When you work in technology, you can often get frustrated about the slow adoption of new digital tools to do things in a better, more efficient way.  Certainly, having worked in and around the nuclear and construction industries for 20 years – sometimes I feel that the adoption of new technology can be at glacial speeds.

Similarly, the same can be said for the medical profession.  We don’t need to think too far back to remember the massive cyber security incident that swept the NHS, where outdated technology became one of the contributing factors to its spread.

The NHS like many organisations suffers from a lot of pressures on resource, budgets and targets.  And like any organisation that’s in a ‘firefighting mode’ where the day-to-day pressures become the sole focus.  Then it’s almost impossible to take time to challenge the status quo and how things are currently done.

The NHS takes on fax machines and radio pagers

With Digital Transformation, an organisation needs to take a step back, take a breath and really question why they’re still doing things the way they always have.

Recently in the NHS, there has been a change in thinking, brought by the current Health Secretary, Matt Hancock who challenging a lot of outdated methods.  He has been pushing the role of technological change in the NHS, and many believe it’s his background in software development from his family’s business.

This has already meant that by 2020, fax machines are to be phased out of the NHS.  The organisation has been the worlds biggest buyer of this outdated technology.  Those of us who have spent time in the nuclear industry will know this is still a necessary technology on many sites for safety purposes.

Now the NHS’s attention has moved to the humble radio pager.  I’d also suspect that most people outside nuclear would believe that this technology doesn’t exist anywhere else other than healthcare.

There are a lot of pros for older technologies from a risk and safety perspective.  Their infrastructure is simple, it’s less reliant on other technologies such as the internet.  It also has a lower cyber security risk associated to it.

On complex sites, whether large hospital campuses, industrial or nuclear complexes.  There are problems with universal coverage of newer technologies. 4G and WiFi technology can be difficult to get a signal inside buildings and considerations need to be made for that.

Resistance to Digital Transformation

Those difficulties, despite being absolutely real – are often used to hold on to older technologies and prevent their replacement.  Safety and security become the main reasons for clinging on to older technology and because of the potential ramifications of anything going wrong with those two areas – nothing is ultimately changed.  Once the appetite for change is defeated, it then becomes just as difficult for an organisation to maintain out-dated technology as it does to mitigate the problems with the new.

In some of the industries that I’ve consulted in, there has been extra payments to suppliers to prevent old technology and infrastructure – such as radio pagers being switched off!

Although in our personal lives, we’re all contacting friends and family, no matter what industry they’re in with tools like WhatsApp and the advantage is that we get delivery and read receipts.  We don’t get that with an old paging system and are never really sure the recipient has read or understood the message until they call back.

Many work collages set up informal WhatsApp groups between themselves to communicate better as a ‘shadow IT’ solution to work around the deficiencies in the technology their workplace provides.   Creating another headache for organisations.

Understand the problem, understand the technology

Ultimately, that’s why you need expertise on your side to mitigate the risks of modern infrastructure.  Digital Transformation works best when the team has a broad range of skills, a deep understanding of the ‘art of the possible’ with the technology, what the limitations of infrastructure (private and public) are, and of the organisation being changed itself.

We believe that the outcome should be focused upon, technologists like ourselves can work on the rest.  If you think that sounds expensive, you’ll probably find that is another misconception too.  Back when I started in the field of IT, we had to make a lot of capital investments for infrastructure (servers, systems and boxes with lights).  These days, cloud technologies allow us to move to consumption models – a pay-as-you-use system.  We’re all adept with doing this in our personal lives, signing up for services like Spotify and Netflix – but there has been a huge leap of similar services for businesses.

What about sectors like nuclear?

With healthcare and the NHS championing the changes to newer digital technologies, to reduce cost, become more effectively – and ultimately do more with less, there are fewer excuses for other sectors.  Ultimately, considerations for patient safety and security within healthcare are as important as they are for the public safety and security in the nuclear industry.

I would be hopeful with healthcare being the vanguard of this change, then sectors close to my heart – nuclear and construction in particular can also develop a curiosity for what is possible for modern technology and an appetite for making safe and secure changes to working methods.

The reason I’m hopeful is the conversations, enquires and projects we are working on are starting to show this change in thinking.

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