Why cloud represents a challenge – and opportunity – for healthcare software vendors

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No-one every accused the NHS of moving speedily when it comes to adopting new technology. Perhaps that’s why took until the beginning of this year for national bodies to formally state that health and social care organisations can store data in the public cloud. That’s a full five years after the UK government introduced a ‘cloud first’ policy for public sector IT, and four years after the NHS’s own National Information Board endorsed its use.

In short, there is no doubt the NHS has been taking its time in embracing cloud. But when NHS Digital issues a good practice guide on using it to store data – a move which coincided with the formal approval from bodies including the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England – there is reason to believe a tipping point has been reached.

Certainly, there’s a strong argument that cloud could help address many of the challenges which are causing healthcare leaders sleepless nights. Notably, managed software could reduce the pressure on already over-stretched internal NHS IT teams, allowing that resource to be used more smartly. The problem of patches not being installed in a timely fashion by internal teams – increasing the risk of cyberattack – should also disappear. And the increased ease in sharing data that is supported by the cloud could support new opportunities to analyse healthcare information, find trends, and develop more efficient and effective ways of offering patient care.

Yet for companies which provide software solutions to the NHS, cloud can represent a challenge. In it lies a potential competitive advantage, and possibly the foundations of new revenue streams.

But embracing cloud also involves embracing a very different way of doing business. Organisations which supply a service rather than a product have a fundamentally different revenue model. That means a job for chief operating officers and chief executives, as well as technical changes for product architects.

The process isn’t necessarily a quick one either. It can take a few years rather than a few months to fully move to becoming a provider of a software service as opposed to a software product.

Yes, the NHS moves slowly. But another five years down the line, we might realistically expect the NHS to have moved from guidance on cloud to widespread usage of it. So many argue that smart software vendors should start work now on considering how to make cloud part of their healthcare business. To do so could put them significantly ahead of the crowd once the NHS truly starts to embrace widespread cloud adoption – and so offer the sort of competitive advantage which companies are permanently seeking.

Claire Read is a freelance writer and editor. She has specialised in healthcare throughout her 17 year career, and has a particular interest in technology. Claire is on Twitter @readthewriter.