PSN reaches tipping point
PSN reaches tipping point
Completion of tests and new procurements show the Public Services Network is now becoming more than a grand idea
The Public Services Network (PSN) has been categorised a bold plan for some years. Talk of a common network infrastructure for the public sector goes back at least to the Transformational Government strategy of 2005, and the formal name for the "network of networks" became more prominent from 2008, when the Cabinet Office created a PSN Authority to develop the supporting standards.
It now looks as if the plan is coming to fruition. Over the past year there has been a stream of developments leading to a point at which suppliers are ready to deliver services and the early adopters are beginning to hook up their networks.
The Cabinet Office has signed deeds of undertaking with a handful of companies for places on the Government Conveyance Network (GCN), the core infrastructure for the PSN, and set up a new governance regime. The recent completion of Project Pathway a series of tests to show that various services could comply with the standards and provide the required information assurance led to the certification of GCN and direct network services provided by Global Crossing and Virgin Media Business. It also marked another stage in the progress made by Hampshire and Kent, the leaders in establishing county-wide networks.
This was soon followed by the launch of the first procurement for PSN-compliant services, covering network connectivity, with word that others will soon follow for telecom networks and mobile solutions.
John Stubley, the programme director for the PSN, says the completion of the tests marks a tipping point: "Pathway marks a significant and tangible step towards more efficient and joined up public services," he says. "It shows that PSN is no longer a theory but a reality."
For the Cabinet Office, its significance is that different networks are now being connected and it is possible to begin delivering services. A spokesman for the department says: "The GCN is the central component of the PSN that provide an interoperable network of networks from multiple suppliers.
"The direct network services connect the two regional networks of Hampshire county council HPSN2 and Kent KPSN to the GCN. Business services such as IP telephony and videoconferencing can now be delivered between Hampshire and Kent county councils, across PSN-compliant services provided by two different suppliers.
"The relevance for the development of PSN is that it has shown how suppliers can collaborate to provide interoperable networks and has validated the PSN concepts, standards and processes. This paves the way for the introduction of PSN-compliant services across the public sector, which will drive down costs and increase the effectiveness of public services delivery."
It's no surprise that those who have taken the lead are talking up the significance of the tests and certifications. Robert Parker, head of public sector for Virgin Media Business, says they proved the credibility of the infrastructure, standards, and the "on-boarding" process for people on individual networks to use services employed by another. He cites the example of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service sharing its Kent counterpart's video platform, and Kent using using Hampshire's IP telephony system.
"These were tests for the procedural competence to allow subsequent service providers to onboard their service platforms," he says. "It shows that we can provide the whole service platform using the PSN.
Parker also takes a bullish attitude towards developing the market for PSN services. "We will continue to work with the Government Procurement Service and the Cabinet Office to make sure we are listed on as many procurement vehicles as possible," he says. "We will also work on early adoption with the authorities procuring PSN services."
Jeff Parris, senior vice-president for business development at Global Crossing, describes them as "the last key enabler for government to run other PSN procurements in areas such as network services and voice/video collaboration".
He acknowledges that the services are currently being run on a small scale, but says the Cabinet Office is pushing central government to be PSN-compliant, and that public authorities running new procurements that are relevant are also likely to comply. "It's not big in scale, but the big scale will come through," he says.
More significantly, the early adopters see it as a big step forward towards a more efficient infrastructure for the whole public sector. Hampshire county council's IT champion, Councillor Keith Evans, says: "We have proved the effectiveness and the reality of an integrated public service network across regions which will save money and join up services, without compromising the needs of individual local councils.
"Our ambitions are to continue the journey to integrate public service infrastructure - removing duplicated networks and processing centres across health, academic organisations, public protection agencies and local councils. This technology enables us to operate as a modern business and transform the way we design and deliver services. Not only is this about sharing services such as the HPSN to reduce costs, but it will also ensure that shared technology helps to support public services to work together more efficiently and effectively in the interests of the public we serve."
There may be some competition for the PSN framework contracts in the form of another procurement mechanism, the Managed Telecommunications Convergence Framework, contracts for which were recently awarded to Global Crossing, Virgin and Siemens. Chris Pennell, principal analyst at Kable, says this offers some competitive deals, and that some local authorities aiming to keep down their costs may be tempted to use this rather than the PSN frameworks when they are established. Also, there are limits to the security requirements that will lead the central government bodies dealing with high impact level data to follow their own routes.
But if anything points to the groundswell in favour of the PSN it is the growing number of network procurements launched by local authorities and other organisations. Over the past couple of weeks tender notices have been issued by Surrey county council and Thames Valley police requiring PSN compliance, and Sunderland has said it is talking to neighbouring councils about a regional network following a deal with BT. These and others are not waiting for the formal PSN frameworks, but still aiming to ensure that they will be able to fit easily within the developing "network of networks".
The PSN is already taking a grip on the thinking of public authorities looking to upgrade their infrastructure.