Author: Angela Brown

When Digital Transformation = Remote Ready

How embracing digital transformation to build a cutting-edge tech consultancy was a win-win for our clients and for us. Continued investment in our business meant we were ‘Remote Ready’ – for clients it was a seamless transition when COVID came calling.

For the 12 new starters joining Consult Red in the UK and Poland after lockdown, it might have been a surreal experience.  With no physical office to go to, how would they do their job as a developer?  But, thanks to our ongoing investment in technology, processes and infrastructure along with the problem-solving mind-set of our people, their experience was seamless – just like the service to our global clients such as Liberty Global, Comcast and AT&T.

Our enthusiasm for digital transformation is understandable – it’s ultimately what we deliver to our clients day in, day out – we see the outcomes and the difference it makes to their businesses.  In our case, investment in Consult Red’s own digital transformation and our enthusiasm to embrace new tech meant that we were Remote Ready when the lockdown loomed.

We can’t claim we knew COVID would impact us all as it has, but we did set out before it emerged on a strategy to build a resilient and robust company that can support clients anywhere in the world (for less dramatic business reasons!).  Our approach has not been one ‘big bang’ event but rather a continuing evolution.  This is an approach we would recommend. And in case it’s helpful, we thought we’d share here how we did it.

How we work

Since we established our business 15 years ago, we have had to solve the challenges of a distributed team and global partners.  We’ve worked flexibly since day one, driven partly by values, partly by business need.  Either way, at any given time we have employees regularly working away from the office using video and IM platforms to stay connected.

Portable people means portable tools

This flexible working policy means that everyone at Red is enabled to move should they need to; it may be to collaborate with a customer or partner, or to work from home where productivity can be higher.  But, whatever the reason, we needed to ensure remote workers have seamless access to the tools they need to be effective – that could be raw compute or remote access to embedded hardware. So, we created a plan to provide this – to develop our own infrastructure.

‘Doesn’t portable mean vulnerable?’  Well, it can, if you don’t think it through. You will need to have appropriate measures to protect data and provide physical security.

Building a private cloud: Place shifting the power

Our IT department created a very powerful and flexible internal server infrastructure. In other words, our own private cloud.  It’s this that our engineers can use to stand-up the DevOps infrastructure or build machines that they need in their work.

Developed to ‘place shift’ the power needed in our front-line work it was an easy step to introduce mirroring in different countries to provide operational resilience and meet our business continuity needs, for example, to withstand various disaster recovery scenarios.  This infrastructure is used to host our internal business systems too.  After all, its great to be able to keep projects and services running, but you need to keep billing them too!

‘Why not use the public cloud facility as everyone else does?’ The answer is that many of our global customers have stringent rules about where their code and other Intellectual Property is hosted.  It’s easier to just make the public cloud off-limits.

Our remote developer solution: Place shifting the problem

A lot of our developers work on devices at the edge of customers networks.  Often this is Consumer Premises Equipment (CPE) such as Set-Top Boxes or Gateways for some of the world’s leading media brands.  Developing, integrating or resolving any issues with the CPE on the edge of a network require access to the network.  Being a UK-based company with a global client list, you can see how this presented a challenge!  So, from the very beginning, we needed to enable our developers in one location to work remotely with hardware in another place.

Thankfully, we are engineers who love solving problems and so we developed a unique system – affectionately known as Bigfoot – where our engineers can use a browser to interact with CPE remotely.  They can control the box, as if it were right next to them, including power and infrared.  They see the video output and have a virtual remote-control unit to control it. The system is secure, responsive and easy to use.  It lets the developer update the CPE software, view logs, record video, detect video glitches, and they can also write test scripts and connect a group of devices in a network for whole home testing.

Even today, there’s nothing that can match it in terms of functionality and ease of use.  What does this mean in the context of the COVID lockdown?  It means that our developers can continue to work with the hardware they need while working at home, delivering a seamless service for our clients.

Isn’t a virtualisation or emulation the way to go?  Not in our experience.  This is only cost and time effective in a few cases where the devices and networks are particularly well defined.  You may end up spending more on developing and maintaining your model than you do the target. A lot of our work is integration and however good an emulation is inevitably work must also be done on the target.

