Public Services > Central Government

Kent’s Wallbank asks tough questions on public services networking

David Bicknell Published 07 March 2017

PSN specialist says growing role of Wi-Fi based services such as govroam means questions may need to be asked over future role of wide area networks


The head of the Kent Public Services Network (KPSN) at Kent County Council, Jeff Wallbank, is calling time on his role at the end of the month after nearly nine years working for the authority.

Wallbank is an authority on PSN, not only in Kent but in the wider PSN picture, and his view carries significant weight, which is why Wallbank’s contribution will be welcomed at this Thursday’s Innopsis, “The Future of the Public Services Network” roundtable at the Institute of Directors (IoD) in London.

Wallbank agrees with the recently expressed Government Digital Service (GDS) view that the Internet is OK , a move that signals a government journey away from PSN that will be discussed at this week’s roundtable.

Speaking from a personal perspective, and not as a Kent County Council officer, Wallbank argues that the Public Services Network has done its job.

“The PSN project has enabled the public sector to work together. But trust still needs to grow, so there is still a lot of work to do. There is also a problem of engagement.”

With Thursday’s roundtable in mind, Wallbank is now starting to ask difficult questions over future requirements, particularly the future need for wide area networks (WANs) in local government. “What’s the point of a WAN? What do we want a WAN for?” he asks. Such a question may have implications for the re-procurement of WANs for local councils throughout the country.

The question marks over WANs are starting to emerge following growing use of common WiFI roaming services within local government. Kent, for example, is now providing one over the Kent PSN. The roaming service is currently available at 200 plus local sites in Kent with the number growing and Wallbank believes it should be rolled out nationally. It provides access to local WiFi services and the internet, based upon a common set of standards.

According to Wallbank, the benefits include increasing the productivity of mobile workers by  enabling them to easily connect from any public sector building that offers ‘govroam’; allowing staff to work flexibly from various locations across the public estate across Kent and beyond; improving disaster recovery and business continuity operations by enabling staff to easily relocate to  alternative sites and have access to their online systems; and facilitating public sector collaboration by enabling a standards based connectivity service at public sector sites. That would, for example, allow a social worker who is not part of the NHS to get access to its network in hospital.

The idea of govroam originated from eduroam (or education roaming), an international roaming service for users in research, higher education and further education. It provides researchers, teachers and students easy and secure network access when visiting an institution other than their own. Users typically don’t have to pay for using the eduroam service.

In Belgium, Belnet is the Belgian national research network that provides high-bandwidth internet connection and services to Belgian universities, colleges, schools, research centres, and government departments. Belnet then uses the eduroam technology to provide a similar service to Belgian public administrations under the ‘govroam’ name. 

In a presentation to the NHS-HE Forum last November, Wallbank outlined the growing role of eduroam and govroam in joining up local services.

Wallbank discussed the assumption that the Health and Social Care Agenda requires collaboration between health and social care within areas. And yet typical blockers to that collaboration are a lack of trust, different networks; buildings; processes; systems; and technology that is seen as a hindrance not an enabler.

Therefore, he asked, “How do we bring together people, buildings, network and mobility to support the collaboration needed to meet the health and social care agenda?”

Govroam adoption is now starting to increase within other organisations.  

Recently discussing the future of PSN, Essex County Council’s executive director and chief information officer, David Wilde said, “The big driver around streamlining public service is that historically on consolidating and streamlining public services, we tend to do it around service rather than around where our institutions are based. And there has been some success. When you look at M&A in the private sector, one of the first things they do, always, is they move the headquarters into one building as quickly as possible. Plainly and simply because you’ve got to change culture. It sounds simple but there is real power in this.

“When you relocate people, they talk to each other. When they talk to each other, they form relationships. When they form relationships, the collaboration begins and the consolidation can then follow. In Essex alone, public services are occupying in excess of 3000 buildings.  Streamlining public services, if we start moving in that direction, we tick a bunch of boxes. We start putting people together. They’ll start working together and you’ll get the collaboration.

“The PSN piece is that PSN does this. What you do, get beyond PSN, particularly ubiquitous networking, is to stick govroam in, stick guest WiFi or public WiFi in, and you put all that in the infrastructure when you build it out. It means ubiquitous networking, it means role-based security, and it means spreading the point of presence and making sure multi agency working gets real.”

The Innopsis Public Sector Roundtable takes place at the IoD in London between 2.00 and 4.30 on Thursday 9 th March. You can register here


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