Softwire celebrates five years of strategic IT partnership with lifesaving charity Anthony Nolan
Rebuild two business-critical applications, as part of our continuing IT partnership with Anthony Nolan.
Anthony Nolan saves the lives of people with blood cancer and blood disorders. More than 1,000 individuals per year get a second chance at life, thanks to the organisation’s work to recruit potential donors, fund ground-breaking research and provide high-quality post-transplant care.
Softwire has worked with Anthony Nolan since late 2016, providing strategic IT advisory and delivery services. This began with IT strategy guidance, and has since seen our teams design and deploy new cloud architecture, before delivering a variety of large-scale software development projects around Anthony Nolan’s core applications.
You can read more about the early work we did with Anthony Nolan in our previous case study.
At the core of Anthony Nolan’s lifesaving work
Two more-recent highlights include the development of brand-new sampling and search systems. Both play central roles in Anthony Nolan’s operations.
More than 150,000 people register with Anthony Nolan to be stem cell donors every year. Its sampling system is used to track and manage the swab samples each potential donor sends in. The software ensures each sample is correctly processed, tested and authorised before the individual is added to the donor register. It also manages samples from patients needing transplants, to facilitate the matching process between donor and patient.
The search system, meanwhile, enables Anthony Nolan to find possible donors when a request comes in from a transplant centre. It receives more than 200 requests every month. For each one, its search team produces a report containing around 60 possible donors. Producing this involves inputting the patient’s genetic information, running a complex search against the large donor register, and then filtering the results to identify the best matches. The report must then be reviewed and authorised, before being sent to the doctor who requested it.
Anthony Nolan’s aspiration was that both new systems should significantly streamline its teams’ ways of working, while being designed to enable additional features to be added over time.
As with all our work with Anthony Nolan, rebuilding these applications would require our teams to quickly get up to speed with complex medical processes and language.
Upskilling Anthony Nolan’s tech function
Anthony Nolan’s aim has always been to increase its in-house technology capabilities. Part of our remit throughout the time we’ve worked together has been to upskill its teams in the modern technologies and best-practice delivery processes we use.
We built brand-new search and sampling systems for Anthony Nolan, while upskilling its tech team and facilitating easier collaboration between clinicians and technologists.
Sampling system overhaul
Building on the Microsoft Azure cloud architecture we had previously rolled out, we rebuilt the sampling system. We delivered new capability in phases, to enable Anthony Nolan to benefit as soon as possible. One of the first iterations was to enable the organisation to meet its strategic aim of onboarding an additional sample-processing lab.
The new system automates a number of previously manual processes, and eliminates the need for multiple teams to be involved in processing new-donor samples. Instead, everything is now handled by the sampling lab team.
We designed the user experience to better support this team, including bringing together data from multiple sources, to remove the need to switch between the sampling system and other applications when processing donor samples.
We designed the new search system to be easily maintainable and extensible. One reason this was important was to enable Anthony Nolan to continually update the nomenclature used in the system, in line with ever-evolving industry best practices.
Elsewhere, with major new research having been published, we needed to update the sophisticated search algorithm. This was to enable more-precise automated matching of patients and donors, thereby eliminating a labour-intensive, manual process.
Working closely with the search team at Anthony Nolan, we designed a completely new user experience, looking at ways to make every part of the process simpler, more assured and more enjoyable. We paid particular attention to making the complex search results easier to parse, so that the team could pick out the best matches more quickly. Elsewhere, we made the full authorisation process electronic, eliminating the need for printouts and easing the burden of compliance.
Helping the technology team and medical experts collaborate more effectively
Any healthcare application must correctly implement the latest medical research findings, and be verified by clinicians. This validation can be challenging, since it typically requires medical and technology specialists to understand each other’s complex fields.
Softwire’s team worked closely with Anthony Nolan’s medical experts to understand their domain and how it applied to what we were building. And we wrote our software tests in a way that enabled clinicians to validate what the applications were doing, without needing to understand the technical workings of the software.
Ongoing advisory and upskilling
We’ve continued to provide strategic advisory around Anthony Nolan’s technology roadmap and the skills it needs to deliver it, while partnering with its delivery teams to share working practices and technical knowledge. In addition, a number of Anthony Nolan employees have undertaken Softwire apprenticeships, to enable them to develop the skills required to maintain the new applications.
The new applications we built have delivered significant time-savings across Anthony Nolan, enabling teams to work more efficiently and ultimately better help the organisation to save and improve lives.
Accelerated and less-resource-intensive sampling process
Anthony Nolan’s new sampling system has been well-received by the teams using it, and the wider organisation. By enabling the sampling lab team to handle the end-to-end process, from receiving sample data to adding people to the donor register, we’ve reduced the time this takes from days to hours. This has also freed up other teams from sampling-related work, enabling them to focus more time on other tasks.
On-schedule delivery of the new system enabled Anthony Nolan to onboard its additional sampling lab, and bring together sample data from all the laboratories it works with in one place for simplicity.
Quicker searches and a more-efficient signoff process
The streamlined search system has transformed the way the search team works. With numerous manual steps removed – including one that took around an hour per search – the team can now process many more searches than it could previously. In addition, the fully electronic authorisation process has enabled effective remote working, greater oversight and significantly reduced Anthony Nolan’s paper use.
Lottie Marchant, Search and Selection Supervisor at Anthony Nolan, says: “The new search system has made it much easier for us to support transplant centres efficiently. And the exciting thing is that Softwire has built it to enable more improvements in the future, making our team and the wider organisation even more effective at saving and improving lives.”
“Very good to work with”
Sandra Frater, Head of Clinical Support at Anthony Nolan, concludes: “The Softwire team is really good. This is a very complicated field, and it can take years to learn the intricacies of HLA, the make-up of the genetic structure and the language to use. Softwire’s people picked it up so quickly, meaning we could have meaningful and productive conversations with them right from the start.”
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