In a recent report, the independent health charity Nuffield Trust highlighted the enormous potential of IT to transform healthcare. The report also noted, however, that: “the NHS has frequently been portrayed as one of the most backward industries in responding to digital technology.”[1]

Citrix recently spoke to an IT services organisation— SPHERE—that looks to turn that perception on its head.

Systems Powering Healthcare Ltd. (SPHERE) has recently chosen Citrix Cloud services on Microsoft Azure to serve 7,000 clinicians and hospital administrators.

SPHERE’s clients are the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust (which runs the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and the West Middlesex University Hospital) and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust (which operates The Royal Marsden, the world’s first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education, and Royal Marsden Community Services).

We caught up with Aaron Aldrich, Vice President and Head of Operations, to learn more about SPHERE’s plans.

Citrix: Aaron, thank you for sparing the time to talk with us. What first made you consider a virtual desktop solution for your NHS trusts?

Aaron: The challenge today is that we face a complex, aged infrastructure that has grown organically over many years; funds to upgrade and/or replace it are difficult, at best, to obtain. Moreover, even if the funds were available, a tremendous amount of time and effort is required to migrate to a modern infrastructure. Why would I want to replace something I am struggling with today, with something I am just going to fight with tomorrow? SPHERE’s vision is to own less and provide state-of-the-art services and support, not tin.

Our primary driver was efficiency and effectiveness. Having so much old kit results in an abysmal experience that extends to the desktop, whether that is in an admin office, a consulting room or an emergency ward. We want to deliver a holistically better experience for our clients’ staff.

Citrix: Does that focus on services, rather than hardware, bring you operational benefits, too?

Aaron: Yes, being able to reuse existing PCs is a massive win for us. It means we do not have to make a significant investment on behalf of our clients. We can extend the life of old PCs and, indeed, sweat those assets.

It also means we can choose to migrate to new devices when we need to. I do not want to get boxed into how we deliver the VDI experience. There is a tremendous opportunity with tablets and smart devices.

Citrix: Is mobility an important part of your future plans?

Aaron: Mobility is enormous. It is the way of the future for healthcare. The constraints of bricks and mortar are a thing of the past. With significant improvements in the quality and reliability of video-conferencing, we want to enable consultants to review patient records and diagnostic images, even to meet and examine patients from wherever they are. Mobility will be a game-changer for healthcare.

Citrix: And, how will that affect patients?

Aaron: We want the Trusts to focus on treating the patient. We need it to be convenient for the patient and the clinician. Leveraging the Citrix and Azure technology enables us to deliver a secure but versatile end-user experience, whether you consider the “end-user” to be the patient or the clinician.

Citrix: Of course, security has been top-of-mind for many healthcare organisations recently.

Aaron: Yes, security is essential. The WannaCry incident rocked the NHS a little bit, and updating end-user computers one-by-one should be a thing of the past, in this day and age.

Instead of managing over 12,000 PCs, we will manage just a handful of golden images. Citrix gives us real-time, rapid response to any change in the environment, whether that is a business need or a security threat.

Citrix: And, why did you select Citrix?

Aaron: TCO, the Microsoft-Citrix partnership and the availability of highly-skilled, third-party implementers made going with Citrix — hands-down — the right decision for us.

Citrix: How do you see the Citrix deployment benefitting the trusts’ clinicians and other staff?

Aaron: Consistency of experience is a huge win for us. Session portability and other advantages that come with the Citrix-Microsoft Azure combination are icing on the cake, but we need to get the fundamentals of the user experience right, first. That is what the Citrix-Microsoft Azure solution is going to do for us.

With that in place, we are also evaluating some of the other strategic tools available within the Citrix Workspace Service and on Azure. Some of those, like communications and collaboration tools, will have a very positive impact on hospital administration staff and clinicians to help them throughout their day.

As the younger generation come into their professional careers, the challenge for us is to try and keep up with them. Everyone is on mobile devices, everyone wants real-time information, they want an app for it, and they want it to work. Everything is supposed to just work. As we progress into the future, we will need to keep pace with their demands. The combination of mobility and security that Citrix brings makes it one of those products that will be a win for all of us.

Citrix: You’ve chosen to deploy the Citrix Workspace via the Citrix Workspace Service in the cloud rather than on-premises. What made you choose the cloud option?

Aaron: Simply put, I do not want to be in the data centre business. My job and SPHERE’s job is to support our hospitals in the best way possible. Running data centres, managing tin, would cost my clients more, introduce unnecessary risk and be a definite negative for us. An on-site data centre does not provide a benefit in treating patients.

Also, we always struggle with new projects that have very tight timelines. When working with local, on-prem infrastructure, it can take a significant amount of time to spin up that equipment: to procure, install and configure it. Going to the Citrix- Microsoft Azure cloud, we gain so many benefits: security, manageability, and also that level of flexibility.

Everybody wants to talk about spinning things up, but there are times when you want to turn things off quite quickly, too – maybe to handle spikes in demand like the winter season – and we get that flexibility by being in the cloud.

Citrix: How soon will SPHERE begin its deployment?

Aaron: We are in testing at the moment, and within six months, we are looking at over 1,000 deployments, live in clinical areas: wards, clinics and consultants’ offices. We want to start taking away the headaches that old thick-client deployment mentality introduces.

The hospitals’ job is to treat patients. My job is to support them to the best of our ability. With the Citrix-Azure solution, we have a scalable, secure and cost-effective solution to deliver an amazing experience.

Citrix: Aaron, thank you for your time.

[1] Castle-Clarke S and Imison C (2016) The digital patient: transforming primary care? Nuffield Trust

If you would like to hear more about Aaron’s story and how Citrix and Microsoft are helping other public sector organisations provide a secure digital workspace delivered from an Azure platform, come and hear Chris Oldham, Senior Public Sector Account Manager, Citrix and Tom Hickling, Cloud Solution Architect, Microsoft speak at the Government ICT 2.0 event on 26th September at County Hall, London:

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