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  • Made to Measure - the strange effects of Service Levels and Key Performance Indicators

    Back in the 1930's, the train journey from Paddington to Bristol was faster than today. Trains were powered by men shovelling coal into a boiler to generate steam, and signals were operated by men in something called a signal box. It was just like a giant Hornby train set. But back in the 1930's, they did not have rail franchises and KPI's, with penalties if the trains don't run on time. Today, the train operators build contingency into their timetables, adding 15 minutes or more to longer journeys, to avoid financial sanctions. And remember the hospital that kept patients in trolleys in the car park rather than bringing them into Accident & Emergency, to make sure that they did not breach their waiting time targets ? The author has also heard anecdotal evidence about a public authority that had several hundred KPI's on a complex BPO contract - they needed an army of managers to digest the management information.

    Of course, it would be absurd to have services with no standards of performance, and where there are standards, then performance needs to be measured. But KPI's and service levels need to be proportionate - bear in mind that they can encourage the opposite behaviour to that which is intended, and they cost money to administer. Indeed, set the bar too high, and it will drive up the cost of performance.

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  • Only 256 days to the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in Leeds !

    One of the world's greatest sporting spectacles comes to Yorkshire on the weekend of 5/6 July 2014, and as a born again cyclist, I can't wait. Stage 1 will see the peleton pass Harewood House, Ilkley Moor, Kilnsey Crag and many other well known Yorkshire landmarks. Having ridden most of stage 1 myself, I can confirm that it's a wonderful stage, and one that should feature some exciting breakaways on the twisting narrow roads in the Yorkshire Dales. I'll be writing more about the first 2 stages of the TdF in future blogs.

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  • The death of the NHS SYSCON model contract

    For more than 20 years, the NHS has used the SYSCON model contract to buy software licences, maintenance and support, and implementation projects. But now it seems to have died a death, and been replaced by the OGC model ICT services agreement (ironic, really, as the OGC contract is now a decade old and itself is being replaced by a new model contract created by the Government Legal Service). Although I've been one of the fiercest critics of SYSCON, at least it was familiar to NHS customers, their suppliers and the shoals of lawyers and advisers who swim around the NHS market place. We will miss the apparently random layout of clauses which looked like a child had chopped up a precedent book and reassembled the cuttings, and the novel concept of Contractor Undertakings. And how about trying to terminate the contract for material breach ? Then you had to sit down with the defaulting supplier and agree a reasonable notice period for them to remedy the breach. Gone, but not forgotten, and off to the great precedent graveyard in the sky.

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  • Sweet and Sauer - the two faces of Alsace wine

    It's been almost 5 years since John last organised a wine tasting for clients and contacts, and 4 years since he started his business v-lex. And being married to a lovely lady from Alsace, picking a theme was easy. The tasting took place on Thursday 26 September at St. Stephen Walbrook church in the heart of the City. Designed by Christopher Wren shortly after the Great Fire, the church provided a magnificent backdrop for John and his 30 guests to taste wines from this quiet corner of North East France. Passing backwards and forwards between Germany and France during the last 150 years, Alsace is as much German as it is French. It would be easy to forget that you were in France, the country of Voltaire and cheese eating surrender monkeys, with village names like Munster and Pfaffenheim. The wines from producers like Trimbach and Rene Mure are perfect with Asian food or drunk on their own as an aperitif. John alreadyhas plans for next September's tasting, which will focus on the red and white wines of the Rhone valley.

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  • Getting on my soap box

    Like many people who have worked in the law, I like the sound of my own voice. I've spoken at hundreds of conferences and events, and written countless articles. And I spend my days wading through paper (almost literally in the case of the NHS IT programme). We all have the occasional day dream about alternative careers, and mine were to be a journalist or a chef. This blog gives me a harmless oulet for my musings, without having to endure the punishing hours of working in a professional kitchen or appearing before the Leveson enquiry. It also provides me with a soap box to complain about my pet hates. Just because a contract is big and fat, doesn't make it any good. Are you listening, Government Legal Service ?

    In future posts, I'll be covering the rise of multi-vendor management, buying IT in the NHS, lean drafting, the new Government Legal Service IT service contract, the rise of the commercial director, and many other interesting topics. I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I enjoy writing it.

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