Testing times for 4C Associates

Executives from 4C Associates explain how they worked as a team to support the NHS Test & Trace efforts to combat COVID-19

When the call went out to support NHS Test & Trace in the UK’s hour of need as it prepared to combat COVID-19, procurement and supply chain experts 4C Associates were the natural choice.

With more than 20 years of international experience and extensive knowledge to draw on, coupled with the latest technological innovations and processes, 4C were able to provide a transformative, sustainable solution.

“Our focus is procurement and supply chain, that is where our deepest expertise lies,” says 4C Managing Partner Allison Ford-Langstaff.

“When we were first contacted by NHS Test & Trace it was a couple of months after the pandemic started and we were asked to deliver their procurement agenda and deliver to the mission – to control the spread of COVID-19 and break the chains of transmission.

“There was no precedent, there was no infrastructure and the only thing certain was uncertainty. And this is where our knowledge of transformations really came to the fore.The ability to deal with ambiguity is something we consider to be a real strength of ours.”

4C’s approach to transformation always begins with a vision and strategy of what an organisation is trying to achieve. And their goal is to leave clients with long term sustainable solutions ensuring efficiency, visibility and prosperity through the supply chain, delivered by a combination of 4C’s experienced consulting team supported by their in house data analytics.

“We view sustainability through our “prosperity framework” that we've created which builds on the triple bottom line concept,” says Ford-Langstaff. “So we explore the people aspect, the planet and profit.”

4C does not take over an existing organisation’s processes or force them to adopt new tools and techniques. Instead, 4C listens, works alongside the existing team and builds on what they are doing using their deep expertise. This was exactly how 4C worked alongside NHS Test & Trace, settling themselves alongside the current team, and building on the work to date.

“The public sector could not continue to buy as it always had done, so the first thing we did was put a mixed team in place that was born from both our public sector consultants and our private sector consultants,” says Ford-Langstaff. “We all worked together towards the common purpose – the mission.”

Ford-Langstaff is surrounded by fellow 4C Associates team members that clearly thrive as a collective – working as a team, with external teams.

4C Associates Senior Manager Jonathan Williams says that the initial weeks and months of the pandemic saw significant change as the virus gripped the globe.

“Contract management efficiencies and supplier relationships were trailing behind the normal expectations that we would have within the public sector,” says Williams.

“You therefore had to rapidly build a plan which delivers value for money for the taxpayer, whilst ensuring that contract management of strategic suppliers were delivered as a minimum, and to the best practice standards expected by the Cabinet Office.

“What stood out more than anything, was a team spirit and camaraderie along with a willingness to cross-fertilise skills and experiences to deliver a genuine team focus on optimised outputs within very tight time scales.”

When it comes to costs in one category area alone, 4C supported the delivery of more than £200 million in savings, with at least the same amount again in the pipeline. Moreover, more than 90% of infrastructure contracts met or exceeded best practice with the remaining 10% delivered to the same standards within weeks.

The challenge was immense, as Senior Manager Andy Carter recalls, partly due to the overall uncertainty regarding the direction of the pandemic but also the scale of the testing program required. Global markets for testing and laboratory supplies were seeing demand increases of 20-50 times pre pandemic levels creating  an intensely challenging environment for both supply chains to keep up with demand and procurement to secure supplies compliantly. 

“The testing program that was there at the time really wasn’t at the scale that the country needed, and the Prime Minister had declared he was going to deliver, so the big challenge that we came into right at the outset was how are we going to be able to scale this,” says Carter.

That scale involved being able to deliver 500,000 PCR tests, rising to 800,000 by Christmas 2020, then a vision for 1.5 million, then up to 10 million.

“The biggest challenge we were all facing at the time was securing capacity at pace, which was really difficult to achieve in a highly competitive international market, where capacity was being sought from across the globe,” says Carter.

“Which meant that we had to move really quickly and operate with real credibility in order to get the commitment from the suppliers to prioritise the UK testing program for their first volume.”

Carter’s role has evolved to be about right sizing the PCR test program in line with the current testing demands of 2021. 4C Associates works closely with suppliers to mitigate any waste risk and make sure contracts are fit-for-purpose for longer periods, making them more sustainable.

Logistics were stretched to their limits. As Head of Supply Chain at 4C Associates, Gopal Iyer certainly had his work cut out – managing and setting up a logistics strategy

and working at ground level with the commercial side of logistics to make sure things happen.

“Logistics was a really interesting space, because on the one hand we had these new technologies, these new escalators, but on the demand side we really didn’t have much visibility,” says Iyer.

“All we knew was we had to create a supply chain infrastructure to support 66 million people – the population of the UK. However, we did not know which location, how much pressure we are going to have in terms of test kits requirements.”

An already difficult situation was made harder due to the ongoing impact of Brexit – with many companies having already taken up a lot of their storage capacity.

“The lack of visibility of information, a multitude of stakeholders, so many moving parts, changing regulations all combined to make the whole scenario quite daunting,” says Iyer.

The results speak for themselves. In May 2020, there were around 400,000 daily tests delivered. A year later, that figure was 4.7 million per day. Multiple channels also had to be established to deliver tests and transport those to laboratories. Test centres had to be established across the country so that as many people as possible were within 2.1 miles of a centre. Put into context, this infrastructure is delivering more packages per day than Amazon.

“What we are looking at is not just a challenge which is impacting a particular company or particular organisation, but something which is impacting the whole country – the whole world,” says Iyer.

Ford-Langstaff says she feels immensely proud to have been part of this mission and how the entire 4C Associates team have worked together in incredibly difficult circumstances.

“We have to remember that we are people dealing with people in a very, very difficult time,” says Ford-Langstaff. “Something we introduced was a scrapbook – something to show how all of us personally and collectively contributed to the NHS Test & Trace programme.

“Any of us sitting in our rocking chairs, looking back on our lives and telling tales of our times, we will be able to bring out the scrapbook and show our grandchildren all the amazing things that we've achieved.”

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