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Mark Hall, public sector director at Redcentric

For years, there has been a perception within the public sector that cloud computing is more of a danger than a tool to increase efficiency levels. The greatest concern has been the security of hosting sensitive data remotely and the resultant impact downtime would have on departments.

However, as time goes by, attitudes towards cloud computing in the public sector are changing and more bodies are accepting the vast benefits it can have on their daily processes. This is due to a combination of elements. People now continuously use cloud services in the home and are therefore much more open to doing so in a work environment. Simultaneously, the public sector has realised the vast number of silos present are negatively impacting consumer experiences and this is a key driving force behind the action now being taken.

The Health & Social Care Network

In 2015, the Department for Health approved plans for the Health & Social Care Network (HSCN) and this is set to replace the current N3 network in the coming months. N3 has been live for more than 15 years and is reaching end-of-life – it struggles to accommodate the types of disruptive technologies the public sector should be embracing. HSCN will combat this issue, providing a platform for innovation to be placed at the forefront of the health and social care sectors, while integrating these two areas to the benefit of everyone involved, from care professionals on the front line, through to the patients themselves.

However, for HSCN to be the success the public sector deserves, it’s vital software providers engage with the network and ensure health and social care departments have access to the latest technologies to improve service levels. But why should these providers begin to act on this now?

New network model

The incumbent N3 network is a single-supplier system which results in major difficulties for providers which don’t carry the same gravitas as some of the big industry players. As such, many may have shied away from offering services, assuming they wouldn’t be able to compete. However, the introduction of HSCN will completely change this, as the single-supplier system will be replaced with a disaggregated, multi-supplier model. This will drive competition amongst suppliers and offer a more even playing field for smaller businesses to enter the procurement race alongside industry goliaths such as BT. It therefore becomes a platform for innovative thinking. If departments no longer need to enter into all-encompassing contracts with one supplier, they can pick and choose from a variety of disruptive technologies being introduced via HSCN. If the software provider then impresses with its service, more opportunities may arise as a result. However, failing to act now will undoubtedly result in companies being left behind by fast-moving competitors.

Looking to the future

The NHS has been at crisis levels throughout the winter and this is only going to get worse if the silos remain in place. Currently, if a patient walks into A&E with a potentially broken ankle, they will go through numerous different systems – initial triage, first consultant, X-ray and results – each of which will waste time repeating information which should be readily available. There will also increasingly be issues during peak times as more people head online to consult with professionals and book appointments. HSCN will resolve both of these problems, if software providers engage with the network.

How can a new network have such an overarching impact on the healthcare sector? The service is built on the latest technology and has therefore been created with scalability in mind. So during peak times when the N3 network may have struggled, or completely fallen over, HSCN will react to increased demand and increase capacity accordingly. This means software providers will never see their services or revenue streams drop due to the network failing.

HSCN is also built with collaboration and integration in mind, not only for users who want to use numerous different applications within their department, but also for the silos in place. For example, health and social care are currently totally separate entities, despite the clear crossover in service and patients. This often results in a disparate experience which is not only unnecessarily time-consuming but also frustrating for patients who are forced to endure repetitious conversations and questions from doctors, nurses and community care assistants. By embracing HSCN, software providers can offer services which encompass all aspects of the health and social sectors, which in turn can drive brand loyalty in the long term.

Next steps

So how do software providers get onto HSCN? Those which are currently selling to the public sector via the N3 network need to work with a consumer network service provider (CN-SP) which will then facilitate moving onto the new network once this is fully operating. The sooner this is done, the sooner suppliers will be up and running on the new network and entered into the procurement race. It will not be possible to purchase services from N3 service provider contracts come April, so the sooner this is done, the better as failing to do so now may see them waiting until 2019.

However, for software providers interested in selling to the public sector but aren’t currently doing so, it’s vital they take action now. These suppliers must ensure they are on the N3 network before the end of March to ease the process significantly, as those already on the system will be the first to be moved over onto HSCN. Leaving it until after the March 31st cut-off period will inevitably result in businesses being left behind by the competition and finding it increasingly difficult to profit from HSCN.

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