C’mon guys – don’t bottle up the Public Services Network; release it

There is a stark choice between a PSN that has a customer-centric approach to security or one with a locked-down security framework

We have reached a defining moment for government and the public sector, which affects all of us and relates to something called the Public Services Network (PSN)

This is the critical public networking infrastructure that connects up government and allows the data sharing needed for the next generation of digitally enabled public services.

It’s something we should care passionately about because getting it right and making it work really matters. Without it, public services will be more expensive and inefficient than they would otherwise be and government more generally will struggle to break out of silos and deliver the integrated and shared services that lie at the heart of future public service delivery.

The coming weeks are a seminal moment because there is a stark choice between open and progressive digital government based on a PSN that has a customer-centric approach to security, or one where we continue, King Canute-like, with a locked-down PSN security framework that seeks to do the right thing – keep the network secure – but in the wrong way, by locking it down too far or too inflexibly.

Right now, the upper hand is with those who want to lock it down. As a result, recent changes in security policies are not opening up government but are threatening to do the reverse.

Far from enabling digital innovation, the new PSN security rules are potentially giving a cold bath to innovation that is already underway. For example, new draconian provisions in the PSN code of connection (CoCo) mean councils that have embraced progressive flexible working strategies and schemes such as bring your own device (BYOD) over the past year will, in all probability, have to abandon them or change them so much that they become unaffordable or untenable.

Strong-arm enforcement tactics have not helped either. Over the summer the application of a “zero tolerance” approach for PSN CoCo compliance created unnecessary tension. It meant councils that were previously felt to be secure received correspondence threatening to cut them off from PSN.

Quite rightly, significant pressure has subsequently been brought to bear on the wisdom of these CoCo changes by local authorities, the Local Government Association and user group Socitm for a change in direction for the security framework for PSN.

That pressure has helped, no doubt, to precipitate a real dialogue across government around the future of the PSN and the design of its security model – debates which are set to intensify in the weeks ahead. My advice for those engaged in this critical work is: Please don’t bottle up the potential of PSN, but release it. So, let us:

  • Test our collective mettle and adopt security frameworks for the public sector that are flexible and adaptable for a new digital era and which are customer centric;
  • Sensibly roll back or modify the draconian changes made to the code of connection that threaten flexible and agile working strategies that many public bodies are pursuing to reduce costs and run more efficiently; and
  • Work in a strong and trusted partnership across local and central government to develop PSN as a joint effort with meaningful engagement on policy development and direction for all stakeholders.

The prize for doing so is enormous, with PSN rightly playing the underpinning role in enabling efficient and integrated government, which are the key foundations for the future of public services.

John Jackson (pictured) is CIO at London Borough of Camden.

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