Moving off XP cut help desk calls by 60 percent, says NHS ICT head

Calls to Imperial College NHS Trust's help desk dropped by 60 percent after it migrated from Windows XP to Windows 7 and overhauled its desktop infrastructure, according to its ICT chief.


Help desk calls fell by 60 percent after Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust migrated from Windows XP to Windows 7, according to ICT head Kathy Lanceley.

Many NHS trusts are still running Windows XP even though security support finished last month, after the expiry of a government negotiated £5.5 million 12-month extension to the official April 2014 deadline.

Experts have warned outdated, unsupported Windows XP systems cannot support a number of modern IT tools and leave trusts vulnerable to cyber attacks.

However most of them are yet to take the plunge because moving off XP is expensive, difficult and “requires significant effort”, Lanceley told ComputerworldUK. The trust finished its migration last April, just before Microsoft withdrew support for the operating system.

“I can absolutely understand everybody’s reluctance to start the journey…it took 18 months and cost us £3.7 million”, she said.

Imperial is the largest NHS trust in England and Wales. It sees one million patients every year, has an income of £1 billion, 1,500 beds and 9,000 staff across five sites and runs 8,500 desktops.

Moving to Windows 7 allowed the trust to cut its applications from 3,000 to 900, by ensuring they were all running the same software versions and removing obsolete or underused applications.

The trust used AppSense to cut its number of Microsoft group policies from 180 and 20, which helped to cut log in times from over four minutes to under 30 seconds, according to Lanceley.

They virtualised about two-thirds of applications and “completely re-architected the whole way desktops are managed”, she said.

One knock-on effect of the migration was a 60 percent drop in calls to the IT help desk.

“With an old desktop infrastructure we had a lot of group policies and incompatible plugins so when people went to a desktop at a different location they found a certain plugin wouldn’t work at that PC. We used to get hundreds of those calls. Now they’re all gone,” she said.

The migration allowed the trust to start using an electronic patient record system by Cerner and take steps towards its goal of a “fully digital” hospital, she added.

“We couldn’t have deployed onto our XP desktop and make it a good experience for our clinicians. It would have been too frustrating to run an EPR on our old system,” Lanceley explained.

It has also helped prepare the trust to build an IT environment that will support mobile working and make any future migrations easier, she said.

Lanceley had a word of advice for organisations yet to move off Windows XP.

“Think about where your environment is going in the future and design for that. Mobility and digital patient records meant we had to improve performance,” she said.

However she admitted that sorting out the trust’s application environment had been a “headache”.

“The pain is always in applications. You have tons of suppliers all with different compatibilities. There were some really important applications that just didn’t make it, we just had to go out and procure new software,” Lanceley said.

Although it can be tempting to outsource the entire process you are better off using an internal team to negotiate with suppliers directly, she said.

“You’re the one with contracts with third party application vendors. It’s hard for a third party to get in there and say ‘we need to test the software’”, Lanceley added.