Staffordshire County Council was one of the first to embrace the public sector network (PSN) notion of shared infrastructure when it started the project two years ago.
The local authority teamed up with Kcom to provide the networking needed to connect 200 council sites across the eight districts of Staffordshire, as well as bringing other public sector bodies, such as the NHS and Police, on board.
The five-year contract – worth £23 million – covers both wide and local-area networks, merging several telephony services onto one IP platform, a new contact centre system, mobile phones deployments and security functions across the county. These facilities are offered to any public sector group which wants to share.
PSN brings substantial savings
The council’s CIO, Sander Kristel, said public organisations using the network could save between 40% and 60% of their costs, compared to running their own network.
“If you are in the public sector, it is hard to work out who does what and when; everyone works in silos,” Kristel said during a Kcom sponsored event in Burton-on-Trent. “It is very hard to find a way through.”
“We wanted to work much closer, so we could provide an end-to-end solution to the public and the view was, we needed integrated, shared infrastructure to do that.”
Kristel admitted getting the project off the ground was not plain sailing as, being a local council, there was a lot of politics involved. But the network contracts in place were up for renewal and the business case for saving money was clear.
“We decided we would stick our necks out. We said we are going to do this and risk this rather than wait for anyone else to sign on the dotted line,” Kristel said.
“Now people are seeing that these services work and are cheaper than having their own network.”
Tech-savvy council invests in public-sector app
Kristel said the council leadership, both from the civil servant side and the councillors themselves, proved very tech-savvy and supportive of using new innovations to boost the council’s ability to serve its citizens.
This support proved essential when Staffordshire County Council took the bold move of investing in a start-up company which had created a mobile app.
The app allows different public sector workers to collaborate and see all the information on one family or one address that they are all working with.
“Beforehand, a health worker would show up at the door in the morning, a social worker would show up in the afternoon and neither would know the other had been there,” said Kristel.
“We have invested in this start-up and now all our public sector workers have a shared contact list specifically connected to the family.”
The app will also soon include the ability for self-assessment, enabling individuals to submit all their information through a simple user interface and discover what help is on offer to fulfil their needs.
“The assessment aspect is incredibly expensive, so if we can enable people to do it themselves, it is much cheaper,” added Kristel.
“And we can catch people earlier, getting them the help sooner once they have instigated it themselves.”
Security concerns – or excuses?
To have applications like this, or even to share infrastructure between organisations, security must be at the top of the agenda and the CIO said it was built-in from step one to ensure it was inherent throughout the deployment.
But Kristel admitted those organisations not on board with the PSN cited security as an excuse not to change.
“Security is always used by IT people as the first barrier,” he told Computer Weekly. “When IT says the reason they aren’t doing this is because of security, it is tough for senior managers to challenge that.”
“We have put a lot of work in explaining how the PSN works to senior managers and, while security should be a major consideration, it shouldn’t be a barrier.”
Now everything is up and running, the goal is to bring more public sector workers into the network so it can serve a wider variety of citizens for a growing number of services.
“With a PSN, Staffordshire County Council can much more easily offer end-to-end services to the county while also saving a lot of money internally,” concluded Kristel.
“Now we need to move away talking about the technology and talk more about the frontline services we can deliver over that shared network.”
Last week, the Cabinet Office revealed the 29 suppliers given approval to work with the PSN for public authorities. Other companies featured alongside Kcom included Cable and Wireless Worldwide, BT and Virgin Media Business.