Five ways to transform healthcare estates with data led decision making

Claire Colgan

Claire Colgan

Director, Consulting

Managing data better can help healthcare providers transform their estates and make the best, evidence-based decisions.

Large organisations with multiple built assets are invariably awash with data about their estate.

From taxpayer-funded bodies with an eye on public accountability, to private companies focused on shareholder value, most will collect data as a matter of course about how their assets are performing and being used.

Whatever the sector, the primary reason is the same – the knowledge that good data will enable them to make better decisions about their estate. This applies equally to ongoing estate management and capital investment programmes.

Diagnosing data poverty

Successful data collection and management is especially important for public healthcare providers. As they grapple with the ongoing pandemic and its knock-on effects, many NHS trusts are also engaged in a long-term overhaul of their estates as part of their respective Integrated Care Strategies (ICS).

Together with the Health Infrastructure Plan – which is due to see 48 hospitals built by 2030 – an ICS’s goal is to modernise the patient experience, facilitate new care programmes and implement innovative ways of working.

Faced with these multiple challenges at the same time, estates departments can derive crucial insights not just from data collected by their own trust, but that of others too.

However, data collection around the country can vary. Some trusts simply don’t have the resource or focus to collect the essential data, while others collect reams of data, but struggle to manage it successfully.

Whether collecting too little, or too much data, the net effect is similar – the estates team will be ‘data poor’, meaning its ability to make robust, evidence-based decisions is constrained.

Data poverty has a direct impact on the ‘business as usual’ of estate management. Crucial information, from facilities not working to health and safety incidents, may be missed.

A lack of vital intelligence can also put the estates team permanently on the back foot, limiting it to responding reactively when things go wrong.

From day-to-day data to driving change

By contrast, teams that have ready access to the most relevant data can act proactively, pre-empting problems before they impact operations, and delivering better on their overarching aims – from compliance to progress towards net zero and defined, measurable Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) outcomes.

Poor data can also be a major obstacle for capital investment programmes. Comprehensive, accurate data is a pre-requisite for a strong business case in any sector.

It is especially crucial for NHS trusts, which as public bodies are required to make a Green Book-compliant business case when applying to both the HM Treasury and the Department of Health & Social Care for capital funding. The best business cases will identify and quantify success in both operational performance and patient outcomes, and measure commercial, clinical and strategic metrics, including speed of care resolution, overall wellbeing, and staff retention and satisfaction.

However, where key information is missing, such as maintenance backlogs, granular detail on running costs and accurate energy performance data, it can be much harder to build up a successful business case.

Model behaviour

The NHS’s data strategy is not lacking in ambition. Its Model Hospital is a digital tool designed to help NHS trusts benchmark quality and productivity and has the potential to be a beacon of best practice in the collection and use of real-time data to inform business cases and estate strategies.

Used correctly, Model Hospital should be a critical asset for the NHS and an example to other large organisations with complex estates – a single source of reliable, robust data that can inform better decisions.

Five ways to demand and get more from your data

Even the most powerful tools are only as good as the way they are used, maintained and deployed. Here are some examples of best practice that can be applied to built asset strategy in any sector.

1. Transparent data 

Elevate the data collection and management function within the estates team. Rather than serving as a retrospective box-ticking exercise, it should be front and centre of the estate and capital management programme.

Team members should be trained to use data to identify operational issues so they can be addressed before they become serious.

Decision-makers must be equipped with a constant flow of trustworthy data they can access easily and rely on.

2. Resource budget

Fund the data team adequately. Just as the collection of data needs to be resourced with trained and well-briefed staff, it also needs to be sufficiently well financed.

Whether budget is allocated from existing op-ex or factored into the cost of building a business case, the investment should be seen as a long-term one. The creation of a strong data management capability now, will futureproof things as the volume of data collected rises – either from expansion of the estate or from the wider use of smart IoT sensors.

3. Intelligent Computer-Aided Facilities Management

Ask the right questions when selecting a Computer-Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) system. CAFM software is a powerful way to capture, hold and analyse estates and facilities data sets, but it can be poor value if users aren’t given the training or time to understand its full potential.

Software alone does not plug data gaps and cannot update out-of-date data sets, so data teams should ask themselves the following:

  • What information do you need to know, and how do you collect it?
  • Do you have a complete, accurate baseline?
  • Do you have the resource to manage the migration to a new software solution?
  • Do you have the resource, processes, and procedures to manage and keep a database up to date?
  • How will you use the data?

4. Benchmarking data 

Benchmark against other comparable assets and projects. The richer the data used to draw up the baseline, the more accurate and reliable it will be.

Our Benchmarking App enables our staff and project teams to precisely compare each individual cost to those incurred on similar capital programmes elsewhere.

The app, which uses artificial intelligence software bespoke to our business to interrogate 160 data points quickly and provide consistently detailed information, allowing clients to distil and learn from best practice locally or nationally.

5. Buy-in from stakeholders

Change the way data is seen by decision-makers. Even the best-planned data strategies require buy-in from the organisation’s leadership team to succeed.

In practice this means more than just placing data ‘at the top table’ but also driving a permanent shift in attitude.

Opportunity, not an obligation

Trusts should start by establishing what datasets they currently hold and what they lack, deciding which are the most useful for benchmarking performance, implementing a reliable and adequately resourced CAFM system, and to inform capital investment business cases.

Above all, capturing and managing data insights should be viewed by the estate's team not as an obligation, but as an opportunity to measure performance, ensure compliance and enable leaders to make better decisions that ultimately lead to better outcomes.

The ultimate goal should be to make data more than a mere record of the past. Instead, it should be a powerful tool for managing, measuring and driving future change.

For further information contact:

Claire Colgan

Claire Colgan
Director, Consulting

t: +44 (0)798 3543211