PSN: job done? Or just the beginning....
PSNGB's Neil Mellor argues that it would be an error to consign the Public Services Network to the 'done' pile. Increasing demand for critical public services means PSN must be tackled as 'business as unusual', he says
Government has achieved a unique and powerful thing with PSN. Instead of spending billions building a replacement network or a monolithic IT system, it has worked iteratively with industry to define how things should work and agreed common standards, based on commercial good practice. Rather than replacing networks, it has connected them, creating a platform for reform, for a step-change in efficiency and service improvement.
PSNGB members - organisations that provide PSN services - have invested in and adopted those common standards and government customers have also conformed to them. So now, when a department, local authority, police force or any other public sector organisation buys a network or a communications service, if it's PSN compliant it'll work with compliant services from other competing suppliers and it'll connect with other parts of government that are also on PSN. Just as importantly, the PSN platform comes with agreed levels of service, integrity and a built-in level of security that's appropriate for most government business.
With nearly all major departments and local authorities connected and the health and police communities preparing to join soon, PSN is a great achievement by all involved. So is that it? Is it business as usual and do we quietly consign PSN to the 'done' pile?
That, in the view of PSNGB, would be a catastrophic error. Facing the challenge of rising national debt, constrained budgets and increasing demand for critical public services we need to move to business as unusual. And PSN is critical to that transformation. Rather than the end, it's the beginning of the role of PSN as a trusted platform for innovation and reform.
The platform approach, and PSN as a critical trusted element, can make a real impact not just on network costs, but on the vastly greater £674bn cost of public service delivery. We need to raise our aim, exploit the investment in services that industry has committed and harness the great achievements of public bodies in connecting to PSN. We must build on this platform to save billions and to make public services better and more sustainable for the future.
The PSN platform is here now. But like any platform it's a stepping off stage; the beginning of a journey, an embarkation point rather than a destination. To accelerate the journey of reform, PSNGB makes the following recommendations.
- Revitalise the market.
The existing PSN Frameworks were a good start; they provide a very competitive marketplace for PSN compliant as well as non-compliant services. But the market and technology have moved on fast and we now need to enable more suppliers, large and small, to enter the market and to make it easier for all providers to add new services or enter framework lots more dynamically 'in flight'. It needs to be easier to sell individual or combinations of services in the way the customer wants them and on terms that are attractive to both buyer and seller.
- Standard means standard.
We've invested a great deal in agreeing a common platform based on commercial good practice and standard products and services, not bespoke requirements. That's how we get costs and prices down, and level the competitive playing field enabling comparison and deliver services that fit together effectively. So customers need to avoid gold plating requirements and adding to standard terms and conditions. Being 'special' costs money. Industry and the public sector have developed and agreed common standards so let's stick to them, improve them iteratively and extract the benefits, not revert to bespoke flavours.
- Innovate, fail or scale.
Great ideas don't always work first time. So using PSN as the platform we need to identify potential solutions to the 'wicked issues' that have faced real service delivery and test them. If they're not practical, recognise it fast and move on. If they are, then scale and replicate. This means effective collaboration across the public sector and with industry - it may involve small local projects or big ideas that could reshape working practices for millions of people. PSN provides a safe environment, a trusted platform for innovation that reduces the cost and risk of experimentation.
- Harden the foundations.
As PSN grows and more critical applications and services depend on it, it's essential that the platform is managed in a way that is resilient and responsive. This means we need to ensure it can cope with the demand of more real-time services like voice and video collaboration and that threats to the infrastructure are appropriately identified and defended against. PSN standards aren't set in stone, they're iterative; with a strong operating foundation we can collectively develop and grow them to deliver more of what users need.
Neil Mellor is a director of PSNGB (www.psngb.org) @neil_2_mellor @psngb