Innovation insights: Ten minutes with Lee Francis, PatientSource
Innovation is the lifeblood of IT. But transformative changes don’t just happen overnight. Behind every groundbreaking idea, there’s an industry leader driving that shift. From Google’s top talents to Microsoft’s more inspiring minds, we’re excited to be shining a light on the forward-thinking visionaries redefining the tech space, in our quickfire Q&A.
Up first, it’s Lee Francis, co-founder and international sales and marketing director at PatientSource. Here, he talks about career trajectory to-date, biggest tech triumphs, and explores how the UK’s most ambitious organisations can keep pushing the boundaries of innovation…
What inspired you to pursue a career in tech?
Ever since my dad brought home an Atari 2600 and we played blocky Space Invaders, I’ve enjoyed games and tech. Every week I’d watch Tomorrow's World and read Focus magazine.
That underlying interest isn’t what set my career path though. The rigid structure of the classroom didn’t fit my personality or learning style, so I was keen to jump ship from formal education ASAP. I knocked on the door of every business on my local industrial estate looking for work, so I could have started off as a window maker, perhaps a fabricator — who knows?!
Fortune smiled when I knocked on the door of “Austin Computer Systems”. There, I encountered CEO JC Salzillo, who, coincidentally, was in need of assistance with his upcoming house move. Without hesitation, I agreed — work was work, and I needed the money.
I received a voicemail for an interview, despite my curiosity about why it was necessary. At the meeting, I learned they needed a shipping boy for PCs. And the week before my 16th birthday, that’s exactly what I went on to do.
I eventually annoyed the build engineers enough with my relentless questions that they put a screwdriver in my hand, and I started building bare bones PC chassis to customer specifications. My good friend Nick (now a high-ranking police officer) took my initial role, and I ended up managing the production line.
Can you share a pivotal moment or project that defined your journey in the industry?
Thursday the 28th of February 2002 was the single most stressful day of my working life. Nothing has come close to surpassing, and I hope to goodness nothing ever does!
I cut a very lonely figure standing at 2:55am in the pit lane of the Australian Grand Prix, contemplating how I was going to tell the race team manager that he and the rest of the engineers wouldn’t be able to sit on the pitwall for the first race of the season.
The IT failure would have been evident in front of a half billion worldwide audience. But the worst was the impact on my team and our sporting performance. I refused to succumb to despair though. After 12 hours of battling, I tried one last solution and it started working!
It solidified my mantra of “There is always a way”. With creativity, unconventional thinking (as clichéd as it may sound), and an unyielding spirit, challenges can be overcome.
That pivotal moment defined my journey in the industry. You can find more detail here.
Tell us one challenge or opportunity that organisations need to keep a laser sharp focus on right now:
Thinking about my focus industry — health — and the opportunity organisations need to keep a laser sharp focus on is digital transformation and leveraging cloud.
It's time to put an end to the hand-wringing and defeatist attitudes that often plague discussions about embracing digital change. Phrases like "it’s too difficult," "we tried before and failed," and "the solutions we need aren’t out there" should no longer hold us back. Dwelling on past setbacks won't drive us forward.
Pair flexible, ‘born in the cloud’ solutions such as PatientSource with experienced technology and consulting partners like CloudCoCo and Ingram Micro Cloud, and the sky is the absolute limit. We have a long history of delivering with aplomb what others have said was difficult — there’s nothing we can’t achieve together.
And how do you envision the cloud landscape will take shape over the next 12 months?
AI is obviously a key focus. I’m looking forward to the hype curve passing, paving the way for affordable solutions that can be deployed on a large scale within the healthcare sector. What's crucial is not just the technology itself, but the tangible, measurable clinical, and operational benefits it can offer within the field of healthcare.
In the realm of healthcare journalism, the focus tends to gravitate toward flashy, attention-grabbing use cases. But these often have limited practical application within the NHS Trusts due to their complexity and scale. Having been at the heart of multiple NHS organisations, I know just how under pressure the IT teams will be. Their plates are overflowing with urgent projects, all flagged 'red' in terms of priority.
