Demystifying N365 - the countdown is on

By Paul Saer - July 14, 2020

Our customers in the NHS have been presented with a new opportunity by NHS Digital to make financial savings when consuming Microsoft 365 services.

This option has come about fairly quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and NHS organisations have to make a decision and a commitment to NHS Digital by the end of the week (20th July 2020) as to whether they will join the scheme.

Core has been involved in this process for a while, and based on the conversations we have had in the last week with our NHS customers, it seems like the information available to Trusts is unclear, so as the first in a series of blogs that we are creating related to N365, we thought we would start with a quick guide to what this offer is and what you need to do before the 20th July 2020 deadline.

What is N365?

In short, N365 is essentially a new Enterprise Wide Agreement that provides significant discounts to qualifying NHS organisations consuming Microsoft 365 services.

Who qualifies?

Any NHS Organisation can apply to NHS Digital to be part of N365, although there is a minimum commitment of 100 users.

What are my N365 Options?

In short, there are three options available to NHS Organisations;

  1. Do not join the scheme and continue doing your own thing with M365 licenses
  2. Obtain a significant discount versus standard Microsoft 365 licenses that you can then apply to your existing O365 tenancy, or can use to build and run your own O365 tenancy
  3. Obtain double the above discount on standard Microsoft 365 licenses by agreeing to join a centrally managed shared O365 tenancy

Why would I choose not to join N365?

There are a few reasons why N365 might not be the right option for you, but these are limited:

  1. You don’t have enough users to qualify for the minimum 100 user commitment. You could always look to join up with other smaller NHS organisations to enable you as a group to meet the 100-user minimum commitment, but there might be some complexities to manage in the future
  2. N365 is not a full Microsoft 365 license, there are some items that are not included in the N365 license such as Windows 10 Enterprise licenses. You can always add on top-up licenses for features that aren’t supported, Windows 10 being the only significantly expensive license, but the agreement assumes that you are getting the free licenses provided under the existing Windows 10 Enterprise Wide Agreement for NHS
  3. N365 is a rapidly evolving offering and there are still some areas where there is a distinct lack of clarity. The details on what might be required from a Trust to join and consume the offering, specifically around the shared tenant model, are currently not clear.

What are the benefits of the Own Tenant option?

  1. If you already have your own Office 365 tenancy you can simply add these licenses to your existing tenant with no other real changes required.
  2. If you don’t have your own tenancy this is a great way of taking this step with a lower overall license cost that might help you to make structural cost savings within your organization.
  3. Running your own Office 365 tenancy enables you to exercise control and management over the features and services, administration and future-proofs your organization from any changes that might occur later on.

What are the benefits of the Shared Tenant option? 

  1. The cost of the N365 licenses is significantly lower than the Own tenant option.
  2. The tenant will be administered centrally so there is no overhead to the NHS entity to consume the service once you are in.
  3. Theoretically, and we should note that this is not documented anywhere, the Trust will not bear direct responsibility for any platform level data breaches as the Trust will neither have configured or be managing the N365 platform directly. That responsibility / liability should sit with the chosen provider.

How can I make an informed decision on what to do?

There are a few steps you can take to make the right decision for your organisation;

  1. N365 licenses are not a direct match to any existing Microsoft 365 licenses, so please make sure that you are fully familiar with what is included in the N365 license stack and highlight any services you are consuming that aren’t included. Get a cost to buy the top up licenses from your existing provider and make sure that the overall cost is understood before you make the commitment.
  2. Evaluate the pro’s and con’s of the Own Tenant versus Shared Tenant options. The Shared Tenant option has the lowest license price, and doesn’t require any in-house Office 365 skills to run, BUT this comes with a downside. Your Trust will have to consume a standard service administered by a central provider, so you will have limits to what you can do and what you can control. A shared tenancy of this scale has never been attempted before, so how it will work in reality is very difficult to predict, and the details are still being worked on. There are likely to be onboarding costs to migrate your data into the platform, and should policy change, you may find yourself having to offboard the service at some stage in the future, the costs of which might negate the additional saving.
  3. If you run your own Office 365 tenancy, this is almost a no-brainer option and there is very little risk to you organizationally. The added benefit that you have is that if there is any future policy change, you can still continue with your own existing infrastructure and simply revert back to the existing Microsoft 365 licenses.


In our view, N365 is a great opportunity for NHS entities to explore a lower cost route to accessing Microsoft 365 services, and if you qualify you should apply to join.

The basis of this agreement is a true collaborative purchasing effort to leverage economies of scale, which the NHS generally does very well.

The decision on which flavor of N365 to consume is a little more challenging and will change from NHS organisation to NHS organisation. In our view, the Own Tenant version is the lowest risk option as it gives perpetual control of the infrastructure to the Trust, you get to control how it is configured and managed, how quickly your requests are completed and the ongoing surety that once you have migrated into the platform, you can determine when you migrate out of it.

In order to plan capacity and resources, NHS Digital want organisations who apply to be clear on which option they want to consume, but it is expected (although not guaranteed) that there will be an option to revisit the decision on which option you are going to consume after the initial declaration on 20th July.

This is a constantly shifting landscape and it is challenging to navigate in the short timescales everyone is working to. If you want to discuss any of the elements of N365 in more detail, please reach out to the N365 team at Core, , and we will do our best to help you!

Our Head of Public Sector, Paul Saer, and Account Manager for not-for-profit and local government, Harry Reid, can help with any questions you may have and give you the information you need to make an informed decision.

20170629_30_Core1013_Paul_Saer     20170629_30_Core1323_Harry_reid


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