Top tips to building a cloud business in the NHS
So you want to sell your cloud software to the NHS? Well, why not? The centralised National Programme for IT is long gone, the Government wants to encourage competition, and particularly SMEs into public sector and everybody knows Government protects the NHS budget, right? Transform, innovate, modernise – these seem to be the buzzwords of the day, and cloud epitomises all of these, so what’s the best way forward?
Do your product research early
A few years back, as a small firm of 18 people, market research was really tough for us to perform. However, we made it a priority, did it anyway and learnt exactly what our customers needed. One thing we discovered was that to be a truly effective cloud service, our staff expenses solution would need to connect to the NHS payroll system, a system called Electronic Staff Record [ESR]. This would mean that approved claims could be sent direct for payment. It meant adapting our product, but it would reap big rewards in the end.
Work with customers – not for customers
Early in our development path, we opened dialogue with the NHS central team who were incredibly helpful in guiding us through the process and the necessary security checks for providing a cloud service to the NHS.
Security, security and security
We found that gaining an ISOIEC 27001:2005 certification was incredibly helpful, but not always acceptable as a data security check in isolation. We would often host NHS data security staff visits who would like to check how we were planning on looking after their data. We found another unexpected advantage in that our office was purpose built in our reseller days, and it included a whole host of security additions that added a huge amount of confidence to those data security officers. We always made sure we had the highest rating on the NHS’s Information Governance Toolkit, the internal security check used by the NHS organisations. We’ve since moved to ISO27001:2013, an even more rigorous standard, which I’m guessing will be the minimum requirement within a few years.
Spot the influencers
Over the years we have noticed that there are a few influential innovators and early adopters in the NHS – these people could see what we’re trying to do and bought into the idea. We nurtured relationships with these people, valuing their feedback and appreciating that if they liked what we did, they would tell others.
Companies must have a clear need for their cloud service. For us, working with the NHS, we know that all Trusts are looking for compliance with rules, to reduce costs and to remove paper from processes [this is being driven by the top now]. We make certain our cloud services meet these needs.
Understanding the procurement imperative
When businesses look at the NHS they often think every organisation is the same – Trust by Trust, CCG by CCG, CSU by CSU – or even that it is one business, but it’s not. In the early days, we thought procurement would be easy; we could replicate our efforts with similar thinking across customers. But, tender processing is very deep, it takes a long time and Trusts are rightfully careful to follow the rules. The sooner a firm understands this, the easier they’ll find it. We embrace the fact that we’ll need to modify our cloud service for every Trust.
I should add there are now a number of framework agreements that can be utilised which makes the process slightly easier and, with the G-Cloud model growing in awareness, this can be another excellent route for your NHS prospects to your products and services.
We’re agile and we’re flexible. Not just in the procurement process, but in our cloud services. We are slightly fortunate that our expenses management system, for example, was already very configurable, but the NHS needed a whole new layer on top of that.
Communicate to customers regularly
We make sure we have a great team communicating with customers on a regular basis about our cloud service roadmap. We have annual user conferences and have a roadshow strategy when important new features are planned.
Stand out and be seen
We decided to attend and sponsor NHS events as we could afford them, turning up with our roll-up banners and quirky artefacts to get us noticed. One year, we used a ride-on remote control car which was meant to link to our duty of care and driving features in the product. We then hit on the idea of offering it as a raffle prize… it was a huge success, everybody wanted to win this car for their kids or their grandkids. This gained us a rock-solid and bang up-to-date database of contacts for our sales team to work with.