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October 15, 2020updated 31 Mar 2023 10:21am

NHS mulls one cloud-based ERP system for 450 organisations

"A once in a lifetime opportunity."

By Ed Targett

The National Health Service (NHS) is considering replacing its ERP systems across 450 different organisations with one cloud-based mega-vendor, in a mammoth migration project likely to bring tears to the eye of many seasoned IT professionals – and whet the appetite of Systems Integrators as the plans mature.

The proposal is in its early stages: NHS England is approaching vendors with a “request for information (RFI)” as it sounds out the “likely benefits and drawbacks of adopting an integrated ERP versus separate ESR (Electronic Staff Record) and finance systems” but the organisation’s eyes are firmly on a cloud-based system.

“To provide some idea of the scale and complexity of the integrated ERP solution, the current systems are used by over 450 separate organisations (which includes all elements of the NHS in England, e.g. all arm’s length bodies, trusts, foundations trusts, integrated care systems, etc.) and over 1.7 million employees,” it noted today in an RFI for vendors interested in engaging with the project.

The existing ESR was commissioned in 2005, and at the time was one of the world’s largest IT implementations, it was delivered by a consortium led by McKesson Information Solutions supported by Oracle. Its advocates say the NHS under-uses its capabilities, continuing to input data into multiple systems “despite the organisation already having access to what they need through ESR”.

As Sean Hopkins, head of programmes and technology for employment services at NHS Shared Business Services, recently put it: “Fast forward to 2020 and the frustrating reality is that, whilst ESR has the functionality to provide comprehensive HR systems, employee and manager ‘Self Service’, learning management and more, a significant proportion of NHS organisations are only using the payroll module. It means that many of the day-to-day benefits of ESR go unrealised across the NHS.”

The move by the NHS appears to be a bid remove that issue once and for all, making a new system the obligatory one-stop-shop for recruitment, HR, payroll, learning, talent management, finance, procurement, planning and budgeting.

OpenUK CEO Amanda Brock noted to Tech Monitor: “This tender, if properly approached represents that once in a lifetime opportunity to reorganise the approach to how the NHS is managed to give those workers a world-class ERP system.

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“However, there are caveats to making this right which, if ignored, will be devastating to its future: a) listening to the needs of the organisations involved will give the only possible hope of success; b) basing the ERP system and its integration on open principles and technology is the only way to ensure the NHS remains in control and isn’t beholden and locked in to a supplier which would compromise its future integrity and transparency; c) in the age of Digital Sovereignty this opportunity is immense for the UK IT sector, but must be organised to meet the NHS’s needs rather than  that of the major suppliers that would normally be the ones considered for this kind of deal.”

Typically, it takes about 12 months to move an enterprise customer to ERP solution and data to the cloud: while many are conducted faster, a backlog of technical debt among other issues has stymied many an ERP migration. A recent Boomi survey suggests that 65% of organisations are using large SIs to implement their ERP systems, with 36% are intending to manage the implementation in-house but have it maintained externally. Just 23% will be moving forward with a fully outsourced system. Tech Monitor will be following up with the NHS and keep our readers posted on the plans.

See also: Zoom-based locums on tap? NHS’s £100m digital framework suggests telehealth is here to stay

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