NHS National Services Scotland is providing staff with free copies of a new NHS Office product in order to find desktop software suitable to deploy across the Scottish health service at a fraction of the price of Microsoft Office.
The software, which has been developed and supplied by Ability Software International, has been customised and branded with NHS logos and is now being tested by staff members to ensure it effectively meets the needs of NHS staff.
The company believes that the NHS branding will encourage NHS stakeholders to accept the idea of change when offered a value choice in software licensing for the first time.
Up until June 2009, NHS Scotland held a central licensing arrangement with Microsoft, known as an Enterprise wide Agreement.
The three year deal provided software licences to all personal computers for specific core Microsoft products, including Microsoft Office, across all of the eligible NHS organisations in Scotland.
However, the contract was not renewed resulting in NHS organisations having to find a way to foot the bill for the licences and staff with little knowledge on how to operate products other those supplied by Microsoft.
Mark Salveta, head of business advisory group at NHS NSS, told E-Health Insider: “Most staff only use the basic functions that nearly all office software products provide. This survey will help us identify what, if any, functionality needs to be improved if it is to be used in the workplace.
Salveta added: “NHS Office should meet the needs of the majority of NHS users, and with licences costing a fraction of traditional pricing it could certainly enable huge savings to be made.”
The software, which is based on the Ability Office Suite, provides traditional office applications for word processing spreadsheets, and presentations, along with additional features including photo editing, and drawing.
It is also tailored to provide a toolbar that allows web access directly to NHSMail and has fully integrated calendar functionality.
Chris England, ASI product director, said: “Our products provide compatibility with the market leader – allowing users of our software to create, load from and save to standard office file formats, thus making it simple to exchange files with users of other software suites.
“However, our products are intended to provide the features that users actually need to use, rather than being a high-end, “feature for feature” replacement for packages such as Microsoft Office.
“We always ask people new to our products to judge them against their own personal requirements. And that’s exactly what the NHS is doing with this trial – putting NHS Office in the hands of staff and asking for feedback on its ability to meet their needs.”
ASI has already deployed more than 500 packs of NHS Office for distribution and is allowing those who agree to trial it to continue to use the software free of charge. NSS NHS will gather feedback from participants in January.
However, Salveta maintains that NHS NSS is happy to work with any company that is willing to meet their requirements and have also been working with Open Office in a similar way.
He added: “We are happy to work with any office software developers to help them make their products more attractive to us. In time we should be able to run an open competition for the software.”