The NHS is becoming ever-more stretched as it battles against the spread of the coronavirus. Behind the scenes, VARs are working flat out to support the service. CRN caught up with Cisco Gold partner Block Solutions, with CEO Marc Chang revealing just how much human resources the firm is dedicating to helping the NHS cope.
You mentioned on Twitter your efforts to help the NHS prepare for COVID-19. What - specifically - are you offering the NHS?
The areas we're helping the NHS to address are around remote working and the ability to provide consultation and service to patients when the patient and clinician are remote, while also ensuring that core technology is working as expected and delivering a good experience.
The main areas of focus have been (at rapid pace):
- Secure remote access solutions
- Standing up virtual desktop platforms for secure remote working with access to clinical apps.
- Our remote consultation software ("Ocellus") that integrates with existing collaboration technologies such as Cisco and Microsoft to continue consultations
- Enabling free use of collaboration technology such as the Cisco WebEx
- We have provided 10 of our own Cisco Desktop Video units to various Trusts FoC to help provide quality video collaboration
- Technical resource to deal with issues that have become an increased priority - collaboration/firewall capacity/internet etc
- Enabling remote contact centres and switchboards to allow operators to work remotely
We also have our own on-site managed services and teams that are supporting Trusts directly. There has been a general increase in fault tickets through our support desks as people work differently and need help.
Additionally, we have provided Trusts with guidance and support on remote working and wellbeing, with the option to use our marketing team to rebrand and release for their own benefit things such as trust, management, engagement, ensuring morale is kept high etc
Can you put in context the level of manpower and resources Block has dedicated to this in the last few weeks?
In the last two to three weeks we have had 90 per cent-plus of our technical and support teams on this, often working long days and weekends and making changes overnight.
We have also reallocated people across the business to help with user enablement and adoption and training for our remote consultation software Ocellus.
A lot of videoconferencing vendors have offered free services to the NHS and other relevant bodies in recent weeks. To what extent does the IT industry have a role to play in helping not just the NHS, but all UK firms and organisations, to get through this crisis?
As I am sure you can see above, technology is a key enabler in meeting the challenges of remote working while continuing to provide the organisation's core services. I am seeing lots of creative ways people are using technology - for instance, technology platforms for gyms that allow trainer-led remote workouts, essential online presence for retail, remote platforms for education and schooling - even technology companies that provide entertainment such as Netflix become essential when people are confined.
We must do our utmost to keep our people employed, and lead this new way of working and all the change it brings and we must apply our innovation, capability and creativity to enable industries to quickly change in this new world.
You must have lots of staff working from home, or even self-isolating. How is Block handling the crisis internally, and what impact will the shift in working patterns and potential resource shortages at Block have on your customers?
Our people department, leadership team and mangers have done a superb job. Our aim from the start was to be transparent in our approach and assure our people that we would do our utmost to protect them. We have put in place a regular crisis response meeting for all managers three mornings a week which has focused on a range of matters from updates on our policies, to key initiatives such as standing up new services like VDi in record time, to ensuring our people are well and coping.
We have sent an extensive policy document to provide guidance to our managers and staff and this has been updated continuously. We have also sent guidelines, tips and ideas of how to adjust and get the most from remote working. We have encouraged daily huddles - some teams are eating lunch together by video or having their first coffee or tea together in the morning. We have also reassured our teams that we understand there will be challenges for many of us with children, families, pets etc and not to worry. We have also tried to keep the fun and engagement levels up by creating a company-wide WebEx group chat called Staying Connected (which has mainly turned to banter).
Self-isolation has affected 10 per cent of our workforce so far, often because their children are sick and the entire household now needs to isolate. Our people have been terrific and continued to work remotely if they can to support our clients.
What is your advice for other channel businesses at this difficult time?
I think it's important to take a human approach through times like these. Have empathy and compassion to build a strong sense of togetherness and team. Be there to support your clients, worry about the commercials later. From a business perspective, take good care of cash which will of course be essential.
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