Collaborative tools and operations

As a technology consultancy, we’re always enthusiastic about new software tools and we designed our business systems so that anyone should be able to access our systems with simple tools and tech from anywhere.  A few years ago, we switched to SaaS services hosted in the cloud to provide resilience and chose a cloud-based Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution hosted on the Salesforce platform.  This system handles time tracking, resource management and forecasting and means most of the company’s essential operations can be managed from any location.  Again, very handy when one day our people can’t get into the office.

The benefits of collaboration tools is nothing new to us. Our engineers use systems such as Confluence and Jira on dialy basis as part of their agile software development workflows. We took things a stage further and rolled them out across the entire organisation including HR, Finance and other operations.  Having a common set of tools available to everyone has facilitated more data sharing and integration between functional areas, breaking down digital siloes that might have existed before.

Enhanced client reporting

We customised Confluence to automate internal processes but importantly we integrated it with our PSA software, so very quickly we could act to enhance the depth of our reporting to clients on projects to include new metrics such as sickness and productivity in response to the lockdown.

Recruitment and onboarding

We’ve always embraced video as part of the recruitment process, and we typically conduct a telephone interview as a first step, meaning we could quickly adjust to not doing face-to-face meetings.

As part of our selection process, we have been using a live, online system to set technical tests for potential employees called codinghire, and for the past five years it’s really increased the effectiveness of our online interview process.  As you would expect we upload questions, but then we can see the candidate typing answers live, and we can ask supplemental questions and prompt them if we need to – as a result, we really get a feel for how they think when they are writing code.  Working in this way means we have been able to continue our recruitment to meet client demand.

And as we use a SaaS tool for managing the recruitment process, including advertising on various digital platforms, we can carry on recruiting the additional 17 new people we need now as our business keeps growing.

A dry run

Thankfully, we all had some notice that lockdown was coming – in that time we asked all our employees if they needed to, could they work from home, and if they couldn’t, how we could enable them to.  We quickly filled these gaps and then found ourselves in lockdown.  Lockdown is a salutary reminder that from time to time resilience plans need to be tested.

Looking after wellbeing

Mental and emotional wellbeing and support has become more and more important.  We quickly stepped up communications to all staff, and more proactive support with mental health, for example, making a well-respected ‘Mindful’ application freely available to our employees.

Other initiatives have included moving the executive team to a ‘war-footing’ with daily stand-ups; we briefed and coached our leadership team to reach out more and we have encouraged more social integration.

We were also aware that some of our staff might live alone and may feel very isolated – to combat this, we encouraged everyone to shun the chat window and actually chat instead.  We’ve also had virtual social events and beers, including fancy dress Friday, which was erm, interesting!

 

Like most businesses, we can’t pretend that we know what the long-term future will bring. But we would advocate that you take steps to start your own digital transformation journey as soon as you can.  We began the journey to improve delivery and support for our customers. We discovered how it had enhanced our resilience when COVID struck.

 

Embracing digital tools as part of your day-to-day business means that the jump to relying on them is that bit easier.  We’re convinced that our collective enthusiasm and investment in digital and technology has enabled us to weather the first COVID storm pretty well and even grow our business too.

 

The Top Five Things We Learned Developing the Use of Video in Health and Social Care

During the lockdown, we have seen wider engagement with video calling in healthcare. But, in this article Consult Red’s Adam Hoare argues that this adoption of video is not guaranteed in the future just because it has demonstrated it’s worth during COVID. Our experience indicates that service and support are key aspects of embedding remote care into practice.

 

By integrating video into our existing healthcare provision there’s a lot to be gained both for the healthcare industry and for patients. These new ways of working need to be captured and the evidence collected in support of a more enlightened commissioning approach that values a wider range of outcomes.

Between 2006 and 2016 Consult Red was instrumental in developing and deploying a video communication system to support clinician to clinician and clinician to patient virtual visiting. It also connected social care and community services to health care and facilitated family communication and support.

The recent rise in the use of off-the-shelf video products provides a timely opportunity to revisit what was learned and consider features that support wider adoption of remote care and its evaluation. The goal of the approach we adopted was to support health and social care integration through improved communication. The technology platform was evolved in collaboration with a wide range of partners.

