Mark Dundon had a track record in financial services and telecoms that earned him 55th spot in CIO Magazine’s list of top 100 UK chief information officers.

But he recently made the bold move into the public sector, taking up a job as CIO and chief technology officer at NHS Yorkshire and Humber Commissioning Support Unit.

Dundon’s technology transformation initiatives helped to triple Plusnet’s revenue and profit over two years. But he says that joining the CSU is his chance to give something back to the NHS, which has played a vital role in his family’s life in recent years.

“Our twins were seriously ill when they were young, but thankfully they were saved by the Sheffield Children's Hospital,” he says.

“I vowed at that time to try and give something back to the NHS at some future point in my career. I now relish the chance to use the expertise and leadership skills I’ve gained in the commercial world to make a real difference at the CSU.”

The power of two

CSUs were established last year to provide clinical commissioning groups with support services in areas such as finance, HR and IT.

On the latter front, they typically run local area networks, provide IT support to GPs, run data services for payments, and develop analysis tools and information sharing initiatives.

At the moment, they are supported by NHS England, but they have been set a target to attain self-sufficiency as autonomous organisations by 2016.

NHS England has been developing a 'lead provider framework' aimed at enabling commissioners to quickly and easily procure commissioning support from a range of providers.

In order to qualify for the framework, some CSUs started to form alliances to support their applications for accreditation.

Subsequently, NHS England announced that it expected the future to lie with nine CSU alliances.

This has affected Dundon's organisation. NHS Yorkshire and the Humber CSU is the result of an ongoing merger between North Yorkshire and Humber and West and South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw CSUs.

The merger should be complete this October, after which the combined organisation will have a turnover of some £90m and support 23 CCGs groups across the region, covering a population of 5.6m people.

The two CSUs currently employ 1,200 people and work with 17 NHS England area teams, as well as many local authorities, mental health and hospital trusts and GP practices.

Making a difference

Dundon, who now heads up a 250-strong  team engaged in everything from business intelligence to project management, software development and networking, IT and desktop support services, says he found the social enterprise model appealing.

"As part of the NHS reforms, CSUs have an opportunity to be commercially competitive,” he says. “If we can really make a difference by being lean and agile, we can help drive efficiencies in the NHS and ultimately benefit front-line patient care."

Dundon admits that moving from a fast-paced telecoms network operator to a CSU is quite a steep change on the face of it, but he believes there are similarities.

“Telecoms and healthcare are both constantly changing markets, whether through technological advances or outside influences, and the work our CSU is doing really excites me.

“The principles are much the same as in my previous role as CIO at Plusnet. There, it was a case of using technology to make a difference for customers and thereby grow the business.

“Now that I’m working in the NHS, my aim – as always – will be to disrupt the norm through the creative use of technology. There’s lots of legacy out there that can be streamlined; it's almost greenfield in its potential for rationalisation."

Improving productivity, reducing cost

Dundon’s first big project has been the introduction of unified communications, video conferencing and desktop collaboration tools.

These are currently being trialled across the CSU’s IT estate and within several GP practices. “Our geographic area covers 16,000 square kilometres. It means our staff travel some 1.6m miles per year," he points out.

“That’s £550,000 in direct expense. Then, there’s the huge loss in productivity through time spent on the road – which increases our estimated total cost of travel to around £2.5m.

"By implementing tools like Microsoft Lync and Citrix GoToMeeting we can dramatically reduce mileage and hence costs.

“These are technologies that have been around in the commercial world for years, but not widely exploited in the NHS. If we can reduce our travel bill to £1.5m, that will give us an extra £1m to spend on providing better services to patients each year.” 

Dundon says his longer-term vision is to extend the use of unified communications tools beyond the CSU to CCGs, surgeries and practices so they can communicate more efficiently on a common platform.

“At the same time, we’ll be exploring new channels to engage with patients. For instance, it’s surely not rocket science to enable patients to video conference with their doctor’s surgery from home,” he adds.

Disruptive and dynamic

Dundon feels the role of the CIO is much more mature in the private sector than in the NHS. “Private companies have long recognised the value of having a strong technology leader – usually a board member,” he says.

“They recognise the need for somebody with commercial acumen and the necessary soft skills to articulate ideas to large audiences, manage business relationships, and generally drive their organisation’s strategic direction.

"Successful CIOs in the private sector are generally disruptive, innovative, and create opportunities that others might not see.

“I see the main difference between my new role and my previous role as context; my task is no longer primarily to increase revenue, but rather to develop services that CCGs can take out to GP practices and hospitals.

"Ultimately, the aim is to improve patient care and the way in which they interact with the local health economy.”

To be truly effective, Dundon says CIOs must therefore be dynamic and able to apply themselves in any context.

In this respect he should be well qualified, having experienced many different cultures and circumstances while working for HSBC in Hong Kong, Singapore and India, as well as North America and Europe, earlier in his career.

“These are exciting times for our organisation,” he concludes. “In a constantly changing landscape, we need to be commercially focused and customer-driven whilst retaining our NHS ethics and values.

"My aim is to make sure that we continue to deliver market-leading services to customers – and in our case, NHS service users.”

Fact box
Name:Mark Dundon
Job title: Chief information officer and chief technology officer at NHS Yorkshire and Humber Commissioning Support Unit
How long in current job? Four months
Key project: Implementation of unified communications technology, including Microsoft Lync and Citrix GoToMeeting, enabling online meetings, desktop sharing, video conferencing and webinars via the Internet in real time.
Favourite technology: Strava, a website and app that lets you track and analyse and quantify your cycling (and running) performance via an iPhone, Android or dedicated GPS device.
Best thing about job: “The opportunity to make a real difference – for healthcare staff and patients. Even though I’ve only been at the CSU for four months, I already feel I’m making a difference."
Worst thing about job:“The only thing that springs to mind right now is the travel. But thankfully that will be greatly reduced once our unified communications technology is fully implemented.”