You’ve purchased your N365 licenses – now what?

Back in mid-2020 NHSX, NHS Digital and Microsoft did a deal to secure key Microsoft 365 cloud services at a low price that will not only save the NHS hundreds of millions over next 3 years or so but will also deliver tools that enhance productivity, collaboration and help deliver a step-change in cyber-security.  

However, after the rightly justified fanfare has died down, NHS organisations are left with a number of questions and challenges about the best way to get maximum value from this agreement known as N365.  And with the clock ticking for full deployment required by October 2021 it can be challenging to see an easy route forward. 

N365 contains a similar, but different, set of products and services to those found in Office 365 and Microsoft 365.  For anyone who has spent time working with these two services (like we have for the past 10 years) you will know that just keeping on top of the services in O365 & M365 can be a full-time job. 

Some of the key questions that we come up against in conversations with our clients include: 

Should I be using the shared NHS tenant, or my own tenant? 

On the surface it seems like quite an easy question to answer. If you to use @nhs.net email and want to take advantage of the lowest pricing model, then the shared tenant seems the obvious answer. 

However, if you: 

  • Want total control of your own IT environment as a whole 
  • Are worried about the upcoming additional cost of the mandatory AD Premium licences 
  • Run your own email 
  • Have ambitions to use InTune 
  • Want to utilise Microsoft Azure services 
  • Would like to reduce your on-premise infrastructure costs 

Then the answer to the above question becomes less obvious. 

Careful consideration should be given to this decision and even though it’s discouraged, running your own tenant and utilising the shared tenant can be a really attractive option for some. 

How do I use the Office online apps (Word, Excel) instead of the desktop versions? 

Whilst it’s great that key tools like Word and Excel are available online as part of the core N365 offer, deciding whether this is the right answer for your organisation and your users is, yet again, one that needs careful consideration. 

With the online apps only being able to access online storage, this demands a move to Teams/Sharepoint for file storage and this isn’t a simple transition.  When this is added to the different ways of working, document and font compatibility, app compatibility such as integration with clinical systems like SystmOne then they may need to end up with different licences and capabilities split by functional role.

How can I deploy multi-factor authentication and conditional access tools? 

These services are a fantastic step-forward for improving cyber-security within your organisation and are soon to become a mandatory part of using the shared N365 tenant. This means the cost for using the shared tenant will go up if you are not already licensed for an EM&S product and the data this service protects is only that held within N365. i.e. you can’t utilise this licence to protect other services you run, potentially leading to multiple, multi-factor authentication processes. 

What about using InTune to manage my devices? 

We think it’s fair to say that there’s still some work to do in this area to clarify exactly what can and can’t be done when using the shared tenant (it’s pretty simple if you decide to use your own tenant). 

There are some technical concerns to overcome, such as giving you your own access to manage devices directly as opposed to using the Accenture Service Request process. 

In conclusion, there are serious number of advantages to deploying the services open to you under the N365 agreement, but if you want to utilise more than just basic @nhs.net email then there are a number of factors to work through and plan out quickly to ensure that you can deploy the services in a way that gives you maximum flexibility, low cost and positive impact to your end users. 

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