Welcome to our first digital edition of Insight – in the coming issues we will showcase the leaders at the heart of Exeter’s STEMM community. Do you often get asked who or what is EXIST? This is one of my favourite questions as I am really passionate about the group and all that we do. From sharing insight, making connections to championing STEMM businesses in the city, It is an absolute pleasure to Chair this group and showcase all that we do.
In this edition, we caught up with Kathryn White, Chief Operating Officer at Spatial Quotient to find out how their innovative technology is helping streamline the NHS to maximise efficiencies.
I hope you enjoy our first digital edition of Insight.
An interview with:
Kathryn White, Chief Operating Officer of Spatial Quotient
Kathryn is an expert in technology innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems. She has worked in innovation in Financial Services and Academia and has studied entrepreneurial culture across the world. We caught up with her to find out more about Spatial Quotient and what they do.
How did Spatial Quotient come about? And where is the business now in its development?
Spatial Quotient was founded by our CEO, Tim Maguire, in 2015, after working for years with the healthcare system. Tim saw first-hand how inefficiencies in the NHS could seriously affect the morale of staff and the quality of treatment for patients, and he wanted to help. With an accounting background, he knew that to solve the problems, you first need to understand them, and there was a real lack of awareness of what was happening as people moved through hospitals. Since then, the company has explored a range of different technologies to find the best way to capture this vital data, and how to draw the insights from it. Our aim is to ensure everyone has access to a top quality healthcare experience. And by everyone, we don’t just mean patients, we also mean staff and their working experience. We have recently developed our first SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) product, so we’re moving into a scale-up phase.
What’s your role in the business, when did you join?
I started working with SQ in my previous role, working for University of Exeter within the Environmental Futures and Big Data Impact Lab. They came to us for support with developing their Machine Learning algorithms, and from my first conversation with Tim, I was really excited about the enormous potential for the business, both to grow and to help people.
After a couple of years advising from the outside, I took the leap and joined the team in the summer of 2020. Obviously, that was a challenging time for the business, as Covid restrictions meant a lot of on-site work was put on hold. But it was also a very exciting time, as we’d been granted an award from Innovate UK as part of the Strategic Innovation Fund to develop new software to support Covid recovery.
When I first joined the team, I was focused on Strategy and building our Product Roadmap, as well as Project Managing the development of our first SaaS solution – PathwAI, a real-time dashboard for managing people flow. Now that PathwAI is being rolled out and the team is growing, I have moved my focus to standardising our Operations processes, and taken the role of Chief Operating Officer.
What’s the achievement you are most proud of to date?
I just returned from a two week tour of four hospitals in Spain, where we set up each of those sites with our PathwAI dashboard. It was almost exactly a year from the time we started designing the dashboard and to see it go from one pilot hospital, to running simultaneously in 6 sites across the UK and Spain, was an exciting moment.
And what’s been the biggest challenge?
Covid had a very big impact on our work, due to the difficulty of gaining access to hospitals. It was a frustrating time, because we knew that we could help, but we just couldn’t get access to do so. A big part of what we developed with the grant funding were new algorithms to help maintain social distancing and ensure hospital patients are treated safely.
Now that things have opened back up, there is still a challenge of getting into the NHS, due to constraints in funding and slow approval processes. But we know from delivering over 130 projects around the world, that we can make far greater savings and improvements for them than it would cost to bring us in, so we’re just working hard to demonstrate that.
What’s the innovation and tech behind the idea?
According to the King’s Fund, nearly 50% of the NHS budget is spent on its workforce (which doesn’t even include temporary staff, GPs or employees from the Department of Health and Social Care and other national bodies). Our innovation comes from using real data to understand how this workforce is being used, and how the other hospital resources, such as space and equipment, are being used, so that we can make the most out of these precious resources.
We do this using Ultra-Wideband technology (UWB), which effectively works as an internal GPS system, anonymously monitoring the flows of patients and staff, to identify common pathways and behaviours. UWB is the most accurate of the various Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) which exist today, and can detect location to an accuracy of 30cm. It is the same technology used by Apple for the AirTags.
The system of wearable badges and wall-mounted sensors gives us positional data, and then we analyse the data using machine learning and AI developed by our Data Science team, in collaboration with University of Exeter. We then provide insights to our clients, through our live dashboard, PathwAI, and in monthly insight reports. They use these insights to identify bottlenecks in the system, understand patient journey and wait times, and to make intelligent improvements based on real data.
What’s the vision for the business in the next 12 months?
We have spent the past year working on developing our ‘standard offering’, ready to roll out across the UK and Europe, so that is what we’re focusing on now. We expect to scale rapidly, with a target of 28 live projects running simultaneously by the end of 2022. We’re already expanding the team and have a lot of exciting roles we’ll be publicising in the coming months, so if anyone is passionate about our vision of a top quality healthcare experience for all, and wants to join us, then keep an eye out!
How can the regional business community support you?
We are very proud to be a South West business, and we try to get as involved as possible in the local community and ecosystem. We’ve received support from a wide range of business support services, including University of Exeter and the Impact Lab; SETsquared; Innovate Edge, and others. Currently we’re interested in any routes to new business opportunities, and we’re always open to partnerships with like-minded organisations.
What does your average day look like?
That’s a tricky question! Depending on the week, I might be working from our office on the Exeter Science Park, with a mix of calls with clients in Europe, reviewing data outputs, and working with the team on Operations planning; or I might be on site in a hospital, setting up systems and meeting with the lead clinician and their team to discuss their challenges and priorities.
What do you wish other people knew about your work?
That we genuinely care about the staff on the ground in the NHS. What we mean by ‘optimising efficiency’ isn’t: let’s make all the staff work harder. What we mean is: let’s understand all the blockages and constraints which stop everything from flowing smoothly, so that everyone can have a better experience. I have been on the ground in enough sites to know that if staff are unhappy, then patients are unhappy (and vice versa), and everyone is miserable when there are delays and overcrowded waiting rooms.
Why and how would you encourage young people to consider STEMM careers?
There is so much range and variety in the world of STEMM! Personally, I started out with a degree in Art History and over the years I moved over into technology because I enjoyed it and I saw how creative you can be with it. There is sometimes this mistaken view that the arts and technology are completely separate worlds, but really, good technology requires collaboration from all types of people. So, whether you’re creative or analytical; interested in the big picture or the small details; love working with other people or prefer working quietly on your own, there are great opportunities for everyone in STEMM. (And it doesn’t hurt that the salaries tend to be higher too!)