Digital director with a lot on his radar

The vaccination programme, Covid check-in system, case management system, contact tracing app . . . it’s been a busy lockdown for Deryck Mitchelson


Wearing a headset and surrounded by screens, Deryck Mitchelson looks a little like an air traf- fic controller. When it comes to landing projects, the digital director for Scotland’s NHS sup- port services organisation has certainly had a lot on his radar. Over the last 10 months, the

pieces of work have been stacking up, much of it Covid-19 related. When I catch up with Mitchelson on Teams, he’s excited about the prospect of building a system to administer the vaccination programme for the coronavirus in Scotland. It’s a high-profile piece of

work, but since lockdown he has also worked on the largest ever Microsoft Office rollout in

Scotland, issuing 200,000 user licences over the course of three weeks, when it should have taken nine months. Add to that building a Covid-19

check-in system based on a QR code that you can scan when visiting a hospitality venue, and a virus case management system utilised by 3,500 contact tracers nationwide, as well as supply- ing regular data insights on virus trends that guide government policy, and contributing to the de- velopment of the Protect Scotland contact tracing app, and it’s fair to say a lot has been landing. “It’s been a very busy time, but

there’s lots of good things getting done, so it’s been good distrac- tions, to be honest,” he tells me. “If you had asked me what I’d have been working on at the

28 | FUTURESCOT | WINTER 2020/21

beginning of 2020, though, and given me the timescales for all of that, I think I might have queried that. “But overall I think we’ve been

doing a good job during Covid of deploying things quickly, and which are absolutely bang on the money for our digital strategy.” Mitchelson joined NHS Nation-

al Services Scotland (NSS) two years ago and started on a process of re-engineering its digital plan. According to his analysis, which he shared at the Digital Scotland conference, there was a host of problems when it came to IT, in- cluding risk aversion, a complex landscape, little or no automation and poor governance. Above all, there was minimal

adoption of cloud-based services that could bring significant cost and management time savings. Much of NHS IT is legacy system- based (they still have mainframe computers), and so it required a lot of what Mitchelson describes as “feeding and watering”. “I had in mind that if I got this

right for NSS, it could help the NHS more widely, where many of

the boards inevitably have their own approaches, and there is not much by way of standardisation. I thought if I could establish strong governance, and demonstrate why we should invest in public cloud services, and if I could push forward with the right cultures and approach, then we could change that.” He added: “I mean, we

shouldn’t be spending any money on data centres, we could use that money to invest in healthcare, so I targeted a 25 per cent cost reduction on data centre spend. My attitude was let’s automate as much as we can, making sure we don’t have to do patching; I prefer that the technical teams are spending their time on the high-value things. “I think patching and moni-

toring is better done by the software-as-a-service provider, so you’re managing and improving the service rather than worrying about the underlying infrastruc- ture all the time. Tat absolutely echoes the digital strategy we have within the NHS as to how we should be doing things.” l

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