NHS Service Evolution: Confidence and Cultural Change Key to Cloud Adoption

National Health Service evolution will be undermined without rapid executive intervention, suggests findings from a major survey released today, “Meeting the Digital Challenge: How Well is the NHS Embracing Cloud Computing?”, from Huddle, the enterprise cloud collaboration service, and based on the views of more than 2,000 NHS employees.

The study reveals that despite government initiatives to drive greater use of cloud computing across the public sector, many parts of the NHS are struggling to embrace the technology.

“Cloud computing is seen as a key component to improving collaboration between agencies and departments. In particular, how sensitive data is managed, shared and secured across the entire public sector,” explains Alastair Mitchell, co-founder and CMO of Huddle. “However, we’re in a position where almost half of NHS employees still routinely post hard copies of documents to each other or rely on insecure USB flash drives.”

As part of a larger public sector study to be launched next month, the research (conducted by Dods), demonstrates a clear chasm in cloud adoption with NHS executives and IT departments in danger of falling behind government-mandated commitments such as G-Cloud. Much of this, the research concludes, stems from a general lack of awareness of, and confidence using, one of today’s key enabling technologies: cloud computing.

“This isn’t another ‘NHS IT gone bad’ story,” adds Mitchell. “This is about the challenge of change management in a massive and complex organisation. This is about how NHS executives and IT leaders can intervene, turn the tide, and help their colleagues achieve the NHS’s potential and meet the vision for flexibility, integration and efficiency as set out in NHS England’s 2014 ‘Five Year Forward View’.”

Top line findings include:

Difficulty adapting to changing ways of working:

  • Only 66 percent of NHS staff are aware of cloud computing, the lowest amongst the public sector.
  • Just one third of NHS employees are confident using cloud services — 27 percent are not confident and 36 percent reported never using cloud computing.
  • Security concerns (81 percent), time and effort to switch (74 percent) and lack of expertise to install systems (72 percent) are the major barriers to cloud adoption in the NHS.
  • 96 percent of NHS staff share information amongst internal and external teams as part of their work.

“Information sharing — basic collaboration — is a staple of daily life in the NHS, even more so than in the private sector. But the very culture of the NHS — the lack of experience with and confidence in cloud computing — is undermining its own ability to evolve. Without change, the NHS risks being snared by inefficient, insecure and out-dated working practices,” said Mitchell.

Inconsistencies in NHS data security:

  • The NHS tops the public sector in security conscientiousness — 87 percent of NHS staff view the security of their organisation’s information as ‘very important’.
  • But in NHS IT departments, fewer than a fifth of respondents were aware of the government’s new security classification system (launched April 2014).
  • The most common ways in which NHS staff share information is also eye-opening. After email, 47 percent post hard copies, 25 percent use couriers to deliver physical documents and 20 percent rely on USB flash drives.

“NHS employees rightly view themselves as staunch guardians of highly sensitive and confidential material. But the way in which ‘collaboration’ happens in the NHS today is anachronistic — it’s hugely inefficient, rampantly expensive and worryingly unsecure,” said Mitchell. “NHS organisations have got to get their heads around the latest security guidance. There is a huge role for commercial cloud platforms to play in speeding things up, lowering costs and introducing appropriate levels of security and government compliance.”

Missing government-mandated commitments:

  • 79 percent of NHS IT staff are not aware of G-Cloud (the government’s cloud services procurement initiative), don’t know if their organisation uses it, or don’t know what it is. Only 5 percent of IT respondents have purchased via G-Cloud.
  • Almost three quarters of NHS employees do not know why SMEs have not traditionally won NHS IT contracts — the remaining quarter listed concerns over SMEs having appropriate security, NHS comfort in working with large IT suppliers and overly-onerous procurement processes. This is despite a government initiative to shift 25% of government spend to SMEs by the end of the last parliament.
  • NHS staff had more of a preference towards UK cloud vendors than other public sector respondents, and 69 percent expressed a desire to maintain UK data residency

“In many ways, G-Cloud represents a success story for the UK government. But it’s clear that the NHS is lagging behind in its awareness and adoption of the framework. This is a shame because the lack of awareness increases costs and reduces the options open to NHS IT staff — but we expect this to change in time,” continued Mitchell. “The NHS has historically been hesitant to work with SMEs on transformative IT projects. But after decades of dominance, and troubled programmes such as NPfIT, by IT monoliths there are reasons to be cheerful as cloud computing — especially when provided by UK companies offering UK data sovereignty — gathers pace.”

The study provides an ‘action plan’ for NHS executives and IT leaders and covers:

1. Building awareness and confidence in cloud computing by demonstrating relevance and cracking down on protectionist behaviour by IT departments

2. Complying with the new security classification system by interpreting Cabinet Office guidance and using pre-certified commercial collaboration platforms

3. Embracing G-Cloud and working with SMEs in a way that helps boost user confidence in cloud platforms

“Moving to the cloud is a cultural, not a technological evolution,” concluded Mitchell. “Change management is difficult. Information security is complicated. But digital government is a certainty. NHS executives and IT leaders are in the driving seat. Their proactivity and engagement with the issues unearthed in this research will push forward more positive change in the National Health Service than the boldest of policies or the most ambitious of manifestos. It’s an exciting time to be in the NHS.”

The report “Meeting the Digital Challenge: How Well is the NHS Embracing Cloud Computing?” is available for download at huddle.com. The report uses research data collected exclusively for Huddle by Dods in Q4 2014. The full report “Meeting the Digital Challenge: How Well is the Public Sector Embracing Cloud Computing” will be available for download from 7th July 2015. Sign up at dods@huddle.com to be notified when the full report is available.

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About Huddle
Huddle is a secure cloud collaboration service that enables enterprise and government organizations worldwide to securely store, access, share, sync and work on files with everyone they need to — regardless of whether they are inside or outside of an organization’s firewall. Co-headquartered in London and San Francisco and with offices in New York City and Washington D.C., Huddle’s customers include 80 percent of Fortune 500 and 80 percent of UK government departments, as well as companies such as Kia Motors, Williams Lea, Driscoll’s, Unilever and P&G. The company is privately held and backed by leading venture capital firms in the US and Europe. For more information visit www.huddle.com or follow us on Twitter @huddle.