Big ideas for small firms

Alex Hudson, CTO of Qinec, on how small companies can punch above their weight with big data.

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A childhood interest in computing led Alex Hudson to want to know how computers worked and how to design operating systems for them.

Hudson now works as CTO at clinical outpatient software company Qinec, overseeing the development of products, from the initial discussion of what the company does internally, to discussions with clients about their needs, the writing of the code, testing and deployment.

He says: “My role is to make the software come together from the point of view of the clients and the expectations they have. We are trying to keep our own internal roadmap pointing in a direction which is a little bit more innovative than our customers need on a day to day basis.”

Qinec, a start-up company, has undergone a transformation as it has grown. Although only a small firm, its patient base has grown so significantly it is starting to evolve technologically and use big data to analyse all the information on its client base.

p12 1Hudson says: “We have got to the point where we have that data where you can start doing interesting analysis of what people are using. There is a lot of analysis and tools from the big data area which people have developed that we are using. Although we are not using it in a traditional big data sense – we do not have these masses of server farms – we are consuming those types of tools and ideas. It has been very useful for us just to be able to reuse the tools, the concepts, the processes that people are using on really big data sets, but use them for much more detailed analysis.

“We are currently undertaking a capacity analysis for one of our biggest clients. We have put in place a mechanism to allow their customers to book with them online. Instead of having a call centre trying to book them over the phone, they now email a link. When the customer goes into the booking system, we record what they look for and the results they come back for until they get to the point where they do the booking.

“We are now doing analysis on that to try to figure out how long it takes for someone to find a suitable booking – are there any underlying things people are looking for, such as Friday afternoon appointments? We’re in the process of gathering that data set.

“We want to look at demand in different ways. We want to divide it up by where the patient was and where they ended up booking into, and look at it in terms of the types of appointments people are looking for. Do they want a thorough health screen? Are they going to be more specific and demanding in terms of what their availability is?”

Through analysing the data Qinec is able to generate a useful view of what people want in terms of their healthcare service, constantly reformatting itself to handle bigger clients. “As we take on larger clients with more sophisticated requirements,” Hudson says, “one of the things we are finding is we have to be a lot more flexible than we were in the past. Each one of our clients has its own security processes and expectations of what you can and can’t do.

“We are in the process of moving ourselves out of the cloud. We use a number of different systems at the moment – for the most part we use cloud-based hosting. We are now going into our own data centre, doing it all on our own hardware.

“The reasons for that are partly because we struggle to get the consistent performance out of these cloud systems. There’s also the demands customers are making in terms of security. The network the NHS runs is like a kind of private internet, and there are very specific requirements about being able to connect into it.

“We are putting together a private infrastructure which will give our customers the ability to access systems like the NHS over the internet. I think our future is going to be a more hybrid approach. The question is about proportion.”