The world continues its relentless “go digital” journey, and the NHS are along for the ride with the rest of us. Increasingly focused on enhancing their communications infrastructure, a critical aspect of their digital transformation is the integration of telephony services with advanced platforms like Microsoft Teams. So, as a follow up to the recent Microsoft Teams Phone bootcamp for NHS Trusts at The Royal College of Surgeons of England, we thought we’d pick the brain of our Public Sector Director, Sam Winterbottom (who attended the event), to dig into the details of this transformation journey – and how Gamma and Microsoft were there with the NHS from the start.
Understanding the Microsoft Teams NHS England Landscape
Stepping back, it’s important to understand the landscape first. According to Sam, “Essentially, we’re discussing how Teams within the UK is structured from a Microsoft tenant perspective, specifically in the context of NHS England, which is unique. NHS England operate an NHS Mail Microsoft Teams Central Tenant currently supporting 2.2 million users. Any English NHS organisations not on this Central Tenant will have their own individual single tenants.”
So our deep dive today focuses specifically on NHS England. What Sam has described may sound complex, but it opens the door to one of the largest digital transformation opportunities in the health sector:
“Our message at Gamma is, regardless of which tenant you’re on, you can benefit from the advantages of integrating your telephony into the Microsoft Teams environment.”
In addition, Gamma offers a raft of business continuity solutions inherently built into our designs that can be activated at a network level should an NHS Organisation’s MS Teams or sites have issues at ground level.
The journey so far
We all remember how the NHS heroically dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. What we may not recall is how the pandemic shifted the way the NHS had to work overnight. This accelerated the need for remote and hybrid work solutions. NHS England was no stranger to this, as Sam explains:
“In a very short timeframe, NHS England pivoted to offering a Microsoft Teams platform that supported NHS organisations during this incredibly difficult time and allowing all users to communicate with each other via the central tenant if they did not already have a Microsoft Teams environment.”
“At the time, a significant challenge was the lack of a mechanism within this central tenant to create sub-organisations. This made delivering telephony services complex unless one provider was chosen exclusively, which NHS England wanted to avoid, to offer organisations a choice of telephony providers. In terms of the future, I listened to John McGhie, Head of Collaboration at NHS England, discuss how he envisages Teams to be a workplace platform rather than ‘just’ a unified communications platform.”
NHS England, Accenture and Gamma’s Involvement
Collaboration is a crucial to the success of transformation – something Gamma have led the conversation on at Comms Vision. Of course, it’s not just talk – it’s something we live and breathe in our approach to finding the best solutions. So, with that in mind, when addressing the complex telecommunication needs of each NHS organisation using the central tenant in England, a collaborative approach was taken. NHS England commissioned Accenture, the central tenant administrators, to develop an app enabling individual organisations within the central tenant to manage their telephony, mimicking the admin centre, allowing management of call plans, call routing, and telephone numbers. So where do Gamma come in, specifically?
We design bespoke solutions, based on our customer’s unique environment, to offer a resilient and cost-effective Teams Telephony solution which includes very cost-effective calling plans, de-risking the transition with strong project management, on-boarding the service, the porting of numbers, and ensuring network-based business continuity.
A crucial step on the transformation journey was Gamma’s role in providing a proof of concept for the Teams central tenant through existing customer NHS Resolution. This successful demonstration was a significant milestone, leading to the full-scale implementation of telephony services in the central tenant. Sam goes into more detail:
“Gamma’s customer NHS Resolution was the first to prove the central tenant telephony model worked. We collaborated with the customer, NHS England and with Accenture to ensure that all aspects of the service were tested before full roll-out. We now have a defined process and solution set for Teams Telephony, particularly crucial in complex environments like hospitals with legacy technology. We work hand in hand with our customers to deliver bespoke solutions that might include on-site or virtual session border controllers, Teams direct routing, or Operator Connect depending on the customer’s requirements.”
