A lack of data will make it ‘an absolute nightmare’ for local authority IT departments to build a business case for the deployment of a Public Services Network (PSN), according to some councils.
However, they may find the process easier if they have an IT-savvy CEO at the helm.
A number of local government organisations and bodies were discussing the challenges associated with getting a major PSN deployment approved at a roundtable hosted by Virgin Media Business this week.
Mike Carey, PSN contract and service manager at Cambridgeshire County Council, said that local authorities need to be careful not to place all the cost burden on the IT department, without recognising the wider benefits that will be achieved.
“It depends how mature a view an organisation has of its budget, because it might be more expensive on the IT budget, but your chief exec needs to understand that they will probably make a net saving,” said Carey.
“What you don’t want is IT procuring in isolation and having to make a case for increased spend on a per unit circuit cost. What you need to demonstrate at the chief exec level is that you can now make savings in social care, for example.”
He added: “It’s very authority specific. We have got a very IT-savvy chief exec who has been blogging from day one, but his predecessor was somebody who had his emails printed. So it very much depends how clued up your leader is, but that’s also up to IT to evangelise.”
Cambridgeshire launched its PSN in May of this year and will connect over 400 sites including school, libraries, offices and emergency services. It claims that the deal with Virgin Media Business will save more than £1 million a year and see IT costs reduced by 50 percent.
Andrew Curtois, senior category manager for strategic procurement at Westminster City Council, disagreed with Carey and said that the main problem with developing a PSN was more due to the inability to collect savings data.
“It’s difficult to make sure people are aware and have a very good grasp of what they are going to save. If you talking about video conferencing, for example, does a local authority have a grasp of what it is going to save them? I think that’s the issue,” said Curtois.
He added: “It isn’t that IT is being seen in isolation. Councils don’t know where to pull all the data from that tells them where they are going to make savings, they don’t know that the data is absolutely correct, and because of this, they don’t know how much they are going to save.
“They are difficult figures to get your hands on.”
Ed Wallace, development manager at Nesta, a charity that promotes innovation in the UK, agreed with Curtois.
He said: “From my time in local government, I can tell you that putting together a business case internally is an absolute nightmare. The figures that you think would be easy to get access to and get hold of just aren’t.”
Wallace believes that councils spend an “inordinate amount of time” trying to get access to figures that would build a strong business case.
The government recently announced 29 suppliers that were successful at bidding for work under the PSN Services Framework. It follows the award of the PSN Connectivity Framework earlier this year, with both frameworks intended to significantly cut the public sector’s networking and related services costs.
The PSN – a network of networks – is core to the government’s ICT Strategy and the Cabinet Office hopes that in three years’ time 80 percent of its PC-based staff (four million users) will be on the network.
PSN providers will connect to Direct Network Service Providers (DNSPs) via the Government Conveyance Network (GCN). The GCN is, in effect, the backbone to the PSN, acting as the gateway between the networks of different service providers.