The new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) represents the orchestration of greater competition and opportunity in the marketplace, which is music to the channel's ears. But to strike the right note resellers must make some key considerations and adopt a holistic approach to health sector tendering, says Node4 Director of Channel Sales Andy Wilson.
The health sector is set to buy tens of thousands of new circuits over the coming two years, believes Wilson, but the opportunity stretches way beyond this focused hotbed of demand, and those partners who take an all embracing approach to the underlying need will benefit most from HSCN. Underpinning the new framework - which was introduced in April this year as a replacement of N3 - is a vibrant and competitive marketplace.
NHS Digital wants to attract smaller, more niche mid-market players to provide IT services into the NHS, rather than simply handing the keys to the big companies. The NHS believes that there is a rich seam of talent and innovation to be mined from within mid-market integrators and channel players. Today, services like collaboration, security and cloud services are all open to innovation and are vital in addressing the health sector challenges, but are completely under utilised.
"It will be no surprise that the main emphasis will be placed on collaboration and cloud services as NHS Trusts look to make the best use of tightening budgets by deploying IT systems that are reliable, flexible and can drive additional efficiencies," commented Wilson. "There will also be a strong emphasis on security which will be an ongoing consideration with every contract. Before implementing a collaboration tool, vendors and buyers alike will have to consider how to secure voice calls."
As always, noted Wilson, it's about striking the right balance between flexibility and innovation alongside assured security. "Trusts needn't be concerned about the adoption of these trends if their partners have the ability to provide a holistic service," he added. "These technologies will only ever be as good as the networks they're running over. So, expect to see significant interest in infrastructure and network management with guaranteed SLAs."
The focus, as stated by NHS Digital, is to ensure that healthcare organisations can access and share their information in a reliable, efficient and flexible manner. However, it is also important that they can do this cost-effectively. Budgets are tightening but the trend is about spending wisely now to realise benefits in the medium-term. "As well as sharing and pooling their IT resources and expertise, Trusts are looking to overhaul their IT systems," added Wilson. "This is driving considerable demand for cloud and collaboration technologies.
"We've also seen an increase in solution sales and a move towards mid-market reseller organisations. This channel is exceptionally innovative and has the flexibility and agility to solve complex challenges, and to turn on a dime. This is the main reason HSCN has opened up to the mid-market in the way it has."
Many resellers in the mid-market have grown from ‘doing one thing well'. This has built up a solid reputation in the health sector marketplace in more deregulated areas such as LAN, wireless and traditional voice services. Resellers now find themselves able to address a far wider requirement, often with health customers they already know well. "Resellers need to ensure they've positioned themselves as fit for this market by choosing the right upstream suppliers to enable them to meet demand," noted Wilson. "They can't neglect the integration of these services with their own operations though, as health sector IT teams will rightly expect to see a seamless partnership."
Wilson has witnessed a particularly significant lift in sales of collaboration, cloud services, managed security solutions, network implementation and management. "This is really driven by partnership," he explained. "Our partners who have looked at LAN solutions are now pushing into inter-site WAN capabilities. Those who have traditionally implemented PBX solutions are now turning to hosted IPT and SIP. When an ecosystem such as health undergoes a significant shift as it is now, it drives two things - opportunity and innovation to meet it."
To realise the full potential of this opportunity resellers must face and overcome the challenges of addressing security issues and being able to implement the efficiencies that this sector needs. "The accreditation and buying framework also poses a complex challenge for resellers," stated Wilson. "The process of getting onto the frameworks that give visibility of the opportunity can create frustration. Furthermore, getting onto the framework does not guarantee that the reseller is equipped to meet the security, experience or accreditation requirements to transact business on it."
To handle these complexities, resellers need a partner that has deep experience of negotiating and servicing systems for healthcare providers. In addition, they need a partner that can offer a real breadth of services (not just point solutions). "We're increasingly seeing requirements that cover multiple types of technology and multiple points in the stack," commented Wilson. "Partners, therefore, need to be able to handle the entire technology stack, from data centre architectures through to security and networking."
Node4 works with a large number of big healthcare organisations and helps resellers through the process via a broad portfolio of capabilities and knowledge, and its own HSCN accredited network and infrastructure. This means that resellers don't need to worry about developing a network and infrastructure to service their solutions; and also helps resellers to avoid some of the pitfalls they'll face in selling to the healthcare market.
"The kind of ‘faceless' tendering the HSCN asks for is a new way of working for many resellers," stated Wilson. "If they don't have a pre-existing relationship or reputation with the healthcare organisation they're tendering to, the chances of winning the tender are slim. Companies such as Node4 can help the channel to be more consultative in their sell, which is critical. The customer, for example, might need a network, but the real issues are delivering on their objectives when using the network."
All this amounts to a clear shift in ICT buying in the health sector, moving from a supplier model to a partnership one. "It's going to become a lot more consultative as solution complexity grows," added Wilson. "I expect to see channel companies helping healthcare organisations to understand the benefits of their technologies earlier in the tender process and getting their buy-in, rather than simply having a system specified and then pricing to deliver it. We'll see wider opportunities in other local government branches and blue light organisations. I also think we'll see more co-operation between different trusts, aggregating expertise and spending power."