NHS Digital is driving transformation across the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Its Cloud Centre of Excellence (CCoE) plays a critical role in the wider strategy of developing new and more efficient ways of working with IT. It aims to innovate, promote best practice, and drive high-value, sustainable solutions based on Cloud hosting arrangements.
The NHS Cloud strategy aligns with the government’s overarching Cloud First policy. The CCoE is there to ensure consistency and efficiency through promoting clear policies and standards that enable teams to upskill and become self-sufficient. It offers wide-ranging support to guide multi-Cloud adoption, simplify service deployment and increase agility and responsiveness.
- Key driver of Cloud adoption across the wider NHS
- Providing support and guidance around Cloud best practice
- Innovating and implementing high-value, sustainable Cloud-first solutions
“As the NHS embraces a Cloud-first strategy, it’s important that we are able to understand the implications and opportunities of doing so,” said Chris Squibb, CCoE FinOps Lead, NHS Digital. “While everyone recognises the advantages, it’s difficult to truly understand the cost impact of pursuing, what is effectively, a decentralised approach. With our previous on-premise technologies, we had a very clear view of up-front and ongoing costs. Adopting a Cloud-first approach has removed that certainty.
“With cloud solutions, being able to validate real-time costs with original spend forecasts is an essential baseline for ongoing cost optimisation. The decentralised model enables individual business units to create their own assets, and this can lead to increased billing complexity and avoidable costs. We needed an effective way to monitor usage, which helped us make sense of what we were being billed for and understand the actual ongoing costs of delivering Cloud services. Softcat has been a long-standing technology partner. We approached them to learn about potential solutions that would provide the visibility and opportunities for cost optimisation we needed going forward.”
Critical success factors
- Access technology capable of providing oversight and usable, granular data
- Simplify billing information to effectively monitor usage, and costs, whilst enabling optimisation
- Providing cost transparency for services and programmes
Softcat has a strong track record of providing high-quality Cloud-focused solutions. This includes a market leading FinOps capability, delivered using Softcat skills and experience from many previous engagements, and underpinned by CloudHealth by VMware.
Chris Redding, Datacentre & Cloud Specialists at Softcat, said, “Our FinOps capability has been the cornerstone of our Cloud capability for many years. We knew it would provide the visibility and data NHS Digital needed to simplify financial management, streamline cloud operations and bolster security and compliance.
“But the technology only represents one element of our solution. While it’s a powerful tool in itself, the real value is our experience to integrate, analyse and report on the cloud usage to provide meaningful intelligence and results for our clients.”
Softcat’s specialists worked closely with the NHS Digital team over a number of months to ensure the correct configuration, understand the data being produced and use it to highlight where cost and operational efficiencies could be achieved.
“The monthly workshops with Softcat were particularly valuable,” said Chris Squibb. “They helped us understand exactly what was being spent on both Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure services. It enabled us to consolidate and simplify billing, as well as providing accurate information to fully understand usage across more than 70 business units.
“We’re a relatively small team and the ongoing support Softcat provided made all the difference. Where we had limited knowledge, Softcat provided the expertise. It was literally a case of reaching out to Softcat and saying, “can we do this?” We’d quickly get an answer highlighting what was possible and the best way of configuring the solution to achieve what we wanted. That ongoing support helped to generate highly valuable data to facilitate trend analysis, identify where cost savings could be made and highlight opportunities for operational optimisation.”
- Ongoing FinOps service including close collaboration and support to ensure alignment with business needs
- High-value, granular data generation to facilitate cloud visibility, cost optimisation and improved governance
- Continuous improvement and review of all cloud usage including security posture.
“Although we initially set out to find technology to help us to simplify billing, we’ve quickly discovered that the solution has evolved over time into a strategic decision-making tool,” said Chris Squibb. “Yes, it’s helped us consolidate multiple invoices into just two, but it’s delivering the real-world intelligence to help us make significant cost savings and optimise future service provision.
“We now have the capacity to break down individual cost centres to accurately assess spend and rein in costs through technical and commercial optimisation. Through ongoing analysis, we can see in real time where cost is being accrued and can then make informed decisions about future cloud strategies based on that analysis.
“Since implementing the solution, the Cloud CoE have been able to make commitments on behalf of the organisation by analysing our cost and usage data, alongside taking advantage of the inbuilt recommendations within the toolset. As an example, this has enabled us to make significant commitments on AWS Savings Plans and Azure Reserved instances, which are currently saving us in the region of several hundred thousand pounds per month. This represents a 25% saving on what we would otherwise be paying.
“The data helps us to easily identify and retire zombie assets and right size technology provision to correspond to ongoing and emerging business needs. For instance, during the COVID 19 pandemic NHS Digital had to scale up services like NHS 111, the NHS app and Covid pass to cope with increased demand. With Softcat’s help, we were able to monitor the capacity implications of the demand quickly and purchased cost effectively.
“All in all, the solution represents a one-time hit that’s brought much needed clarity to our cloud operations. Softcat has been there to underpin our own due diligence and provide the rock-solid data that enables us to monitor usage and spend challenge invoices and drive down costs.”
Benefits at a glance
- Significantly simplified billing – multiple invoices from 70+ cost centres rationalised into just two monthly invoices
- Real-world, timely information to facilitate informed decision making and rationalise unused assets
- Opportunity to rationalise unused assets, reduce ongoing costs and secure discounts on future provision
- Monthly cost savings of 25%
“Working alongside Softcat on this implementation has been hugely successful,” said Chris Squibb. “We’ve managed to achieve big financial savings, learned how to control costs when rolling out innovative services and have a solution in place that helps ensure our forward-looking strategy is grounded in achieving the best value.
“Softcat’s direct relationship with both AWS and Microsoft Azure has eliminated the billing complexity associated with multi-cloud implementations. Softcat is effectively an extension of our IT team and acts as an independent layer between us and the cloud providers. It hasn’t just empowered our team, it’s helping to empower the whole organisation through a long-term, productive partnership.