Q&A: Cloud offers range of collaboration tools for different user needs

In this interview, Nick Gaunt, CIO of the Institute for Innovation and Improvement at the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, discusses the flexibility the cloud presents in matching applications to user needs.

The Institute for Innovation and Improvement, a division of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, aims to improve the way health care is delivered by facilitating the development of good practices, case studies and new ways of working. The institute's work depends on remote collaboration among teams located in offices throughout the country, and the end products are shared throughout the NHS. With many different users and groups contributing to documents, collaboration software is necessary, but CIO Nick Gaunt discovered recently that one program does not fit all use cases. In an interview with FierceCIO, Gaunt discussed how deploying a variety of cloud-based collaboration offerings meets the needs and work habits of different groups of employees.

FierceCIO: Why did you turn to the cloud for collaboration tools?

Nick Gaunt: The reason why we have a good reputation in the National Health Service for bringing about change is that we have a robust development process for creating documents. We've been around for 6 years, and in all that time we've worked with hundreds of different teams across the health service. For the first few years, we did the usual way of collaborating with distant teams, which is with email and telephone, and we had the headaches of linking all those documents together.

A while back we started using team management software from Huddle. We started to review the use of the service and it became quite clear that it was not being used for what it was originally intended, which was the management of projects. At the end of last year, we looked around in this space and we discovered that SkyDox met our specific use case perfectly. 

FCIO: In what ways is the new service a better fit?

Gaunt: It is a great application for sharing, a great licensing arrangement and, most importantly, a clean, easy-to-use interface.

We had been concerned about the licensing model used at Huddle--we had to pay for anyone who joined as a member of the workspace. That becomes quite an expensive option. It's particularly expensive if they don't actually use that workspace to work in, and we have no way of insisting that they do. Since then, I hasten to add, they've changed their licensing and improved it again.

FCIO: Did you run into any difficulties moving from one provider to the other?

Gaunt: We still use Huddle because there are two teams using it very actively as team management software. The remaining teams were only using it for document transfer so we didn't have the headache of needing to extract data. All we had to focus on was moving the files across. That was literally a matter of downloading the files and copying them across to SkyDox. They were all standard documents that went straight across no problem. It was so easy.

We haven't yet had to deal with extracting everything out of a site. We've always sought an agreement or assurance that we can get all the data out, and generally providers now seem to be quite happy to sign up to that. We have not yet tested that in earnest. 

FCIO: What other applications do you use cloud services for?

Gaunt: We're using cloud providers for social networking capabilities. We've used others for straightforward file sending in the past. My own team uses Google Apps as its collaboration and messaging solution. We're very open to trying out different ones. It's a different approach to managing the IT infrastructure.

FCIO: Do you have any data security concerns when it comes to using cloud services?

Gaunt: We don't have specific requirements for confidentiality around the materials we're working on. One of our rules is that we don't handle patient information. We don't run against the issues of confidentiality. That might change. It depends on the nature of collaboration as it emerges.

The only way that patient information might be shared using cloud-type capability is where those cloud-based systems are installed within the confines of a managed NHS-wide network. We do have infrastructure to allow applications to fit within the controlled space, within defined security. It's not so much about the cloud offering as how that cloud offering is installed and secured.

As long as the data center is managed according to [European Union] data protection regulations, personally I'm not too worried. What we are finding a bit is that when we work with colleagues in NHS organizations where they do handle clinical data, some organizations are more astute than others to the fact that we are using a cloud-based solution.