Case Study: NWCSU

Positive outcomes all round for NWCSU

North West Commissioning Support Unit (NWCSU) provides the support, expertise and a range of essential services to clinical commissioning groups, GP practices, local authorities, healthcare providers and a variety of other public and voluntary bodies across the North West and nationally.

It has one of the largest portfolios of support services in the UK, providing services for CCG clients with a combined budget in excess of £6 billion, and prides itself on delivering innovative integrated services to meet today’s healthcare challenges. It was created following the 2014 merger of Greater Manchester and Cheshire and Merseyside clinical support units and aims to help transform healthcare economies, while simultaneously providing tangible benefits to patients and their communities.


5 million patients served

in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire

14 Microsoft Enterprise Agreements

improved use of SharePoint, Lync and Exchange

Improved software asset management

and ease of licence compliance

The Challenge

The NHS is undergoing a period of rapid and fundamental change in how it operates. Internal competition, the drive to ‘do more with less’ and the emergence of innovative delivery models for a range of support services demands a heavy reliance on robust, efficient and up-to-the-minute IT services and infrastructure. Commissioning Support Units (CSUs) are relatively new entities within the NHS and one consequence of the harmonisation of previously fragmented provision was piecemeal development of IT systems. Software asset management had become a significant issue that needed addressing if NWCSU was to provide simple, cost-effective, and above all, improved IT services.

Faced with a confusing array of assets located across multiple agencies and locations, one of its most pressing needs was for a simplified compliance system for Microsoft licensing. Individual Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) ran the risk of operating non-compliant systems with out-of-date Client Access Licenses (CALs), a situation whereby NWCSU could potentially incur significant unbudgeted licence costs under audit and suffer reputational damage to itself and its clients.

According to Andy Grundy, Release and Asset Manager, NWCSU, “It was a crucial project. We needed CALs for every user of our new datacentre facility if it was to operate successfully. Timing was also an issue as we had to use the ring-fenced funding within the financial year.”

The Solution

Softcat initially organised a series of workshops and events to better understand the client’s needs, and just as importantly, the significance of the major changes taking place within the commissioning environment. These helped to pinpoint how services could integrate and provide the very best value. NWCSU built a strong and coherent business case illustrating the efficiency improvements and significant cost savings that could be achieved, as well as the cost implications of internal process changes, through leveraging economies of scale.

Softcat carried out the vast majority of the groundwork for the project, acting as a de facto one-stop-shop for both the client and software provider Microsoft, saving NWCSU weeks, if not months, of work. Softcat also worked tirelessly to clearly identify and communicate to stakeholders the potential benefits of the solutions available. 

In-depth research illustrated immediately that the current ad-hoc licensing system, whereby NWCSU had to notify Microsoft within thirty days of deployment of any new project, was overly complex and a potential barrier to both innovation and the roll out of new projects. With its expert knowledge of licensing solutions and the deep industry insight it could bring to the table, Softcat helped NWCSU deliver a compelling business case and ensured buy-in from individual CCGs for its proposed solution.

Lee Latham, Softcat Public Sector Licensing Practice Lead, explains, “Through a process of careful modelling, Softcat clearly illustrated how NWCSU could leverage the benefits of upgrading Microsoft Windows Server™ and System Centre Configuration Manager™ to the latest editions. It proposed implementing 14 Microsoft Enterprise agreements across the CCGs to realise performance enhancements available through the latest editions, as well as providing a platform for future clinical use of application servers such as SharePoint™, Lync™ and Exchange™.” 

Softcat now delivers a fully managed service that has drastically reduced the complexity of IT licensing and asset management. The service includes quarterly business reviews, ongoing advice and roadmaps illustrating where efficiency improvements can be achieved through future IT implementations.

With its hands-on approach Softcat continues to work closely with NWCSU and Microsoft to identify further improvements to its IT estate and provide the flexible computing environment that delivers maximum value from subsequent investment. As Stuart Monro, Microsoft Business Manager, Health North, says, “They delivered more than just a licensing solution: they took the time to understand the customer’s requirements from a strategic point of view to shape the most appropriate solution.”

The Benefits

NWCSU is now much better placed to achieve its organisational goals and match the Government’s aspirations of providing outstanding services and value for money. Introducing new and efficient ways of working in the pursuit of better value is now a much simpler task because of reduced software asset management complexity.

Significant cost savings have already been achieved, while simultaneously enabling NWCSU to more effectively harness the benefits of being at the forefront of desktop and data centre technology. Through providing vital customer and sector knowledge Softcat enabled Microsoft to fully understand NWCSU’s needs and provide the fit-for-purpose technology needed to maintain its position on the leading edge of service provision.

Access to such technologies is a vital component in the drive to deliver high-value, highly adept services for NWCSU. With a three-year deal in place it has peace of mind knowing that Softcat will be on hand to help realise increased value from its IT assets going forward, which in turn, strengthens NWCSU’s business case when tendering to provide services for the wider NHS community. 

Ultimately, clinicians and patients will be the main beneficiaries. Better access to technology and services, alongside a reduction in the complexity of rolling out innovative solutions, are critical components of NWCSU’s business plan. Its aim of providing the technological backbone to help ensure quicker and more robust access to patient records, for instance, will help increase clinical efficiency

Why Softcat?

Softcat’s preparatory groundwork was a significant factor in the success of the project, according to Andy Grundy, “Softcat liaised with a variety of stakeholders to clearly illustrate the potential benefits of our business case. Its expert knowledge of licensing solutions, IT industry partners and the overall vision it brought to the table proved invaluable, not to mention eliminating much of the work we would have had to do ourselves.”

Microsoft’s Stuart Monro was in full agreement, “It was a huge, complex project and Softcat was there with us every step of the way. Nothing was too much trouble and it delivered the customer insight that enabled us to provide exactly what was needed.”


NWCSU now has the confidence going forward that it can drive much-needed innovation in a compliant and efficient manner and subsequently provide an optimal service to its clients. Following the implementation of the enterprise agreements, NWCSU now has a standardised, better-supported and more measured approach to software asset management group-wide.

And the relationship with Softcat is ongoing. Moving forwards, Softcat aims to ensure maximum benefit across all 14 agreements as part of its value-added service approach - and help ensure positive outcomes all round.

Softcat is very much a trusted advisor for Microsoft licensing, largely due to the advice and guidance it’s able to provide, as well as the cost savings it identified through the strategic licensing agreements implemented within NWCSU data centres.

Andy Grundy, Release and Asset Manager
NWCSU Customer Quote

Solution Highlights

  • Microsoft Windows Server™and System Centre Configuration Manager™ upgrades
  • Improved software asset management and ease of licence compliance
  • Hands-on, value-added consultancy
  • 14 Microsoft Enterprise Agreements and a platform for improved use of SharePoint™, Lync™ and Exchange™

Key Facts

  • Vertical market: Healthcare and Social Sciences
  • Staff numbers: 935 CSU,10,000+ CCGs
  • Budget: £6.5 billion+
  • Serves more than 5 million patients in Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire

At a glance

  • Improved Microsoft licence compliance
  • Fit-for-purpose, fully-managed software asset licensing solution
  • Roadmap for subsequent IT improvements
  • Robust licensing supporting fast access to vital patient record systems
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