PSN – more than a network

Phil Gibson hopes the government’s new Public Services Network chief realises is not underestimating his task.

In his first blog since taking up the role of CTO for the PSN, James Duncan has set out his roadmap for how the Public Services Network will change under the watch of his employer, the Government Digital Service. 

This much anticipated announcement is a welcome endorsement of PSN and every supplier involved in its delivery will welcome the makeover.

But I can’t help feeling disappointed with James’ opening message, “Simply put, the Public Services Network (PSN) is the government’s high-performance network”. 

Is that all it is? Leaving aside the question of whether ‘government’ is the same as the public sector and all the trusted stakeholders that PSN must also serve, surely we need more than just a network?

Of course, PSN was primarily designed to save money by standardizing services and creating a more competitive market.

Ask any telecom’s supplier what they think about the prices in the framework bids and you will be left in no doubt that the customer is king.

Incorporating internet access was always in the plan and will no doubt deliver further savings as well as, crucially, extending the reach to a wider set of users.

But PSN was also designed to create a safe, trusted environment where information could be shared across health, police, central and local government and their partners.

Certified PSN services were created to extend the safety net beyond the network alone and address many of the reasons why we see so many data breaches.   

What PSN should be is a common platform, built to assured standards, that is accessible to everyone with the appropriate rights, under clear and well-understood information governance rules.  

The investment so far has delivered open technical interoperability standards based on enterprise services and an operating model that actually means that customers can report a problem and suppliers work together to fix the issue. 

Procurement frameworks are allowing new suppliers to compete in a growing marketplace and customers know that they are buying plug and play, interchangeable services. 

If PSN is over-diluted, customers will revert to their own individual bespoke requirements – bad for the Treasury, bad for industry, (especially for all the SMEs who have invested in the PSN marketplace over the past three years) and bad for anyone who believes in a platform approach as the way forward.

Yes PSN has been allowed to become too restrictive and too complicated and not enough has been done to make it work for the wider stakeholder group with health being the overwhelming priority. Let’s work together to fix that.

But what we really need is to deliver on the promise of a common platform that every “information asset owner” can confidently use to make available the sensitive information they are responsible for and that keeps data controllers from going to jail. 

We need access rights and security and connectivity solutions that allow people to work together, improve efficiency and deliver outstanding citizen service. 

“We” means customers and suppliers working together with a common objective and not in isolation

 Let’s stay focused on the required outcome and not throw the PSN baby out with the bathwater.

Phil Gibson is chairman of PSNGB – the industry association for PSN suppliers

Colin Marrs

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