Much like how clinical services within the NHS are turning to the private sector to tackle waiting lists and backlogs, NHS IT teams require additional funding. This financial support is essential to enable collaboration with organisations such as Ingram Micro Cloud and CloudCoCo, which can provide crucial assistance in project implementation.
What’s needed here is not just ‘more hands to the pump’. It's about bringing in seasoned professionals who have had the time and funding to undergo extensive vendor training and have broad experience across various industries. Their expertise injects fresh ideas and innovative approaches into the healthcare sector, revitalising the way technology is integrated and utilised within the NHS. This collaborative approach not only eases the burden on IT teams but also ushers in a new era of efficiency and innovation in healthcare technology implementation.
Technology is advancing at breakneck speed. So, how can organisations balance competing priorities like budgets and security, while keeping innovation in firm focus?
It’s difficult, but equally incredibly important that incumbent IT teams have time ringfenced for personal development. Encouraging and supporting them to attend prominent healthcare expos like ConFed, HETT, and ReWired is not just an investment in their growth but a strategic move for the organisation as a whole. Walking the show, engaging in conversations, and establishing relationships with vendors is paramount.
What collaborative efforts or partnerships do you believe are crucial for the future of cybersecurity?
Technology and threat vectors are indeed changing at a breakneck speed — it is a full-time job (and then some!) to keep on top of it all. Organisations need to find a cyber security consultancy that matches the DNA of their business — one that intricately understands their risk profile and, crucially, the knock-on ramifications of a breach. Moreover, they should operate as an extension of the existing IT team.
My head of marketing, Dan Buckley, landed with a number of PatientSource clients recently. Head of clinical services at Healthshare, Holly Neville, remarked: “Using PatientSource, it feels as if we’ve got another team member, one that has your back!” That’s exactly what you need to find — a cyber security vendor that feels like a true complement to your team.
Finish the sentence: The most exciting trend or technology paving the way for the future of IT is…
Thinking in health terms, interoperability. It’s mind blowing that within such a multifaceted and complex environment, joining up solutions and having a view of the patient across their entire journey has been given such a scant focus and provision historically.
The utilisation of cloud has removed all barriers beside vendor appetite, in-house skills and a fear of customer loss due to opening up borders.
PatientSource is a ‘born in the cloud’ solution, co-founded and led by a practising A&E physician. Having experienced the frustrations of poor IT while making critical life and death decisions in real-time, our CEO's perspective uniquely emphasises the importance of seamless digital solutions in healthcare. Understanding the urgency of interoperability, we have made it our core focus — setting up the PatientSource Partner Programme, where we proactively integrate digital solutions into what is the foundation stone of a digital health ecosystem, the Electronic Patient Record solution (EPR).
A shout out to two key partners in the partnership: EIDO, who is the market leader in informed patient consent, and Augnito, an AI-driven speech recognition tool with near 100% accuracy for medical terminology. It’s these sorts of integrations that have real impact on the front-line clinical teams.
Which guiding principles have resonated with you the most throughout your career?
Do everything with passion and verve, be the most enthusiastic person in the room, and know that you’ve thrown everything at it. If it hasn’t worked, you know you did your best.
Share an unconventional tech opinion you hold, and explain why it matters:
Tech is easy, people are difficult. You need to learn to listen, empathise, and play back your customers' story, solving their problems as you go.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring tech professionals looking to make a mark in the industry?
Be continually curious, genuinely care about what you are doing, be diligent, give it your all and people will notice. Senior leaders can spot talent a mile off – don’t try too hard to impress, just do a good job and opportunities will naturally unfold in front of you.
One of my greatest opportunities came about when I wouldn’t leave a newly-appointed project manager at Budget Rent A Car alone. Tony Sexton was employed to relocate the Spanish HQ from the centre of Madrid to the outskirts. When he realised he needed an extra pair of hands, he said, “who was that bloke annoying me with all those blinking questions? Get him over!”
I spent the next three months having the time of my life in my young twenties, living and working in Madrid. The international experience paved the way to me landing the role at British American Racing. Genuine curiosity and being friendly led to incredible experiences!
I’ve just ordered Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book, “Be Useful.” Look at what he has achieved — it’s solid life advice.