Does the deployment of public services networks (PSN) need to happen before widespread uptake of CloudStore services occur?
The PSN is designed to act as a “network of networks” to enable the delivery of government services from any provider or location; while the recently-launched CloudStore is intended to act as a portal for on-demand IT services for the public sector. Both the PSN and cloud were flagged as key ways to cut IT costs in the government’s ICT implementation plan.
But some local authority IT heads have said that a PSN infrastructure will be the priority ahead of CloudStore deployments. Tom Baker, CIO of Sunderland City Council, said: “We need the PSN first, if there’s a service in the cloud store [for data requiring high security] at Impact Level 3, for example, we need a secure network to be able to access it. I see the PSN and G-Cloud as part of the same strategy,” he said at an event organised by BT.
Jeff Wallbank, Kent PSN partnership development manager, has been trialling a regional network to connect with central services with Hampshire County Council. He said: “We are concentrating our efforts on the PSN, as we feel the CloudStore is not secure enough at the moment. When the services become more stable, we will investigate.”
Wallbank says getting the Infrastructure in place is a necessary first step so that applications can be securely supported. “Once you put the network in place people start to work together, then you can put regional data centres in place and build applications based on that shared infrastructure, then start to look at shared resources and putting things like cloud services in first. Basic infrastructure can start that cultural change.”
Baker said Sunderland expected to procure services through the PSN once the national framework agreement was up. This will also lead to more local governments rolling out PSNs as it will reduce the time it takes for regional collaboration, he said.
“The challenge for many local councils is that they are often locked into multi-year contracts. The onus is on people like BT and Cable & Wireless to facilitate access to the PSN through their existing contracts,” he said.
Baker said the CloudStore did not contain much for local authorities beyond generic services at the moment, but added that he expected to start seeing areas of the public sector using cloud services on a PSN by the end of the year.
Local authorities are far ahead of central governments in the deployment of PSN, said Tola Sargent, analyst at TechMarketView, who was also attending the event. “The move [to the PSN] has predominantly been local government to date, that’s partly about being more nimble but also because the benefits of collaboration are more clearer for local government than central,” she said.
Sargent says it will act as an enabler for new ways of working, which will lead to greater workforce flexibility mobile and the use of cloud applications to run on top of the network.“It’s fair to say that the PSN is one of key foundations for government ICT strategy, as it will entail higher bandwidth, more reliable networks and cheaper costs, all of which will help support things like the move to the cloud. Once the PSN framework is announced more central government departments will get on board, she said.
Martin Ferguson, head of policy at body for public sector IT professionals Socitm, said communication of what the PSN is to non-technical decision-makers will be key going forward: “For technology to receive the investment it deserves it needs to tell a story and that it can reduce costs but in a secure way. Collaboration in social care and health are key as they are big spending areas. [IT bodies must] get the message across of the real, tangible benefits to people,” he said.
The PSN and CloudStore are complementary new technologies, which both have the potential to cut costs across the public sector and lead to greater flexibility. Some councils will feel more comfortable deploying a secure network before using applications designed to support secure information. This may be particularly true for rural areas lacking in connectivity, as the move to cloud will require robust and reliable networks in order to access services. But the PSN is not necessarily a pre-requisite for the cloud, for example Warwickshire County Council is already piloting cloud email service. As such the PSN and cloud should not be viewed as competing technologies but part of a shift in the way government uses technology to change the way it works.