In the grand scheme of history, the cloud is still novel – the term ‘cloud computing’ has only been included in the Oxford English dictionary since June 2012. In the world of technology, the cloud is considered ubiquitous!
Yet, while Amazon’s release of Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) in 2006 marked the advent of the infrastructure-as-a-service platforms that underpin the modern cloud as we now know it, the ensuing 15 years have seen the technology continue to transform industries of all shapes and sizes across the globe.
The statistics speak for themselves. Forecasts made in 2020 proclaimed that there were 40 zettabytes of data in the cloud last year. For context, one zettabyte contains one sextillion bytes – a figure with 21 zeros appearing before the decimal point.
Large global enterprises have been a driving force behind the adoption of cloud computing, with 83% of companies’ workloads having been stored on the cloud at the end of 2020. As a result, estimations suggest that the average employee now uses 36 cloud-based services in their daily routine.
While such statistics can be hard to comprehend, the cloud landscape is only set to grow wider through 2021. According to Gartner, worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services is expected to grow 18.4% during this 12-month period to $304.9 billion, with 70% of those organisations already using cloud services planning to increase their cloud expenditure.
The COVID-19 pandemic has played a major part in this anticipated spike.
Businesses were forced to adapt their operating models almost overnight as a result of social distancing restrictions and lockdowns, pushing them deeper into the digital world as they transitioned their infrastructure to better support remote working requirements. They had to move applications to the cloud almost overnight to remain in business.
In this context, the cloud was the preferred technology platform, allowing for the digitisation of basic functionalities capable of delivering secure and cost-effective experiences for both the business and the end customer.
However, with improved experiences has come greater expectations. In today’s highly digitised landscape, users are now not settling for anything less than seamless experiences, short waiting times and consistent, personalised engagement. Consumers are used to enhanced user experience while using their daily applications and want their work life to reflect the same experience.
Those businesses that fail to adhere to these expectations are at immense risk of adverse effects. Statistics show that companies that lead in customer experience outperform their competitors by almost 80%. Meanwhile, 84% of companies that work to improve their customer experience report an increase in revenue.
Therefore, as people become less tolerant of poor digital interactions, organisations need to be thinking on their feet about how to use technologies to keep up with more sophisticated demands, create better experiences and improve outcomes.
How the NHS is tapping into cloud technologies
In the healthcare arena, efforts to improve patient experiences have picked up during the pandemic period. No single sector has faced a greater challenge from COVID-19, the virus having first and foremost created a public health crisis that is unprecedented in recent history.
The sector has been tested like no other. And as it’s been kept under a global microscope, expectations on performance have been analysed and scrutinised meticulously.
In response, certain proactive health entities such as the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) have turned to technology to ease the burdens created by the pandemic.
Where many hospitals had previously been reliant on outdated software and systems that created inefficiencies and errors, a concerted effort has been made to optimise processes in order to enhance medical research, improve patient experiences and allow on-ground teams to put their time to better use.
Regarding the former, the NHS COVID-19 Data Store has played a vital role throughout the pandemic. Built using the cloud, with patient data integrated into a single platform, the Data Store reveals crucial patterns and analyses that have helped to inform key decisions relating to drug trials, treatment discoveries and vaccine developments.
The Data Store also leverages predictive technology to help the NHS save lives by forecasting COVID-19 hospitalisations. Using these forecasts, NHS trusts are able to plan how to use their available capacity for both COVID-19 patients and routine operations, benefitting from insight as to how care for more or fewer patients might change as a result of the virus in the next one to two weeks.
Alongside the Data Store, the use of the cloud and analysis of key patient data was also key to the success of the NHS’s Shielded Patients List, which has helped to protect vulnerable people. Backed by data from NHS England, NHS Digital, local government, adult social care, and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, those most at risk from the virus could be advised to protect themselves and prioritised for vaccination.
Cloud technologies are also being used to bolster healthcare beyond the pandemic, too.
UK Biobank, the large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing in-depth genetic and health information from half a million UK participants, has helped to power several scientific breakthroughs in human health, for example.
This includes a University College London (UCL) study into the factors relating to increased risk of dementia, and research into the hypothesis that good cholesterol may help in the fight against sepsis – a disease impacting 250,000 UK citizens annually and causing 11 million deaths worldwide each year.
Transforming the patient experience
While much progress has been made, with the tangible rewards of investing in cloud-based platforms and use of data analytics clear to see, it should be noted that the NHS remains in the early stages of its digital transformation.
Moving forward, similar initiatives will continue to be rolled out to further accelerate its digitisation and trigger improvements in patient experiences.
The Department of Health and Social Care’s ‘Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data’ is one such initiative that has been launched with the patient experience at its heart.
The idea is to develop a cloud-based solution that will provide patients with easier access to test results, medication lists, procedures and care plans from across all parts of the health system via patient apps, such as the NHS App, that ensure data is shared safely and more effectively.
Where an integrated network of cloud systems will facilitate an improved use of data throughout the health system, quicker and more informed clinical decisions can be made, helping to save more lives.
The strategy will also include innovative solutions, allowing patients to test and monitor changes in their vision remotely using an app, as well as leveraging AI to assess data from care home workers’ reports to predict the likelihood of falls in hospital admissions of patients, enabling appropriate safeguards to be put in place.
Of course, these are just a few examples relevant to the healthcare arena. However, they are representative of the level of transformation that can be achieved when using the cloud.
Be it healthcare or other sectors, the ability for organisations to both deliver sound experiences and optimised operations will often be reliant upon the ability to leverage data-driven insights. And in order to analyse data effectively, the cloud is vital. Not only does it facilitate scalability and promote innovation and agility, but it also ensures all parties have mutual, transparent oversight.
Indeed, it is the key to keeping an agile, responsive and efficient experience at the top of the agenda.
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