Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Richard Granger to leave Connecting for Health

16th June 07
Richard Granger to leave Connecting for Health
Very late on Friday, I received an email from Richard Granger - CEO of Connecting for Health (NPfIT) telling me that the papers this weekend would be full of stories about his 'departure'. In fact, Richard will stay on until the end of the year and says he intends to work "primarily in the private sector" in 2008.

I first met Granger soon after he took on the appointment in 2002. Some might find it strange, but I got on very well with Granger right from the start. We had dinner at least every six months when we had the kind of "robust" conversations that many will know I like so much! The NHS project was the biggest IT project around and the bidding process was "life changing" for many of the companies involved - not just the biggies but also the many hundreds of smaller suppliers/subcontractors. It was crucial that Ovum ("my" company at the time) should understand it and report on it with authority. Not only did we succeed in that - indeed one of my brightest analysts, Tola Sargeant, became perhaps the UK's leading authority on the project - but we were also asked by NPfIT to help them with an ongoing project to monitor suppliers.

I've been around in IT for over 40 years and have witnessed many Public Sector IT projects. Granger was like a breathe of fresh air. For too long suppliers were able to get away with murder on public sector projects. Indeed, suppliers reckoned that the initial quote was unimportant (other than to secure the contract). The most important thing was the money you earned as a captive supplier from all those inevitable changes. Indeed, even if you made a mess of the contract, the Govt would have no choice but to pay you even more to go fix your own mess. On top of that, we all know that, for decades, every Govt office, let alone, each Department, was dealt with separately by suppliers. Whereas the private sector would negotiate company-wide licensing and discount deals, the Govt was a license to print money.

Granger decided to put a stop to these practices. By ensuring that there were always at least one other alternate supplier for each function/area (which gave rise to the famous "husky" story) he ensured that no one company - however big - could ever blackmail him. Perhaps the most famous of these encounters was with Accenture. Granger stuck to his principles (and the contract terms) which caused Accenture to issue a warning which knocked $1b from its stock market valuation. They eventually withdrew from the project.

There are many in the industry - indeed I have just had a journalist ask me this very question - who thought that the contract terms were too tough. But we are not talking 'small' companies here. We are talking the biggest and most experienced IT services companies in the world. They all had the opportunity to "no bid" or withdraw if they thought that the terms were unacceptable. Some - most notably IBM - did just that. I refuse to defend these giants of our industry against Granger trying to get the best deal for us, the tax payers.

But Granger made many mistakes too. Not engaging the users from Step One was a BIG mistake. Not recognizing the importance of incumbent suppliers, like EMIS, was a BIG mistake. Letting politicians dictate the features (like offering choice) and timescale was perhaps understandable but led to many of the current problems.

Perhaps my biggest issue with Granger was his relationships with the media - Tony Collins from Computer Weekly in particular. Granger really let Collins get to him. I remember when Collins had it in for EDS in the late 1990s my advice to Bill Thomas at the time was "know thy enemy". Indeed take him out to lunch and get to know him as a person. Actually Collins is good guy! The advice worked well for EDS. But Granger - quite possibly because of the NHS Press Office - was unable or unwilling to do that. If you Google "Tony Collins NHS IT" you get 235,000 responses. It is very difficult to find any comment which supports Granger and what he was trying to do. I got so irked by this one-sided reporting that, last year, I wrote a paper highlighting some of the things that I thought Granger had got right. (see Click here) Computer Weekly surprisingly asked to publish this which, of course, I agreed to. However, when it appeared, Collins had written a one page article to balance and rebut my views!

So now the view of everybody seems to be that the NHS IT project is another public sector IT "disaster". Indeed, at many a dinner party my friends - who have nothing to do with IT - are all of that view. When I point out that the digital X-Ray system is part of this project, they are surprised. When I tell them of the need to put in a unified email system throughout the NHS, they are equally surprised that this didn't already exist. When I ask them if they would like their medical records to be immediately available if they needed to visit an A&E in Manchester as a result of a car accident - they usually think that is a good idea too.

My own view is that in, say, five years time we will all take the NPfIT features for granted. It will be a bit like expecting your passport to be returned in 48 hours, being able to file your tax return on line or look at your neighbour's Planning Application on the internet. Couldn't we always do that? Perhaps, like Wembley Stadium (or indeed every large infrastructure project known to man) it might have been longer and have been more expensive to build than originally estimated. But that will be soon forgotten.

What I hope will NOT be forgotten is the major contribution that Granger made to this project. His undoubted hard work and dedication. His desire to secure the best deal for the Govt and get the job done. Personally he has paid a very high price. Being publicly described as "deeply corrosive" is not good on the CV.

Since his departure was announced, I have had several emails from CEOs of NPfIT suppliers. They all say that Granger should be proud of his achievements. He should and so should we all.

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