As NHS England asks for advice on cloud ERP solutions, are we seeing a new IT procurement approach from the public sector?
In a Prior Information Notice (PIN) issued last week, NHS England (NHSE) announced its plan to move and integrate its enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to the cloud, and is reaching out to software providers to get advice regarding the project’s feasibility. The organisation said the purpose was to discuss with experts the pros and cons of choosing an integrated ERP versus separate finance and ESR systems.
This seems to be a real departure from the previous approach the NHS has taken when taking on new technology. Traditionally the public sector and healthcare in particular has almost been a closed shop to smaller, more innovative tech firms, instead relying on an oligopoly of huge IT providers. The old approach has led in some cases to lengthy contracts providing often quickly outdated technology that provides neither a long-term solution or value for money for the taxpayer.
Is this an effective way of procuring IT?
It is refreshing to see a public sector organisation approach a project with such a degree of honesty and openness. The series of public sector IT ‘disasters’ over the past few years has meant, on the whole, the sector has suffered from a lack of trust from the public as to its ability to effectively choose and implement the correct solutions.
Therefore, speaking to experts before starting the process has to be a responsible and effective way of procuring, expensive IT solutions.
Large, complex IT projects need the support of true experts
NHS England seems to be under no illusion as to the size and complexity of this project. The current system is used by over 450 separate organisations and over 1.7 million employees. It also crosses multiple functions including recruitment, HR, payroll, learning, talent management, finance, procurement, planning and budgets.
This is a huge undertaking that has the potential to impact the NHS’ largest asset, its workforce which accounts for 70% of its total costs. As we have seen with other NHS IT projects that impact its workforce, the wrong solution or badly implemented technology can result in major disruption and in the worst cases can directly impact front line services.
Therefore, looking for the right experts to give advice (before being contractually obliged), has to be a good idea. Ensuring that they speak to a wide spectrum of experts, rather than just the usual faces will be key here.
Increase in cloud adoption during pandemic
We have seen a real increase in the number of companies migrating to the cloud across multiple sectors (see our blog here: Acceleration of cloud adoption during the pandemic. It shows that the NHS is very much going in the right direction as undoubtedly cloud solutions can make a huge impact on an organisations’ ability to deliver services, discover efficiencies and ensure that they are in-line with regulations. Many sectors have long discovered these benefits, others have taken a little longer, but the pandemic has seen the many technologies, but particularly cloud, accelerate.
NHS coming out the other side of pandemic stronger
The pandemic has very obviously been a real challenge for every aspect of the NHS. Its frontline services put under strain more than at any time in its history, trying to offer the same level of care despite staff being forced to remain at home with symptoms, as a precautionary measure, or to provide childcare. It has also been targeted by unscrupulous criminals who have taken aim at healthcare organisations when they are at their most vulnerable (see our blog Government £500,000 fund will boost healthcare cyber security).
However, there is real hope that the NHS comes out the other side a stronger organisation, certainly at least in terms of IT. Boosting security and approaching huge IT cloud projects such as this ERP solution by talking to independent experts first and taking a step-by-step approach (as well as hopefully considering smaller, more agile and innovative players) all points to a more inclusive, strong approach and hopefully represents a move away from older, blinkered approaches to IT procurement.
James Cherry, CTO at Northdoor plc said: “Digital transformation in the NHS is a target under the ‘Personalised Health & Care 2020’ policy. This is designed to deploy technology throughout the healthcare system to ultimately improve patient care. It’s a massive project that involves sweeping hundreds of applications and legacy systems dating back decades, whilst maintaining services and protecting sensitive data. This whole process will take time and experience to manage effectively.
By asking for advice from smaller, more agile players on how to effectively migrate to the cloud; the NHS has the opportunity to invest in the most appropriate technology to improve processes. Solutions need to help address the challenges that the NHS face, meeting the needs of patients and NHS staff in a cost effective, transparent and efficient manner,” concluded Thompson.