NHS Trusts appear to be snubbing cloud services, according to CRN research, but many experts insist that the health service is interested in - and investing in - the technology, perhaps without even knowing it.
CRN research, based on FoI responses from 102 of the 161 NHS Trusts in England, shows that of the £448.13m NHS Trusts on IT spending overall in the financial year ending in 2016, just 0.71 per cent of it went on cloud, this was down from 0.81 per cent the year before.
Of the 102 Trusts which replied to CRN's FoI requests, 26.5 per cent of them said they used cloud services in some way, up from 24.5 per cent the year before.
Although the figures appear to be very low, some NHS Trusts reported their IT spending forms part of a wider managed service or outsourcing agreement, which means cloud may or may not form a part of that. Further, some Trusts may not formally break out their cloud spending, which could skew the figures somewhat.
Faith Clayton, head of regional government at Computacenter, said that there is appetite for cloud among the CIOs with whom she speaks.
"They are definitely interested in [cloud]," she said. "They are reviewing their datacentre strategies and cloud will play a part of that. Overall we are definitely seeing a drive towards a hybrid approach, and using cloud for the right things. I certainly don't think that most government organisations are absolutely leading to drive everything towards the cloud. But certainly, in terms of software-as-a-service, when they procure new solutions, there is a desire to procure SaaS-type offerings where it will bring benefits."
But she added that there are serious concerns about security.
"There is obviously a lot of concern because you are sharing patient data, and increasingly, organisations are looking at how they share data across different government organisations. I don't think security is being seen as a blocker, but it is a very serious consideration."
Simon Pettit, corporate director at Stone, agreed that there is cloud appetite among NHS Trusts, but cautioned some Trusts initially felt they had to for the sake of it.
"When G-Cloud was first launched and the government really started to say ‘you've got to look at cloud-first strategies', it was drilled down to a point where, I think, money was spent on cloud almost to tick a box so people could say ‘we are doing a cloud strategy'," he said. "People thought it would be a panacea to solve all problems, and, of course, it's not. So now it's no longer new or evolving, [the thinking] has moved to ‘how do we do cloud in way which makes a difference?'. If you look at staff - Office 365 is fantastic. You can get it anywhere you've WiFi and 4G. This makes a difference to people. Once you've got a satisfactory device infrastructure sorted out, you can then make much more use of cloud. Cloud is almost going to be static, and once you've thought about it, it will be a case of ‘ah, I can see where I am going to use it now'. But it will only work for certain areas - it is not the panacea for everything. It will increase over time because Trusts will become more sophisticated with their IT strategies."
Ian Moyse, cloud expert and board member of the Cloud Industry Forum, told CRN that the FoI data might reveal such a low cloud adoption because many Trusts aren't aware how much of it is even in use due to staff using it independently of the IT department - shadow IT.
"While the NHS may claim such low cloud usage, the devil is always in the detail," he said. "Firstly, does the NHS know what cloud is really in use, as most organisations have shadow IT with cloud applications being a major contributor to this. So I would say that there is some portion of cloud in use that the NHS either is not aware of or that they do not classify as cloud when asked.
"For example the N3 network, one of the largest virtual private networks in Europe, offers services to its user base including a range of cloud services centred around communication applications. There are also quite a few N3-approved data centres across the UK. So if the NHS has an application hosted is that private cloud, do they count this into their cloud usage? Many times when asked to categorise cloud usage, the individual defaults to SaaS public applications like Salesforce, Office365, Workday, ServiceNow and Box. This miscounts what their real actual cloud usage is."
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