Fifield Software Systems

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Fifield Software Systems's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Fifield Software Systems is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Inexperienced hands applied
to building their own shelter
Fifield Software Systems specialise in practical and technical
solutions to organisations’ software problems. In spite of
their size, the team at Fifield have access to all the expertise
they need whenever they might need it. Although they do
struggle with funding, they are an agile and flexible organisation
who learn quickly and deliver successful responses to a range of
solutions using imagination, innovation, analysis and technology.
Director Frank Brown tells
The Parliamentary Review
We work in both the public and commercial domain on a variety of projects for a
variety of clients. Although we could simply be described as software developers,
we believe our role is far, far greater than that – and far more complicated.
Our current situation
I established Fifield in 1984 after coming from an academic background in a
research team at Oxford University. Years in research provided both the stimulation
of complex problems and access to an abundance of intelligent people on which
I could draw; this pool of background talent provided me with the confidence to
address issues that most people tried to avoid.
The funding problem
For companies like ours, funding is an ever-present challenge, especially for
projects which are primarily for public benefit. New ideas often precede established
markets, and this creates difficulty when the funding stream simply isn’t there.
»Director: Frank Brown
»Established in 1984
»Based in Benson, Wallingford,
»Services: General solutions
»No. of employees: 3 to 4
»We provided the analytical
software for risk-return
optimisation in commercial
property portfolios that
allowed Fidelity International
to win the 2010 Institute of
Risk Management award for
Best Use of Risk Management
in Financial Services
Fifield Software Systems
Highlighting best practice
Most funding sources only provide
resources for what amounts to an
embryonic business proposal. There
is often an expectation of short-
term commercial benefit, which is
a challenge for any new idea that
functions in an unestablished market.
Grants can be surprisingly difficult to
get for companies whose approach
may be poorly aligned with the
expectations of the application, or
where there is inadequate time given
to assess a submission.
A new government approach
A new way forward is required for
useful ideas, primarily those for public
benefit, to gain access to government
interest, guidance or funding.
Government should have the ability
to assess these ideas through face-
to-face discussion and evaluate and
explore ones that could be suitable for
The skill set required for solving
problems is often quite different
from the skill set required for
commercialising the solutions. It is,
however, this skill set for which the
UK is well known, and which so
often gives rise to a trail of missed
opportunities by UK governments.
When we started, we were told:
“Never offer a solution that requires
a fundamental change in procedure”.
Sometimes, a change in procedure is
exactly what is needed.
Here are just three examples drawn
from our own experience to illustrate
this problem.
An NHS opportunity
In 1987, we prepared a speculative
software package up to beta-test
level to automate the activities of
GP surgeries and to interface their
patient data with a specialist NHS
database. The system had obvious
potential benefit because it provided
not only full automation for standard
GP activities but also simple data entry
from each doctor–patient encounter.
This enabled it to accumulate data on
the effectiveness of each prescription
and identify any adverse drug reactions
linked to other current prescriptions
or the evolving medical history for
that patient. This data was designed
to be of real benefit to the NHS and
When it became clear that we could
not get this started ourselves, we
offered it to the NHS – for free.
In the hands of the NHS, this data
would have improved prescribing
and generated a significant and
continuous revenue stream from
In the absence of any other obvious
line of approach, we submitted a
four-page letter to our local MP,
Michael Heseltine, in the hope that it
might reach a suitable destination. He
was extremely interested, helpful and
efficient; a short while later, however,
we received a response from the
Ministry of Health, which effectively
stated that the government would only
consider proposals through normal
market channels. We dropped the
project soon after.
Filling some gaps
between inspiration and
Sometimes, a
change in
procedure is
exactly what is
Banking regulation
In 1999, the government proposed the
removal of the upward-only rent review
in commercial property leases. Through
collaboration with a professor of land
management at Reading University,
we provided a stochastic risk analysis
that allowed UK landlords to calculate
the rental adjustment required to
accommodate this proposal, as there
was no commercial software available.
This software was effectively
demonstrated to the Office of the
Deputy Prime Minister to their
complete satisfaction. Although the
government later abandoned this
proposal, they did get some exposure
to these alternative methods.
By 2006, we had developed our risk
analysis further and offered it to banks
to evaluate the risk attached to loans
raised against real estate collateral. We
had become increasingly aware that
proper risk analysis in this area was
either absent or largely ignored, with
consequences at the time unknown.
The banks were generally uninterested,
so we tried to gain the attention of the
FSA, which regulated the banks at that
time – with no success.
It is interesting to note that as the
financial chaos started to emerge, we
were trying to offer a solution while
others were rather trying to capitalise
on the problem.
New housing/shelter technology
In 2007, we started to develop a new
construction technology, SIMBlock,
which would allow people with no
building experience to build their own
shelters and housing from specially
designed masonry blocks – a bit
They could make these blocks
themselves, even from rubble, so it
would be ideal for victims of disaster for
transitional shelters or even final housing.
We applied for a South East England
Development Agency grant but were
turned down. It took a lot of persuasion
to get them to go against their rules and
reconsider their originalassessment.
We eventually obtained a grant for a
high-tech proof-of-concept, which they
then fast-tracked to the development
stage through the SEEDA Hub. The entire
SEEDA program, however, has since
been abandoned by the government.
Funding from other expected sources
remains as elusive as ever.
A low-tech version of the project is now
being established as a charity, with the
possibility of crowdfunding on the cards.
We are also exploring the possibility
of funding the implementation and
further development of this technology
from abroad.
The paradigm must change to
promote innovation
These are just three examples of our
different attempts to get government
support – in any capacity – for projects
which could have delivered major
social impact. Each of them failed.
The government could – and should
– explore more flexible pathways to
examine the potential of beneficial
new ideas. In our opinion, a new way
of thinking must come about – one
that prevents useful ideas from being
wasted or ignored.
In our opinion, a
new way of
thinking must
come about –
one that
prevents useful
ideas from
being wasted or
Not a good moment to
forget about risk