The first learning point relates to the development of functionality in response to actual practice in the field.

 

1. Develop the solution in collaboration with Practice

When video replaces a consultation that would have taken place in person it is just providing an alternative communication method such as the telephone. This has benefits in the current pandemic environment but can be made much more compelling by considering the use of video as a way of changing practice. Figure 1 shows some of the considerations we undertook when developing the video capability to support new ways of working.

One of the key things addressed by our approach was the user interface and user experience for the patient in engaging with the video. We developed a set-top box that turned the TV into the communication device. Using a camera and a simple remote control, the video experience in the home became more natural. This enabled patients to be supported through virtual ward rounds where people were at home and took place in a ward round from their living room.

In collaboration with consultants and nurses, we went on to develop a range of functionality that enabled new ways of working. The implementation of virtual ward rounds inspired us to develop virtual waiting rooms where people could wait for their consultation. We also developed call transfers to facilitate call handling and onward routing to the appropriate response. This flexibility in call management resulted in several hospitals allowing long-term conditions patients to call in during office hours. They provided ad hoc support to offer responsive care to people in their own homes.

Later on, we implemented multi-way video calling such that multi-disciplinary team meetings could be held with people in their own home and even with family members conferenced in from their home. These multi-way calls facilitated the participation of multiple professionals in support of a person and their family.

A further extension of this multi-way capability was to provide virtual referrals. A GP, for instance, could offer a person a same-day consultation with someone in secondary care from their surgery by coordinating with the local hospital. With the ability to shorten waiting times and support ad hoc consultations much of the administrative overhead and slow appointment communications were avoided.

The solution was developed to be available on a range of different technologies including the TV, tablets, laptops, smartphones and desktop computers such that the right interface could be provided for each user of the system.

 

2. Service and Support

Free and commodity video calling has been available for some years but has not resulted in widespread adoption or embedding in clinical practice. During the lockdown, driven by the pandemic, we have seen wider engagement with video calling. The continued use of video is not guaranteed just because it has demonstrated utility in these difficult times. Our experience indicates that service and support are key aspects of embedding remote care into practice. Within service and support, we include the ongoing development of the technology in collaboration with front line care as well as having someone to call when problems occur.

Any credible remote care offer needs a service not only for support but also for customisation and development. In our experience care providers, when engaged in collaboration, quickly start to see how small changes could make the use of the technology more effective and ask for changes. As organisations we worked with engaged with remote care and its potential was revealed, the ability of the service to evolve was actively embraced resulting in new capabilities and integration with other systems. In order for remote care to catalyse transformational change, it must be able to evolve, and it must be actively and appropriately supported.

Often technology solutions are treated as IT projects and the responsibility for implementation and management falls to the IT department. This treats solutions as off-the-shelf product that just require implementing and the occasional update. For innovative and collaborative solutions, it is more successful if the supplier provides its own support as a service. However, this then leads to challenges over operational versus capital expenditure. Too often technology is seen as a predominantly capital expenditure with little consideration given to the ongoing operational costs that are required for the key aspects of service and support.

We consider that over and above the basic functionality such as video, service and support are a fundamental requirement for embedding, scaling and system change.

 

3. Security and Interoperability

Encryption of video and data is a fundamental requirement of communication systems used in care. A further consideration is the location of any servers that support the service with a requirement that data does not cross international borders. Further, the need to be able to communicate between GP surgeries and hospitals as well as over domestic broadband into people’s homes all bring challenges. Over time we developed support material for each set of stakeholders that gave examples of implementations across other care locations and how the security and interoperability across those networks was achieved. The development of multi-way video and call transfers added to the complexity of the considerations and required a steady accumulation of support material.

Communication technology provides a way to improve integration of care services. Interoperability with other platforms and devices offers a way to leverage other developments and better integrate data and reporting. We implemented a range of service developments that required interoperability with third-party systems. Figure 2 shows some of the platforms and devices we interoperated with.

Interoperability is often considered to be a predominantly technical issue. This is typically revealed to be a simplification once connectivity is established. Interoperability has two dimensions. The first is technical and relates to how two systems securely connect to each other. The second is semantic and relates what the shared data means.