NHS Resolution: a pioneering case
NHS Resolution plays a critical role in liaising between patients and the NHS to fairly resolve complex disputes, sharing learning for improvement and preserving resources for patient care. The fact that Gamma was chosen for the pilot programme with NHS Resolution, which significantly boosted our credentials in this space. As Sam explains:
“One of the first organisations to pilot central tenant telephony was NHS Resolution, an existing customer of Gamma who had their own single tenant but wanted to get the cost saving benefits of moving to the central tenant. Their successful proof of concept, which has now moved to full production, has been pivotal in demonstrating the viability of Teams telephony on the central tenant.”
Gamma’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Sam is quick to point out that, whilst there are many competitors in this space, Gamma stands out:
“Our strengths are clear to see – for organisations already using Gamma SIP, the transition to Teams couldn’t be more straightforward – we are one of the biggest SIP trunk, VoIP and Teams services providers in the UK. We already work with many NHS organisations – their telephone numbers are already on our network, which makes migration easier. Migration without the need to port numbers is a major advantage, especially considering the low risk involved in such transitions, which is critical for sensitive environments like hospitals. And we’re experts at de-risking porting numbers, so if you’re not on the Gamma network, you’re still in safe hands. Finally, we’ve got an innovative inbound call management solution that will allow business continuity at the network layer and assist in the transition to Teams telephony.”
And it’s not just speed, resilience or de-risking that set us apart – Sam continues:
“We consistently hear that our customer service focus is a key differentiator from other Teams telephony suppliers. Not only do we design the solutions to be extremely resilient, if there are any issues or changes required, we can make them very quickly as the network operator. Our Net Promoter Score (NPS) of +47 backs up what our customers are telling us. Combine this with a market leading billing and reporting portal for easy access to management information at the click of a button, and customers can be assured of both a reliable experience and a partner who’s easy to work with.”
Big Switch-Off 2025
Adding to the need for digital transformation, the NHS, along with the rest of the UK, faces the planned PSTN Switch-Off in 2025. This phase-out of legacy communication technologies is one part of the UK’s move to a digital future, bringing with it several opportunities but also potential challenges if the NHS isn’t prepared. And it’s not just about telephony moving to the digital realm: one of these challenges and opportunities to future proof is the integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) within the NHS.
Many devices in healthcare – ranging from heart rate monitors to MRI machines – are IoT-enabled, relying on the existing network infrastructure for data transfer and analytics and, if unprepared, the NHS runs the risk of these devices becoming redundant or worse, unsecured. The Big Switch-Off brings in a comprehensive operational change that the NHS must implement to avoid compromising patient care. Gamma’s bespoke solutions offer a resilient and cost-effective solution to this problem, de-risking the transition.
Simple Saves Lives
The fact is this: NHS Trusts cannot rest on their laurels when it comes to undergoing digital transformation, especially with the looming PSTN switch off. And not only that, they need to know that the lights will stay on during the process of change. Patient care is paramount. So, the message is straightforward: no matter your tenant structure, Gamma will design the right telephony solution for you as an organisation. We will alleviate the technical burden and make sure you have the solution that best fits your needs – and we’ll do it without risking patient care.
We’ve got a proven track record dealing with the NHS through hundreds of partnerships with organisations in the UK, including those on the central tenant. Gamma’s unrelenting focus on customer service, designing the right cost-effective and resilient solutions, should make us the supplier of choice.
In the words of Sam:
“It doesn’t matter whether you are an organisation utilising the NHS Mail central tenant or an single tenant, Gamma offer a variety of teams calling designs that will suit your bespoke environment, whether you need to bridge legacy platforms into Teams with direct routing, or you want simple telephony for standard office users to reduce complexity and costs using Operator Connect. The ultimate goal is reducing costs whilst improving patient outcomes, and we all want that!”
Would you like to know more? Contact us today for a dedicated solution workshop tailored for your organisation.