absolutely crucial part of successful procurement. There needs to be open dialogue – the procuring organisation needs to know what is available in the market, where the technology is heading and also get feedback from the supplier community on the types of solutions that best fit their requirements. If you do that, you are much more likely to go out to tender for products that will have a longer lifespan, rather than end up with the same technology you went out to tender for five years ago, because you didn’t know there was an alternative.
Gareth: I would agree with that. The intricacies of specifying a digital telecare solution are not always fully understood. It’s no longer a process of replacing like for like. You wouldn’t buy an analogue television and use a DTV converter box to connect it to digital, and then expect it to function exactly like a Smart TV. I have seen providers do this with telecare in recent years. They think they are procuring for a digital system but in fact they are describing an analogue system with some digital phraseology.
It will help housing providers to increase their understanding on what technology is available and what the possibilities are now, and in the future, to ensure they get a system that is fit for the next 10 or more years.
You also need to involve your wider teams in the premarket engagement and consider the impact on IT and procurement. The teams may not have even seen telecare equipment before and are unlikely to have seen the benefits that digital telecare can provide,
Why do you think that pre-market engagement is not currently happening more widely?
Nathan: There is a general misconception that by engaging with suppliers prior to tender housing providers might be in breach of procurement rules. But that is not the case. It’s a part of procurement best practice.
As I mentioned earlier, pre-market engagement is one of two core considerations, procurement skills is the other. Often the ability to deliver the end solution is dependent on the internal expertise of the organisation. In these cases, it’s worth looking to external procurement specialists who can guide the organisation through the process.
Gareth: I would also add suppliers and peers to that. Housing providers that have already installed digital telecare are also a great source of information for housing providers starting their digital journey.
Making the commitment to move away from telecare systems that have been in place for nearly thirty years is always going to bring its challenges. But with the right approach and support, procuring the digital telecare solution that you actually wanted needn’t be a headache. Thanks for chatting to us today Nathan.
Gareth and Nathan’s top tips for procuring digital telecare solutions
1. Complete your pre-market engagement
It’s really important to speak to the supplier community about what you want to achieve, rather than focusing on the technology solution. There are also a number of other points to consider in the pre-market engagement:
- Find your average property based on size and building style/layout and get a quote from a few suppliers allowing you to get a realistic price
- Invite suppliers to visit your estate so that they can spot potential challenges and complexities so that solutions can be added to the tender
- Consider running pilot sites, this will help you gain further understanding of the service benefits and the costs
- Check that the solutions meet BT compatibility standards for the new digital infrastructure. Do you require video door entry, instantaneous and simultaneous connection to a monitoring centre with 2-way speech, and the ability within the system for residents to connect to the internet through the support devices? If so, then the infrastructure that supports the benefits of digital living support needs to be specified up front
2.Consider splitting your tender for digital telecare into two lots
If you have one lot for installation of hardware and one for monitoring you are not restricted to one supplier. Furthermore, in some cases, it’s taken for granted that the existing monitoring solution will be capable of monitoring new digital equipment – that’s not always the case. It’s important not to be restricted by your current monitoring solution, and if you are unable to tender your monitoring services, there are options to work with technology providers to provide alternative solutions, but these need to be considered prior to a tender.
3.Review your caballing needs
Do you need to tender for new cabling or can you utilise the existing cable infrastructure? Digital equipment sends greater levels of data, which enables it to create all the benefits to residents and housing providers. This data requires a certain specification of cable infrastructure.
4.Reflect on your own internal procurement expertise
Look at your internal expertise and judge whether you have the time and skills to deliver the procurement. Bringing in specialists to deliver big projects is always worth considering to make sure the project is delivered successfully.