Technical interoperability can be achieved through many means. Secure Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are commonly used. Simple one-to-one connections can be accommodated by APIs as long as there is intelligence around failed connections and recovery to prevent data loss. In the complex world of health and social care, such simple connections are less useful. When dealing with many to many connections, secure messaging is more reliable and scalable.

Semantic interoperability relates to the meaning carried by data. There are a wide range of situations where semantic interoperability can be challenging.

Some of these include:

  • Duplicate records
  • Records that contain errors
  • Missing data from records
  • Variations in data coding (even across deployments of the same system).
  • Interpretation of free text fields

Once technical interoperability is achieved there is usually a significant amount of work to cleanse and qualify the data to ensure that the systems are interoperating correctly. One of the recurring themes in care is the need to enter the same data on multiple systems sometimes with slight variations. This leads to a patchwork of data and the risk of the errors above being introduced.

During our work, we developed interoperability with several other platforms and devices. At the simplest level, this was represented by Bluetooth devices in the home such as pulse oximeters and weighing scales. We provided a way for clinicians to see the readout from the devices as part of a remote consultation. This concept was extended significantly with our collaboration with a renal department of a large hospital where we implemented a renal clinic at home.

This was in support of patients that undertook home haemodialysis. We installed the video capability along with an additional security device that allowed the connection of the dialysis machine to our secure service. In the hospital, we installed a second security device that allowed all of the readings from the dialysis machine to be securely communicated and stored in the hospital database. This meant that the patient could dialyse at home, undertake video consultations, receive support, as well as report physiological readings from home. This reduced travel and provided patients with a much better experience of care. It also provided the hospital with much richer patient data.

We developed interoperability with the Samsung SmartThings platform to improve waking night cover in a residential location for people with learning disabilities. The ability to detect movement at night along with the video support offered new ways of ensuring resident safety.

The interoperability with the platform that provided surveys and questionnaires was initially to integrate the Health Equalities Framework with our support for people with learning disabilities. It also supported our growing understanding about the role of context in the use of communication technology in care.

 

4. Context and Evidence

As we developed a range of interfaces and functionality to support new ways of working, we began to realise that the evidence for all of this new activity was not being collected. Because we were disrupting practice, the new ways of working enabled were not being recognised or characterised. After some years enabling new practice, we recognised that the communication platform needed to record the context of the activities it was facilitating. As shown in Figure 3 each new way of working sits within a context that must be captured in order to build the evidence base.

We began by capturing the context of consultations by allowing some free text to be entered during a call. Use of tick-boxes allowed feedback on the success of the call and technical issues to be recorded. We then introduced context-specific templates such that data specific to the type of call could be captured. The participants in the call and the call length were also key pieces of information that could be collected. Each remote consultation therefore collected timing, participation, pre-defined and free text data.

As the flexibility of video communication increased the need to track and monitor the system use grew. Building the data collection into the communication platform supports learning and evaluation.

 

5. Outcomes and the Economic Case

After a significant journey that first focussed on the technology in practice and then began to capture the context and activity we came to some key realisations:

  • The people in front line care were actively interested in improving communication and adopting new ways of working – particularly when they were involved in developing the new approaches.
  • The improved communication resulted in significant reductions in acute and routine activity in the care system.
  • Engagement with families was improved using the communication technology. Often this resulted in better coordination with family members. The challenge was – under what circumstances the technology was made available to family members.
  • The outcomes for the patient in having reduced travel and more immediate support were welcomed but were not recognised in the economics of commissioning.
  • Communication technology did support more integrated care. The challenge routinely came down to who would pay for the service.

Conclusion

In the current situation, the use of video is driven by the risks involved in face-to-face interactions. Once these risks are diminished it is quite likely that people will snap back to familiar ways of working. The evidence from the pandemic experience so far is that video could play a positive part in care provision. Our experience is that there is much to be gained if the use of video is integrated into practice as collaboration and new ways of working are facilitated. Those new ways of working then need to be captured and the evidence collected in support of a more enlightened commissioning approach that values a wider range of outcomes.

 

Further Reading:

Consult Red answers the call in fight against Coronavirus

When Mastercall, an award-winning Social Enterprise organisation and ‘out-of-hospital’ NHS healthcare service provider, said they needed webcams, Consult Red was more than happy to answer the call!

