The challenges around PSN are still apparent as director leaves

The challenges around the public services network (PSN) still remain two months after the project has moved into the hands of the Government Digital Service (GDS), as sources tell me senior people are unhappy with the project and are calling for change.

And now it has been revealed that director of the project Mark Pope left the project last week – and sources suggest this was because of “strategic differences”.

Pope was due to speak at a PSN Summit event in London next week, and has now been replaced by Andy Beale director of common technology services at GDS, and there have been some whispers that he could also be Pope’s replacement as PSN director.

Computer Weekly spoke to Beale this morning ahead of the event, and he said there would be an announcement shortly about who would takeover.

Beale said: “The initial intention was that Mark and I were going to do that [take charge] together, as PSN transitioned into GDS Mark decided he wanted to go and do something else so I have said I will carry on doing it on my own.”

But there are still a number of issues around security and encryption. Sources say the encryption guidelines are not clear over which services need to be encrypted and which don’t, not to forget regarding the encryption gateways between the PSN suppliers, some of which are not in place yet.

After reading the PSN Programme Directors Update from February 2013, the document stated that the Inter-Provider Encryption Domain (IPED) technical standards had been published and approved, which enables public sector staff to share information at the then higher IL3 security level over the PSN.

The document stated that IL3 service providers were moving towards IPED implementation, which would need to be “materially complete by summer 2013 to match Public Sector plans.”     

It wasn’t until a year later, that the Government announced that PSN was encrypted for higher security levels, explaining that IPED would comprise of services from at least six PSN-compliant service providers, the first of which include BT and Vodafone.

Yet, in the next annual PSN Programme Directors Update from the same month (Feb 2014), it stated that IPED operational readiness testing had only been completed between BT and Vodafone, with the two suppliers having returned signed IPED agreements. And no word from the other suppliers.

In response to encryption problems Beale said that PSN was “ambitious.”

“If you look at this in terms of what it has achieved over five years, a very successful technical programme, but it is very ambitious and has a lot of different facets. One of the things that we want to do is, as I said, help articulate what it is trying to do and how it is trying to do it, and meet the needs of the user community better than it has before. So where there are questions coming such as that we want to be quickly in a position where we have a better product sell in terms of people understanding – so as a general point we’ll try to make sure people understand what PSN is and how it works.”

We asked the Cabinet Office for details of Pope’s departure and this is what they said:

“Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The PSN team moved to GDS from 6 April 2014, becoming part of Common Technology Services within the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). Mark Pope joined the PSN programme in December 2013 to support its transition into GDS. With this phase now complete he is leaving GDS to pursue other challenges. Mark has helped build a strong foundation for the rest of the business to build on.”

“We will be announcing the new organisational arrangements shortly.”