We recently had the pleasure of participating in the "Public Services Network Conference from Vision to Reality", hosted by BT in collaboration with the UK's Cabinet Office PSN Programme Team.
The event provided us an opportunity to have an overview on the current development of the Public Services Network (PSN), how it will evolve in the near future and how it will represent the foundation layer for the renewed UK public sector (which also includes healthcare) ICT strategy.
The PSN is "a single secure logical network, constructed from a network of networks built to common standards that enables the delivery of public services from any place by any provider" for the UK public sector.
The clever part is that PSN is not a new infrastructure intended to be implemented separately by public sector organisations at different levels, but instead it is a single marketplace for infrastructure and application services, riding on top of existing and new networking infrastructures.
As we know, ICT is moving from client/server computing to what we call the "third platform" environment shaped by cloud, social business, mobility and big data. Industry solutions will increasingly use "social business" technologies and will most likely be delivered as a cloud service, often using mobile networks, and will certainly generate huge amounts of data.
Network design and maintenance will, to a large extent, shift from the internal IT organisation to external (cloud) providers. Public Sector ICT organisations, including here in Europe healthcare, are obviously involved in this shift, but with implications for privacy, security and liability that are off the scale compared to most other industries. Considering this paradigm shift, the PSN is a credible answer to the public sector's need for next generation networking infrastructure.
In the context of a renewed public sector ICT strategy, PSN is expected to deliver significant savings by reducing the duplication and complexity of procurement activities, maximising economies of scale, simplifying the integration and standardising management of networks and services. Expected savings convinced the current UK government to go ahead with PSN; it was the first project approved following the spending freeze.
PSN will not appear overnight, but across the UK public sector, the transition to the PSN has started. In central government, despite mandatory compliance, uptake looks to be slower than in local government. In healthcare, relations between PSN management team and the National Health Service (NHS) ICT management have blossomed only over the last year, after injections of new energy and commitment from both sides.
The prognosis looks good, but there is still (and rightly so) a lot of negotiation to be done before PSN can be the backbone of the NHS, the health service is one of the few public-sector organisations that can genuinely claim to have special needs in networking, in part due to its enormous diversity and complexity. Concerns about security protocols, uncertainty on the future of the NHS reform, the current advantages of the N3 broadband network and the related investments done so far on networking, have been making NHS IT decision makers unenthusiastic about PSN for a long time.
Bringing healthcare bodies within the PSN is however seen as a key factor in achieving its full cost-savings potential, and recently the historic reluctance has been mitigated. As the end of the N3 contract is approaching, the Department of Health is currently evaluating options for making the current N3 network PSN-compliant.
Benefits expected from the realisation of the PSN are strategic, but so too must be the effort put into generating these benefits. Public authorities moving onto the PSN need to be clear that the PSN framework is not a turnkey solution delivered to the customer ready for used with no preparation. Getting ready for the PSN is a serious journey that should be started today, in order to exploit the reach and range of the service network from the beginning. In a forthcoming report (Ready, Steady Go! Getting ready for the UK Public Services Network) we have analysed which steps need to be followed by organisation preparing for the PSN.
Nationwide public sector networks are not something new in Europe. However, initiatives so far have been focused on the deployment of new infrastructures. The PSN is instead a marketplace, aimed at involving a larger number of service providers in order to respond to each customer's needs, but in a coherent and interoperable context. This flexibility is good but requires all organisation involved to be very proactive. Do you think that in highly structured environments as healthcare and government, this can be a model to follow? And which countries, after the UK, are ready for this change?
By Silvia Piai