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Bupa goes deeper into Microsoft Azure cloud for personalised healthcare push

International private healthcare provider is on a multi-year, cloud-led digital transformation push with the help of long-time tech collaborator Microsoft

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Bupa is committing to forge a closer relationship with its long-term cloud technology partner Microsoft, as part of a push to make its private healthcare services more personalised and accessible to the 31 million people across the globe who rely on them.

The international private healthcare service provider specialises in the provision of health insurance, clinic and hospital-based care, and dental procedures, but is in the midst of a multi-year, worldwide, cloud-led digital transformation, overseen by Bupa chief technology and architecture officer Diana Kennedy.  

“We want to create opportunities for world-class clinical services, wherever you need them most and whenever you need them most,” Kennedy told Computer Weekly.

“Delivering fantastic patient experiences in the comfort of your own home or wherever makes sense for you, but have those connected with the physical clinics and other services that patients require during their healthcare journey – that’s really our strategy.”

The company is drawing on the technological advances that have taken place in the cloud and data management over the past decade or so, she added.

“Any digital transformation has data at its core,” she said. “It is now possible to do things that we perhaps never imagined in the past, as data now creates opportunities for advanced analytics that help create these hyper-personalised care pathways, which is where the future of healthcare lies.”

Kennedy joined Bupa at the start of 2021 from BP, where she had spent 10 years helping the oil and gas giant to plan and architect its technology strategy while holding a succession of roles at director and vice-president level.

“I had a call about this role [at Bupa] in the middle of a global pandemic, and I thought, ‘If ever there was a time to join a healthcare company, this is it’,” she said. “I’m passionate about technology too, and the role of technology in transforming a business.”

During the interview for Kennedy’s current role, Bupa group CEO Iñaki Ereño shared details with her about a digitally-led shake-up of the firm’s global operations that he was plotting, and this very much appealed to Kennedy’s passion for overseeing the delivery of transformational technology projects.

“The new [group] chief executive, Iñaki Ereño, who previously ran the Europe and Latin America business, interviewed me, and he’s one of the most inspiring people you could ever get to meet, and he said, ‘I want to create the world’s most customer-centric and most digitised healthcare company’, and I thought, ‘I would just love to be part of that’,” she said.

Unlocking Microsoft functionality

At the time of Kennedy’s appointment in January 2021, Bupa was already relying on Microsoft cloud technologies to differing extents across the various countries where the company had a presence.

“On day one I realised there was a pretty strong relationship with Microsoft in place already, but it was quite federated,” she said.

“Bupa is a collection of businesses across 13-plus countries and each had its own relationship with Microsoft, so I immediately saw the opportunity to create a much more joined-up global relationship with the company.”

She also discovered that Bupa had “transacted with Microsoft” on a product-by-product basis too, which meant some countries were further ahead than others in their deployment of the software giant’s technologies.

This patchwork-like approach to the adoption and deployment of Microsoft technologies had previously made it harder for Bupa to unlock the functionality benefits that exist when the various cloud products and services in Microsoft’s portfolio are integrated, said Kennedy.

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“One of the things we’re doing with this partnership is bringing together the collective capabilities of the Microsoft product stack from the business applications through to the core infrastructure,” she said.

“We have a pretty large investment in Microsoft Dynamics, which we use as our CRM [customer relationship management] platform in the UK, and it’s used similarly in other geographies, but we’ve never really been able to take advantage of the collaboration capability it has.

“So, Office 365, and then ultimately the more advanced features that come with Azure, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, [are] what we’re looking at now as the next step in our journey of transformation – it’s the integrated opportunity that the full Microsoft stack gives us.”

While efforts to join up and expand the somewhat disparate adoption of Microsoft technologies across the entire company are still in their relative infancy, they are gathering pace, she said.

“If we’ve learned anything from the global pandemic, it’s that pace and agility are really critical. Achieving that comes from cloud, and the foundation of the relationship between Bupa and Microsoft is Azure”
Diana Kennedy, Bupa

“We’re doing a huge amount in the collective [at Bupa], and one of the things I love about it is that this work is bringing together the healthcare expertise of Bupa and the technology expertise of Microsoft, and amplifying that to help save lives,” said Kennedy.

“We’re working on a huge amount together, but the foundation of it is – of course – cloud, and if we’ve learned anything from the global pandemic, it’s that pace and agility are really critical. Achieving that comes from cloud, and the foundation of the relationship between Bupa and Microsoft is Azure.”

Going all-in on the cloud

On this point, Bupa has confirmed that another part of its work with Microsoft will see it move more of its “key applications” to the software giant’s Azure public cloud platform, and integrate those with other Microsoft cloud-based business applications to provide more personalised healthcare services to its 31 million customers.

“We have a cloud-first strategy and expect within the next 10 years to be all-in on the cloud,” said Kennedy. “We are at different degrees of maturity with this in different geographies, but in aggregate we’re about 20% there already.”

Aside from the above-mentioned business agility benefits that Bupa is banking on achieving through its move to the cloud, pursuing this strategy will result in the company exiting the datacentres it currently relies on to host its applications and workloads. This, in turn, will also bring about sustainability benefits for the firm, said Kennedy.

“There’s no doubt that using hyperscale cloud infrastructure continues to make dramatically less carbon,” she said. “Being able to reduce our carbon emissions through using cloud is a very foundational part of our sustainability ambition, but there is much more to come on that from Bupa as the years progress.

“The aim is to highlight the connectedness between the health of our population and the health of the planet, and how the two are affected by climate change, and amplify Bupa’s voice there. We’re committed to [hitting] net-zero targets, and technology is a big part of that story for us.”

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