This article was sponsored by Fifield Software Systems. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Michael Gove.

Rt Hon Michael Gove's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Michael Gove

This year's Parliamentary Review comes at a momentous time for parliament, as we collectively determine the destiny of the United Kingdom. 

On October 31, the UK will leave the European Union. The successful implementation of this process is this government's number-one priority.

Three years after a historic referendum vote, we will deliver on the decisive mandate from the British people. Trust in our democracy depends on it. Until that final hour, we will work determinedly and diligently to negotiate a deal, one that abolishes the backstop and upholds the warm and close relationship we share with our friends, allies and neighbours in the EU. But in the event that the EU refuses to meet us at the table, we must be prepared to leave without a deal.

As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, it is my job to lead on this government's approach, should that scenario happen. Preparing for Brexit is my department's driving mission. But while I am leading this turbocharged effort, the whole of government is committed to this endeavour.

Ministers across Whitehall are working together to ensure that every possibility is considered, every plan is scrutinised and every provision is made. A daily drumbeat of meetings means that we are holding departments accountable, so that preparations are completed on time.

The chancellor has confirmed that all necessary funding will be made available. And we have mobilised thecivil service, assigning 15,000 of our most talented civil servants to manage our exit from the EU.

We will make sure that on November 1, there is as little disruption to national life as possible. Our trade relationships will continue to thrive, thanks to agreements with countries around the world worth £70 billion. Our country will remain secure, thanks to nearly 1,000 new officers posted at our borders. And the 3.2 million EU nationals now living and working among us can remain confident, with absolute certainty, of their right to remain in the UK.

Above all, our goal is to be transparent. Soon, we will launch a public information campaign so that citizens, communities and businesses are ready and reassured about what will happen in the event of “no deal”.

In my first few weeks in this role, I have travelled to ports and tarmacs, borders and bridges, all across the UK –from the seaside of Dover to the rolling green hills of County Armagh. I have heard from business owners and border officials, farmers and hauliers. They are ready to put an end to uncertainty. And they are ready to embrace the opportunities ahead.

Our departure from the EU will be a once in a lifetime chance to chart a new course for the United Kingdom. Preparing for that new course will be a herculean effort. But this country has made astounding efforts before. We can do it again.
Rt Hon Michael Gove
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster