In our latest edition of our 20 Interviews in 20 Days feature, we chatted to Michael Latimer, CEO of Isosec.
Isosec is a leader in authentication and identity management, and recently in April of this year, NHS Digital and Isosec struck a deal to help fast-track the adoption of virtual smart cards; to help with the Covid-19 response in particular.
In this interview we speak with Michael to find out more about the deal, hear about their technologies, discuss some of the challenges they face and what is planned for the company over the next 12 months.
We started by asking Michael about his background and Isosec as an organisation
I joined Isosec as CEO in January 2018. Prior to that I worked in technology software businesses for over 20 years. My focus over the past 10 years has been growing both business and shareholder value. Isosec is a great success story, established in 2004 by Marc Poulaud and Nigel Elson with the clear goal of delivering fast, secure and easy to use authentication software to the NHS. Marc remains front and centre as our CTO, driving our passion for delivering consumer grade software for our NHS customers. Nigel retired in early 2019, he remains on our board and a close advisor to me and the rest of the business.
Nothing has changed since that initial goal and passion. Over the first 12 years, Isosec grew steadily, and built a great NHS customer base, initially for using the Isosec Identity Agent. This was Isosec’s first product, which is still front and centre of what we do today – it is a high-performance Identity Agent that helps deliver amazing authentication for the ever-increasing complexity of the NHS ecosystem.
Today, Isosec is a much bigger and fast-moving business. We have well over 100 NHS customers today, using our solutions for Virtual Smartcards, Single Sign On (SSO), Password Reset and our Mobile Platform. It is a business we are very proud of and at the same time humbled that we can play such a big part as a supplier to our amazing NHS.
We have brought lots of different types of innovations to the NHS over the years, most significantly within the past five years when Isosec started to bring ‘on device’ authentication for mobile devices – iOS and Android platforms in particular. For the first time, people could use iOS and Android to authenticate and access clinical applications on mobile. This was a game changer, allowing flexibility of use away from a traditional desktop or laptop model.
The most recent significant innovation for Isosec was in January 2018 when we launched Virtual Smartcard. This is the technology we have been deploying in partnership with NHS Digital to support many thousands of healthcare professionals during Covid-19.
A Virtual Smart Card virtualises the physical smartcard process and provides secure access to the same clinical systems and applications. The security and identity credentials are stored in our Cloud Service which means users doesn’t have to have a physical card and the NHS organisation doesn’t have to issue or maintain them. This innovation has also enabled the NHS to look at ‘any device, any platform, anywhere’ operating model.
Clearly the recent demand was driven by high demand for flexible remote/home working or self-isolation for clinicians. The requirement to use multiple device types and virtual desktop ecosystems is what we see as the new normal. It becomes harder and harder to use physical cards when you’ve got such a fast-moving IT ecosystem. This demand allowed us to work quickly with NHS Digital to fast-track the availability of Virtual Smartcard technology to meet this high demand for a proven cloud based, virtual authentication solution.
Up to the point of launching the Virtual Smartcard, we were a smaller business with a great reputation for high quality authentication software. We had some really good customers, but we didn’t have the profile we have today within the NHS. The Virtual Smartcard and our Single Sign On solutions have definitely elevated us to be a major player in this arena.
As a result of launching Virtual Smartcard, we have helped many NHS customers to drive their own innovation with platforms and devices to drive flexibility for all of their staff. It all comes down to: ‘how do we bring the NHS consumer grade technology whilst meeting security requirements?’ and Isosec has worked tirelessly to build, deploy and delivery extremely secure and robust solutions that give our customers peace of mind.
In the last couple of years, we’ve consolidated into a single platform in the cloud, and we’ve added another unique offering which is around Single Sign-On (SSO) and Password Reset, the only such suite of products built solely for the NHS.
We have extended the user journey to cloud based, virtual, easy-to-use, fast and secure access to any system, from any platform and any device. Single Sign-on is all about providing a faster, simpler way for NHS users to access both their Windows account and their clinical applications, removing the burden of having to authenticate to multiple applications separately.
We are always working on continuous enhancements and it is really important for us to be incredibly responsive to what our NHS customers’ needs are.
Following on from his account of Isosec’s journey, we then asked Michael what is coming up for Isosec over the next 12 months.
For us, it is about servicing and delivery to meet demand. I think there’s a clear appetite from the NHS and NHS Digital for rapid adoption of Virtual Smartcards to continue. Our view is really clear; Covid-19 has been the most unwelcome visitor for all of us, but it has driven digital adoption in the NHS – initially on a fast-track level, but clearly new digital technology like the Virtual Smartcard is here to stay and is what I would call ‘forever’ technology.
For me, the NHS has jumped 10 years in 2 months in terms of digital adoption, it means that the digital appetite is growing fast for Virtual Smartcards and other Isosec technology that are easy to adopt and easy to roll out as they are cloud based, ‘always on’ services.
We’ll also be focussing on serving the wider NHS ecosystem, as we have seen demand from all areas of the NHS, but in particular Primary Care, where old boundaries and alliances are coming down and the speed of digital adoption is incredible. It’s important for us to really work closely with Primary Care as well and understand their challenges, which will be something we will work on over the coming months to ensure our solutions are suitable for every scenario.
Single Sign On is also a hot topic for Primary Care; currently, we are the only provider that is compatible with Virtual Smartcards. There’s a big change coming here, and we will be in a position to help our customers meet that Single Sign On challenge.
It’s tough to predict what will happen over the next month never mind the next twelve months, but we’ll continue to work closely with NHS Digital and the wider market place as changes come into play for the NHS through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the leading innovator in this space, we will continue to develop at a rapid pace with our unique approach – digital cloud, any platform, any device, anywhere.
On learning what the next 12 months hold for Isosec, we asked Michael what he thought the challenges were moving forward.
I think that one of the challenges for all of us is meeting the digital technology drive; basically, everyone wants to do it, but how do you make it happen. It is the challenge of engaging hearts and minds with everyone in the NHS – of getting this digital adoption out there working and rolled out. That’s a challenge and it’s one for all of us, but it’s one we have to share and make happen.
I’d rather talk about a lot of the challenges that are starting to be resolved, where we are seeing NHS Digital and NHSX creating a very clear, fast-moving vision of digital adoption which has gone far beyond words: it is now really happening.
Based on Michael’s success with Isosec, we ask what the best piece of career advice is that he has ever received as well as what he has been doing to keep himself entertained in lockdown.
In terms of best career advice I’ve ever been given, it was to always do three things: Keep it simple, stay accountable and make it happen. It’s the best advice I’ve ever had.
My current ‘go to’ entertainment would be trying to train our 6 month old puppy, as well as trying to help my wife keep our 5 year old son Charlie entertained, it’s been really tough on our kids, but I am just amazed at how resilient they are.
Michael’s final thoughts…
From an Isosec point of view, we are very humbled to be in the position we are in, and that we are able to help in the current situation.
We are proud to be a part of this digital family in the NHS; and I want to take this opportunity to thank our brilliant NHS customers and the Isosec team for all their hard work over this period too. We’ve all got an incredibly tough job to do, and our staff have been working round the clock for the past few months. They are really dedicated to help support the NHS.