A licensing framework set up by Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust is attempting to establish a software asset management (SAM) network for rolling out software across the NHS.
Hill, who was speaking at the Gartner IT Financial, Procurement & Asset Management Summit in London, recently invited representatives from Microsoft, the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health to tour the hospital so that Microsoft could better understand the limitations imposed under its Enterprise Agreements.
For instance, under an EA, an organisation must specify which devices are single-purpose industry devices, and which are qualified devices, that require access to a Microsoft network.
"We showed Microsoft a qualified device and an industry device,” he said."Microsoft wanted to understand the NHS, to help it see how a complex business operates, and help us buy the right licences in the most cost-effective way.
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The NHS has many redundant devices, which may never get used. These are there for back-up, but Hill argued that the NHS should not pay for licensing software to run on these devices if they never get used.
Another area where standardisation of licencing would help the NHS is in defining licensing situation where a site licence is not cost effective. For instance, if each Trust buys a Microsoft Office 365 licence for its consultant, and a consultant works across multiple trusts, the NHS would need to pay for the consultant's Office 365 license several times over.
“This is madness. You have just paid for that consultant’s Office 365 licence six, seven or 10 times over," he said.
Licensing software from companies like Adobe and Microsoft is one of the areas Hill is hoping to address through the Essentia SAM Network, an organisation wholly owned by Guy's and St Thomas' and set up to act as a separate business to generate revenue, which is being launched on October 6.
Hill is one of only two people in the whole NHS whose role is dedicated to SAM. He said the task of tracking software assets in the NHS is huge, given it is one of the largest employers in the world, with 1.3 million staff.
There is also the added problem of mergers and acquisitions involving primary care trusts, GPs and commissioning support units, he said: “Where do the licences go when the organisation [which acquired them] no longer exists?”
NHS needs software licensing standards
"We have legal entities that can own licences, and we also have brands which hold funds and want to buy licences with the money they hold. When you scale up to the whole NHS, licensing poses interesting challenges,” said Hill.
Licensing is also made more complicated because some software licences are acquired through government procurement frameworks.
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The NHS must also abide by EU legislation, which requires NHS bodies to approach three to four organisations for quotes. "We get to see four quotes for the same thing," said Hill. "It is quite scary when one comes in significantly less or more."
It is more important, according to Hill, to validate licence quotes. Look at reseller quality, transparency and visibility. Know what you are paying for – value is not about quibbling over pennies and pounds.”
According to Hill, the SAM Network would provide economies of scale, and allow trusts to share best practices, rather than each NHS organisation having to send staff to expensive SAM training.. "We want to do things differently. There is a massive benefit, from a licensing perspective," he said.
Hill hopes the approach Essentia takes to developing standards for SAM can be scaled up, allowing the NHS to benefit from economies of scale and best practices. "It is about making [the SAM process] part of the DNA of the day job," he said.
"Our vision is to centralise what we do, work with partners so we talk to Microsoft's public sector lead rather than a Microsoft account manager, which means a completely different approach and benefits through economies of scale," said Hill.
"Let's not reinvent the wheel, let's not spend the money on policies and processes we don't absolutely need, and let's not spend that money 400 times over."
Hill said the aim of the Essentia SAM network is to use its scale to influence and inform companies like Microsoft and Adobe.