The demographic trend may be less pronounced in the UK than it is in other countries around the world - famously Japan, but also Italy, Greece and Germany - but it still represents an attractive opportunity for companies that provide home care services to the elderly.
This is a market that’s fiercely competitive, highly volatile and, it has to be said, somewhat controversial. A few decades ago in the UK, older people who were able to remain living independently in their own homes, with a bit of outside assistance, were largely helped by the state. In other words, the National Health Service (NHS) and local government agencies provided them with regular home visits from care assistants.
Today, around 80% of elderly home care in the UK is provided by private companies, often working under contract to the NHS and local authorities, but with the primary aim of making a profit. Margins are thin and smaller providers often struggle. These are often snapped up by larger companies with the result that, over the last decade, a ‘big five’ has emerged in elderly home care.
Together, Allied Healthcare, Mears, City & County Healthcare, Sevacare and Carewatch control around 15% of the market for elderly home care provision in the UK - so there’s plenty of room for more growth, with each company vying with its rivals to snap up the most lucrative public-sector contracts and most attractive acquisition targets.
In part, it’s the challenge of sustaining rapid growth that drove Carewatch’s recent decision to implement Infor CloudSuite Business, according to the company’s financial controller Angela Gear.
Carewatch is owned by private equity company Lyceum Capital, which also owns the EAT sandwich bar chain and Sabio, a UK-based contact centre software company. Carewatch’s 2008 acquisition by Lyceum, from previous owner Nestor Healthcare, triggered a spate of acquisitions over the years that followed, some of independent home care providers and others of franchises already operating under the Carewatch brand.
A legacy of this strategy is a stack of different paper-based systems and business processes that vary substantially from branch to branch. Carewatch operates around 50 of these in the UK, delivering over 100,000 hours of care to elderly people every week. Winning a new local-government contract can suddenly add several hundred hours to that workload, says Gear, so the company needed a business system that could bring stability and standardisation to the business.
The Infor cloud system is going to go as wide as we can take it, incorporating CRM, HR and invoicing, as well as other aspects of finance and general ledger work. Quite often, we’ve had paper-based systems for things like HR and spreadsheets for things like CRM. Now, we can put it all in the system and get out good reports and data and manage things better.
Some branches do things one way and another branch will do it another, so there’s a lot of inconsistency here and this is an opportunity to standardise what a good process looks like, to make sure the right controls for each process are in place, with the right amount of review, and that reporting to HMRC, our auditors or the CQC [regulatory body the Care Quality Commission] is handled correctly. As we acquire a new piece of tender work, or a new company, we can say, ‘Hey, this is how we do things here.’ This will allow us to build and grow safely.
A system as easy to use as Amazon
What swung the deal for Infor with Carewatch, following a ‘beauty parade’; of several vendors, was its cloud infrastructure, but also its support for personalisation, says Gear.
We use a certain vocabulary here. We have key phrases, like ‘service user’, that our systems need to reflect. There are medical and health terms used by our care staff. We wouldn’t say ‘cost centre’, we’d refer to a specific branch; for example, ‘Nottingham branch’. It was really important to us that the system reflected our vocabulary and didn’t use terms that would be unfamiliar to staff, because the most important thing in any branch is delivering care, not using IT systems. We want to maximise the time staff are delivering care, always.
There’s also been a big focus on ease-of-use when it comes to navigating the system and inputting data, she adds.
Care professionals come into this industry to deliver care, not to master IT systems, so we want to make sure that it’s as easy for them as when they pop online of an evening to do their own shopping. We wanted a system that’s as easy to use with very little training as Amazon. So hopefully all the processes and personalisations we’re putting in place will make the system intuitive, guiding them from screen to screen and providing dropdowns that help them input the right information in a consistent way.
The system is due to go live in January 2017, to coincide with the start of the new financial year. So finance staff will close the books for 2016 using the old ways of working and then the business can move ahead on using the new system. In areas such as HR, it will be adding new staff to Infor as they’re recruited and gradually migrating data relating existing staff over to Infor. As 2017 progresses, Gear says:
...we expect the usage of the system to go up and up and we expect to see it give us better information as it’s populated with more data. And I believe, as we find out new ways of doing things better, we’ll be adding extra enhancements as we go. So far, we’ve been quite delighted about how easy it’s all been so far, but there’s still a lot of work to do between now and January.