Getting in to bed with new providers and suppliers is a daunting task. In the last 12 months the National Institute for Health Research's Clinical Research Network (NIHR CRN) has signed the deal and commissioned work with a number of new suppliers. All of these are to ensure they fulfil their innovative ideas to deliver information systems to support clinical research across the NHS.

Each agreement for each different piece of work has been through an evolving process, they haven't created a silver bullet that can be re-used in each case, largely because of the significant differences between each procurement they have done and the goal that each procurement has had. However they have created a process and engagement that enables the business side of the organisation to be fully immersed in decisions around supplier engagement and delivery.

Recent press about changes to pre-nuptial agreements and the creation of new laws to ensure time limits, coercion and outcomes may set a precedent and culture at the very beginning of a relationship for a lack of trust. As CIO of NIHR CRN CIO, I believe in "marrying for true love and not money or status" and have set at our core a strategy for partnerships with new suppliers.

Identifying a need and the evolving the strategy to not always build it at home is the first step that the NIHR CRN has gone through. Three years ago they built all innovation solutions in house, with a large team and an attempt to make everything fit on one strategic platform. Today the organisation has in place a 'pipe line process' that allows the business to be involved in the decision to build at home or outsource and has evolved to allow a best in class approach to delivery platforms.

The hot line for suppliers, does it work? I would argue that by and large it doesn't anymore. As the organisation's CIO, I liken the sales pitch of a 'cold caller' to the lyrics of a Belle and Sebastian song, 'The loneliness of a long distance runner'. He claims you can no longer be sold something you don't want and hasn't gone through levels of business engagement that effectively pre-qualifies it for the race. Supplier engagement and delivery requires such significant buy in from the business that the cold call (that gets through) is a lonely run over a long distance and is rarely going to get to the first water station never mind the finish line.

Below are a few NIHR CRN 'case studies' of recent procurements and the decisions made that put these in place:

There is nothing better than the recommendation or customer evangelist. – This is how the NIHR CRN discovered the partner it is now with for the delivery of Business Intelligence tools, Qlik. As an organisation they had identified the need to provide a more self service approach to the delivery of business intelligence and through research came across an evangelic Qlik customer. The customer showed them what they had done in a similar environment, how they had gone about building their strategy and solutions. The customer was a fan of the solution, they weren't delivering a sales pitch and the NIHR CRN was able to follow up on this real world impact information and eventually after running procurement reach the conclusion that the business needed a tool to deliver self service BI across a networked organisation.

Sell the sizzle not the sausage - but don't run with the sausage! – This is the lesson that the NIHR CRN learned from partnering with the start-up consultancy inAnalytics. The team at inAnalytics delivered an excellent pitch at the end of a procurement series to provide Technical Architecture services. The procurement solution was built around a series of call off elements over a 12-month period; the early starters delivered immediate benefit and saw the implementation of a Design Authority and its processes across the organisation. The more slow burn deliverables have taken the full 12-month period to come to fruition but set up the organisation for 2014-15. Not running with the sausage though was a lesson hard-learned; calling off items from the contract that the Information Systems function needed to come to fruition was easy, what was more difficult was making sure that the business had resource ready to be involved in these pieces of work, which, with the reality check of the day job, ultimately slowed these items being delivered down a little.

Fast thinking and product obsession – How to ensure that the last thinking informs the fast thinking about the product that the NIHR CRN wants to buy, and then once bought the fast thinking needs to be managed. Delivering the largest portfolio management tool ever placed in UK Clinical Research has involved fast thinking on the part of the business. After a year long procurement process a supplier was chosen, and the business felt it was ready to go. Lessons learned here though show that the last thinking at the end of the procurement process of what the system was, does not always equal the fast thinking that takes place as the requirements are turned into a specification that can be built against. Tribal Education, the supplier appointed to deliver this solution, has been able to work with the business to ensure that the evolution of what is needed is smooth, but the business has had to work hard to not obsess over what the end product is and see the bigger picture through the eyes of each individual module as it is delivered and tested.

The on ramp – Getting on the ramp with services offered by Google for collaboration has been an exciting procurement for the full NIHR organisation. The organisation ran a government cloud procurement for a series of collaboration tools. The on ramp element of this was the incentive offered after the contract to migrate all email service to Google Mail. By delivering on the procured element the additional solutions that can be added to the delivery ensuring that further value for money can be achieved ad a wider set of collaboration capability across the organisation can be put in place.

Systems of choice – A procurement without running a procurement. The concept of systems of choice was one that the NIHR CRN re-used from an original NHS concept. The application of this within the NIHR CRN structures though is more of a framework to follow rather than a contract in place, this allows the research active organisations across the network to choose the solution that best meets its needs while also facilitating the integration of systems across the whole organisation, what it perceives as a win-win solution.

These five scenarios or case studies show different approaches in one organisation to procurement, the NIHR CRN has learned lessons from each procurement and has applied a flexible approach that is dependent on the product it is procuring. The key learning though is around ownership of procurement, ensuring that the wider business takes as much ownership of procurement as possible ensures that the delivery of benefit is at the core of all supplier relationships.