Infrastructure > PSN

Taking PSN from potential to progress

David Bicknell Published 05 December 2012

BT's Neil Rogers discusses PSN's potential to transform local service delivery while moving shared services towards a process-matched agenda


BT's president for global government in BT Global Services, Neil Rogers, recently hosted a roundtable involving participants such as Surrey County Council and the Cabinet Office, which discussed the development of shared services in the PSN era.

The event considered a paper from the Kable research group which included the finding that over 70% of respondents agreed that common processes are more important than geographic factors in the success of shared services, and that it is possible to run successful services that are shared across the country.

The research suggested that this indicates an opportunity for the PSN to stimulate the use of national shared services with the potential to realise more benefits. But to achieve those benefits there must be a concerted effort to look beyond regional initiatives and suppliers, and to build a culture within the public sector that embraces change, is willing to look hard at its business processes and be honest about the degree of customisation that is really needed.

At BT, Rogers agrees with the conclusion that shared services can move beyond the local agenda.

"I think the white paper shows there is more to play on shared services with same processes as opposed to geography. I think there is still a lot of mileage frankly in regional aggregation from where we are now. I also believe there is a lot of mileage in linking end to end processes regionally, and I think PSN can help that."

But, he says, there is another problem that must be tackled in the delivery of local services facilitated by PSN.

"The biggest problem, as I found when I was in Bromsgrove recently, is the end-to-end cycle of dealing with a member of the public. PSN can connect people up, but the information about that person is held in at least 3 or 4 silos and the access to that information is controlled by different organisations. They may have a file on them in the police and the format and access to it is controlled by the police. Then you have the local authority, the probation service and you might have health too. So the information is all in different databases," says Rogers.

"The challenge for the local organisations is just trying to join up the people at the front end to deal with people as individuals. There is a huge cost benefit if you can do that promptly. The details may be as Case A, Case B etc. The problem comes from having something written at the front-end so you can get access to all these different things to ensure that the work gets done."

Rogers cites the problem of a local woman who needed assistance, and the eventual cost of that support.

"There was a lady who was in trouble and who needed some help. The cost of that help over a period of time was three quarters of a million pounds. If they'd given the woman a helper to do washing, cleaning etc, every day for that period, the cost would have been £70,000. It would have meant the six kids could have stayed at home, and the mother got the assistance she needed. It's probably an extreme example, but it makes the point of what's the type of intervention you need that has the best effect for society and eventually, the public purse."

He argues that PSN is an enabler for these situations and for the secure transfer of data.

"But then you've got to layer it up. That's why we're very supportive of PSN. We've put time and effort and finances into building GCN, making our products compatible, and promoting the concept. I was with John Taylor from the Cabinet Office recently and of all the branches of the ICT strategy, I would venture to suggest that PSN is the one that is making real progress. I genuinely think that there is a groundswell now of people getting the PSN agenda and beginning to work with it."

Rogers believes there is a balance to be struck on PSN, between the draconian application of standards and commonsense communication that says, 'Why wouldn't you follow standards?'

"At the point that you're going out for something new, why wouldn't you make sure it follows the standards required and why wouldn't you use the frameworks to do it? If you want the ability to collaborate more with other agencies in your region, then you should go down these standards. You're not going to throw out your investment and start again. But at the right point of intervention, it's got to be compliant. See if there are frameworks that can help you, see if there is learning that can help you get there faster, and tell you what pitfalls to avoid. Look at the models that are out there, like what Surrey is doing or an N3, and decide how you can get something that gives you longevity but without making a binary choice for ten years."

Rogers argues that N3 is a good example of getting the structure right. The NHS's N3 network, one of the largest VPNs in Europe with more than 40,000 connections, is managed by BT.

"They've not needed to change the structure because the structure was demonstrating an increased level of service, a refresh of the core. All the stuff around the edge which started life as circuits has been community interest networks. They come out every three years, so they're keeping pace with the technology and the price in a way that's demonstrable. We will talk to the Cabinet Office about that. If they want to get fast PSN benefits, they might consider someone being the managing agent and that does play to our strengths."

Rogers suggests that there is a service integration and management (SIAM) like role that instead of managing the service towers, actively manages the market.

"N3 is coming to the end of its OJEU life and it works. It's as secure as it needs to be. It doesn't break and it manages the market. The questions going forward are: what does N4 look like? And how does it make sure that it doesn't create another island within PSN? I think that's doable. The managing agent role is something that we are discussing and it's akin to the SIAM sort of thing. But you'd have to go to OJEU from N3 to N4 and government would also have to go to OJEU for who's the managing agent."

Rogers believes developments such as PSN can transform the way services such as healthcare will be delivered.

"Healthcare is delivered the same way it was fifty years ago. In contrast, banking is completely different. You never go to your bank. You do it all online. We've all got to know and love self-service. In healthcare, you can have self-service too. There is no reason why you can't monitor your own health. We are trialling some telehealth schemes under the health service banner of '3m lives.'"

One of these, says Rogers, is in Cornwall, where patients are monitoring their chronic diabetes using some kit using dial-up communications out of a shed on a farm in Bodmin.

"People log in every day, they test their sugar levels and the procedure goes through a triage script of the questions a doctor would ask. And then the details are sent in. If you don't send them in, somebody rings you. And if the results change by a certain percentage, someone also rings you. As a result, the emergency admissions in that sample are reduced by 20%," he adds.

He argues that such schemes have the potential to rein in spiralling NHS costs.

"Think of the costs on the health service nationally for emergency admissions for diabetes. You will save billions using this system for monitoring any chronic condition at home and keeping people out of hospital, which is the most expensive part of the well-being cycle."

A keen concern that Rogers points out is the change in mindset that is required when it comes to the ownership of health data.

"There is a big cultural shift for society about who owns that data. Your health record is your ownership. Government doesn't own it; you own it. But we've grown up with people owning our data for us and keeping it secure. But it's your data, and part of the culture shift - maybe to save the money - is recognising that ultimately it's your data, on your health."

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