 

As a connected devices and systems consultancy with expertise in telemedicine, Consult Red had a stock of webcams, IT equipment and other hardware used for trialling health technology projects.

They donated all of this to Mastercall, which means more nurses and retired consultants can remotely support patients and help in the fight against Covid-19.

Rachael Ingram, Clinical Quality Assurance Manager, of Stockport-based Mastercall, said:

“We’re very grateful to Consult Red for this kind donation. The benefits of telemedicine cannot be overstated at a time like this.”

 

Andrew Stewart, Managing Director at Consult Red, said:

“As big believers in the benefits of telemedicine we couldn’t be happier that this equipment is being put to great use and we will continue to offer support where we can to make a difference.”

 

Consult Red are a technology consulting company helping clients deliver connected devices and systems, supporting them through the entire product development journey. With a head office in Shipley, the 150 strong firm also has offices in the US (El Segundo, California) and Poland (Wrocław, Dolnośląskie).

The firm was founded by 5 former Pace engineers in 2003, initially working on video telephony products for the likes of BT. The reputation of the business grew quickly as they attracted major pay TV operators from around the globe. They’ve now become a leading consultancy for Pay TV technology and apply their connected devices and IoT expertise to other sectors.

In January this year, Red Embedded became Consult Red in a major rebranding that reflects the company’s evolution into a technology consulting company that helps clients across all sectors deliver connected devices and systems.

As well as having expertise in healthcare, Consult Red also work across the industrial and manufacturing, energy and utilities, consumer electronics and media technology and telecommunications industries.

Ends

Notes to editors:

For further information, please contact Angela Brown, Marketing Consultant for Consult Red on 07850 564693.

Photo caption

Mastercall receive donated equipment from Consult Red

About Consult Red

We’re a technology consulting company helping clients deliver connected devices and systems, supporting them through the entire development journey.

In 2020 Red Embedded changed its name to Consult Red; as the world becomes more and more connected, we think the next decade will usher in a new chapter of opportunity for us and our clients.

We have over 150 people across three offices in the UK (Shipley, Yorkshire), the US (El Segundo, California) and Poland (Wrocław, Dolnośląskie).

For more information, please visit: https://consult.red/discover-red/ or Mastercall Healthcare: Home

Red Embedded announces rebrand to Consult Red

A new decade, a new chapter, a new name

 

Shipley, Yorkshire, UK. Release: 7 February 2020

 

 

Red Embedded today announced a major rebranding to reflect the company’s evolution into a technology consulting company that helps clients across all sectors deliver connected devices and systems.

 

On 10 February 2020, Red Embedded will become known as Consult Red.

 

Over the last 15 years, Red has built a reputation working with some of the world’s leading media brands. In that time, it’s grown from being an embedded specialist to a tech consulting company applying cutting-edge experience and talent in product development, hardware, embedded and cloud technology, to support customers through the entire product development journey.

 

 

Stuart Griffin, Marketing Director, says “As the world becomes more and more connected, we believe our experience delivering connected devices and systems will drive opportunities for our clients looking to evolve their products and their business”.

 

 

What changes will clients see?

 

From 10 February clients, contacts and suppliers will start to hear from Consult Red and see the new visual identity on materials.

As part of the rebrand, the company launched a new logo, positioning and website. Its employees across all three offices in the UK, Poland and the USA will have new email addresses ending in consult.red instead of red embedded.com.

 

 

What won’t change

 

 Same people and ethos

 

 Same great service

 

 Same company and values

 

While our brand name (or ‘trading as’ name) changes to Consult Red, our legal name will not change so there shouldn’t be any changes in how we contract or work with client or suppliers.

If you have any further questions about our new brand, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

-ENDS-

 

About Consult Red

We’re a technology consulting company helping clients deliver connected devices and systems, supporting them through the entire development journey.

In 2020 Red Embedded changed its name to Consult Red; as the world becomes more and more connected, we think the next decade will usher in a new chapter of opportunity for our clients and us.

We have over 150 people across three offices in the UK (Shipley, Yorkshire), the US (El Segundo, California) and Poland (Wrocław, Dolnośląskie).

For more information, please visit: https://consult.red/discover-red/