University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust takes steps to shift to the cloud

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) is one of the largest and busiest teaching hospital trusts in England, serving a regional, national and international population. The hospital sees and treats more than 2.2 million people every year across six sites. They also run several smaller satellite units, to allow people to be treated as close to home as possible.  

Joining two Trusts into one 

UHB joined with Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust in 2018. As a result, they faced the prospect of multiple legacy IT and telephony systems that were heavy on resource support and high annual costs. Many of these systems were held on-premise.

UHB has two separate call centre services. The call centres provided by the former Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust use Netcall Liberty Converse, whereas those associated with QEHB are provided by Cisco UCCX and associated 3rd party applications. The original contact centre software was installed, as most were at that time, as an on-premise platform.

Heartlands Hospital has also been using Netcall’s automated speechbot, ContactPortal, for several years to automatically handle many of its internal calls into the switchboard.

All NHS Trusts are actively investigating the migration of IT and telephony services from CPE into the Cloud to reduce costs. UHB knew this would be a lengthy transition due to the size and complexity of the combined organisation, it was anticipated that this could take anything from 3 – 5 years. These factors prompted a full review of the IT and telephony services to shape a strategy brief for UHB’s senior executive team. 

Transform with a single platform

The Trust’s transformation goals include consolidating the switchboards into a single entity and rationalising the call centres with the use of a single platform. There is a significant amount of background work to be done to facilitate the switchboard change but addressing the call centres at the earliest opportunity is considered to be relatively straightforward. With more sites available, there was a need for staff to work from any of the six sites – so being able to work from anywhere has become more important than ever.

The Trust polled the opinion of UHB staff members who use the different call centre services and gave a clear endorsement for Netcall’s Converse solution. Staff find it easier to use, more intuitive, and essential functionality provided by third party applications in the Cisco environment is built into Liberty Converse as standard. A review of the functionality and associated costs for each of the call centre services further supported the case for the Liberty Converse. 

Spend to save initiative

A transformation project was presented to UHB’s executives as a ‘spend to save initiative’ which forecast a significant reduction in annual spend on switchboard and contact centre services. And was based on using existing infrastructure where possible.

As part of the project, two separate networks would have to be combined, resolving overlapping IP addressing and routing issues; overlapping internal telephone extension numbering would have to be managed and switchboards consolidated; likewise, technologies used to provide call centres, call recording, call logging and wallboards would need to be consolidated and simplified.

UHB decided the solution to take forward was migrating to Liberty Converse, hosted in the Cloud and switchboard services are built into Netcall’s Cloud environment.

Migrating from on-prem to the Cloud

When COVID-19 hit, priorities quickly changed. Being able to react at speed became key for UHB. The Trust was asked to prepare a crisis project plan for a vaccination contact centre in the Cloud. They needed to be able to do this quickly, and worked with Netcall to scope a Liberty Converse installation for when it was needed.

Using the knowledge gained from the pandemic project enabled the IT Team to advance their mid-term transformation goals quicker than they thought. The Cloud move was not only possible but it could be achieved in the short term. The Trust could consider moving all of its call centre considerations to the Cloud to progress their contact centre vision, without the need to wait.

Rationalising services at this point led to significant reductions in expected investment in current Unified Communications hardware and services, allowing some funds to be diverted to the Cloud initiative and overall cost savings.

The project is taking a phased approach. This will start with migrating the existing Liberty Converse contact centres to the Cloud within six months. Phase two will move the rest of the contact centres and add additional contact centres required. A third phase could see UHB’s two current on-prem switchboards consolidated using Contact Portal to handle all calls.

For modest professional services costs, UHB is in a position to realise one of its key objectives, which had previously been regarded as a 3 to 5 year plan, within a year. Subject to UHB IT Services addressing internal extension overlaps, which has now been done, switchboard services could be provided within the Cloud by spring 2022. This is a significant achievement, made possible by the close working relationship developed with Netcall’s commercial and technical teams. 

Expected benefits

Moving to the Netcall Cloud will further reduce existing internal infrastructure, maintenance and resource costs, and introduce operational efficiencies that will benefit all users of the service. This includes patients and their relatives contacting UHB.

The Trust will gain infrastructure economies of scale by consolidating the switchboard. It will also save equipment and maintenance costs.

Using automated speech recognition to front all calls is expected to release the switchboard team from more than 50% of routine requests, to concentrate on those calls with more complex requirements. Callers to UHB’s hospitals will benefit from faster response times. Switchboard operators will have more time to manage the many other mission-critical tasks that they have responsibility for, such as the emergency bleep radio-paging system, monitoring fire, personal attack and pharmacy alarms, managing emergency calls and clinical on-call rotas.

This is important because, for instance, consultants move between Trust sites on a rotating basis to attend clinics at their respective departmental locations. ContactPortal is able to ‘find’ them by ringing their allocated numbers in turn; thus, everyone is contactable wherever they are.

Quote from UHB IT Services:

“It has been a pleasure to work closely with the Netcall commercial and operational teams to make our transition to cloud services aspiration a reality much sooner than we had anticipated. They have understood the complexity of our very large combined organisation and supported us to transition from a legacy contact centre system to a modern, robust, cost-effective cloud service, available from anywhere, that is fit for the future.”


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