Susie Day, head of delivery (NHS App) at NHS Digital and Digital Transformation Leader of the Year at the 2022 Women in IT Awards UK, spoke to Information Age about the keys to success in her role, and promoting DEI in tech
Playing a critical role in the UK Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NHS Digital‘s Susie Day led the integration of the NHS App with the NHS COVID Pass. The project was achieved within three months, amidst high political pressure, with Day overseeing continuous improvements following the launch.
In this Q&A, Day spoke to Information Age about the keys to succeeding in delivering the NHS App, the most important skills for her role, and the importance of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion across the tech sector.
How did you go about communicating your strategy for integrating the NHS app?
Right from the outset, myself and my team knew we needed to respond to the scale and challenge of this ask, which was critical. Communications across the various teams proved a key aspect of this; clear, transparent communication was vital in supporting decision-making, as well as documenting those decisions to ensure common understanding and next steps.
I think we were really lucky in that the NHS App had good communication structures in place prior to the pandemic, and continuing use of these at scale was crucial to the integration of the NHS COVID Pass. We worked across multiple organisations across the NHS system to deliver this integration into the app. Delivery was achieved at pace safely and securely, which was all a huge effort and warrants massive credit to all who were involved.
With the vast amounts of user data that needs to be managed, what has been key to keeping that data secure?
The data at the NHS’s disposal is highly sensitive, and therefore needs to be treated with absolute diligence in the management of its use. This is absolutely recognised throughout the NHS App team.
Efficient and vigorous information governance, combined with transparency, are the foundations of this diligence, in terms of handling that data. Patient confidentiality is also built into the app, and the NHS upholds the highest levels of privacy and protection for health records.
The NHS App has provided patients with security, as well as safe access to services and data, since its original launch in 2019. This is subject to ongoing security assurance activities, using current guidance and practices. In addition, both the NHS App and NHS login benefit from the same NHS digital assurance and governance processes, which underpins delivery of safe and secure systems.
What would you say are the most important skills that are needed to succeed as a digital transformation leader?
In my view, the delivery of complex and challenging initiatives takes teamwork, and for me personally, the experience of working on [the NHS App] has reinforced the importance of teamwork. Despite working remotely, our team has become a lot closer over time, and a big part of that is having good ways of working in place prior to the pandemic, as well as understanding what it really means to have an empowered, multi-disciplinary team.
I’ve learned a lot about bringing myself to work, and not hiding who I am. The working environment has evolved over the past two years, and everyone on the team is an individual with their own needs and circumstances, so it’s been incredibly important to recognise that, especially when working in a demanding environment. I think being open to talking about my own experiences with my team has really struck a chord and is appreciated by everybody.
What advice would you give to anyone who may not have a traditional tech background, who is looking to enter the tech industry?
Working in the NHS on digital delivery is incredibly rewarding, and NHS Digital is committed to building an inclusive and diverse workforce that represents the wider NHS organisation and general public. We deliver systems that need to be designed by people from an array of backgrounds, who can represent our customers, care staff and the communities we serve. This way, we’ll deliver products and services to enable healthcare outcomes more efficiently.
My advice would be that everyone in the team has a role to play, and you should recognise that everyone has something to give. Tech skills, if needed, can be learned, so don’t let that put you off. Diversity in the tech industry is vital towards providing the best value for users.
What can organisations in the tech industry do to improve workforce diversity and boost representation?
For me, submitting nominations into, and supporting awards such as the Women in IT Awards is incredibly important, because these initiatives recognise diversity, celebrate success, and provide a great opportunity to identify role models across the tech industry. I personally have benefitted from realising the diverse range of initiatives that female leaders have been involved in. That shows me that there isn’t just representation within NHS Digital, or indeed the NHS, but also an array of other sectors.
Supporting the establishment of staff networks is a second area I would highlight. For example, I was involved in the creation of the Women’s Network at NHS Digital, and served as co-chair for several years. I’ve been delighted to see the new chair take the group from strength to strength, and also be recognised in the Woman of the Year category at the recent Women in IT Awards.
Additionally, continuing increased diversity in recruitment can’t be underestimated. This is a key focus at NHS Digital, with us publishing an annual Inclusion Report, and looking to create an environment where staff from all backgrounds feel valued. It will never be one thing that makes a difference, but a collection of all these aspects.
This article is being presented in the lead-up to the 2022 Women in IT UK Summit, happening on the 19th May 2022. You can register your interest in attending the event here.
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