Is government ready to abandon GSi?

Written by Sam Trendall on 21 January 2019 in Features
Features

As the deadline for ditching the 22-year-old platform draws near, some major government departments are still using GSi email addresses – but all contend that they are on track for the March cut-off

Little more than two months from the deadline by which the public sector must abandon GSi email addresses, about one in five central government organisations is yet to do so – including two of the three biggest Whitehall departments, representing more than a third of all civil servants.

But, despite the rapidly narrowing time frame, all departments remain confident of completing their migration project by the end of March, PublicTechnology understands.

The 31 March cut-off for ditching the Government Secure Intranet platform and moving to a non-government email domain was first stipulated in Cabinet Office guidance published in November 2017. This was the first time a definitive end date had been specified, but the death of GSi has been a long time coming.

How did we get here?
Having been launched in 1997, the platform is now well into its third decade. GSi was introduced as a means for government organisations to securely communicate and share data online. It was developed forthe government by telecoms firm Cable & Wireless, which was later acquired by Vodafone.

Its end-of-life process effectively began in 2010, when the government announced that it wished begin moving away from GSi and that the domains would, it said, continue to be supported for no more than five years.

Shortly after which, the last iteration of the Government Convergence Framework, which covers the delivery of GSi services, came into effect in 2011, and expired in 2015. 
Since then, the government has retained Vodafone to support GSi via a series of contract renewals, the last of which expires in March 2019. 

The platform and services will then be taken entirely out of commission by the end of the calendar year, the government and Vodafone have agreed.

In recent years, growing numbers of public sector organisations have begun to move away from the GSi domains, which include gsi.gov.uk, gcsx.gov.uk, and gsx.gov.uk. Many departments had already abandoned the platform when the November 2017 policy update set the clock ticking on the impending deadline.

That advice urged government bodies that, while all web-based services that rely on a GSi domain must be migrated, email should be at the front of the queue.

“These domains no longer deliver value for money and our security needs can be delivered in better ways,” the guidance says. “This policy covers all services that use a gsi-family domain name, but you must prioritise your email. Other technologies that make email secure are now widely available at low cost on the public cloud, and are built into many of the messaging tools that people use every day.”

It adds: “For other services, like websites, the first step is to change to your new domain name. You should also consider migrating it from the PSN (Public Services Network) to the internet.”

Public sector entities are instructed by the Cabinet Office that they must ultimately move to public cloud-based domains but that they “can use hosted or on-premises email services in the short term if you can’t move right away”.

Where are we now?
Some 14 months on from that diktat, 10 of the 45 ministerial and non-ministerial central government departments still provide citizens with GSi-based email address on which they can be contacted, and seven of these departments appear are yet to complete migration work itself.

Among those that are still, to some extent, reliant on GSi, are two of the three biggest government organisations by headcount: the Department for Work and Pensions; and HM Revenue and Customs.

Between them, the two cumulatively employ 151,690 people, according to the most recently published annual civil service workforce data from the Officer for National Statistics. This represents 35.3% of the 430,080-strong headcount of government.

With such a massive workforce to cover, both departments are understood to be undertaking their migration projects gradually, to minimise disruption to staff and citizens. Work has already begun and, although time is becoming scarce, PublicTechnology understands that both departments expect to successfully complete their projects by the end of March.

The National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud Office also both indicated that, while migration remains a work in progress, they will be finished before the deadline.

Another major Whitehall organisation, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs, issued a public notice earlier this month explaining that “our email addresses are changing, and the transition will be completed by the end of March 2019”. 

The change will apply to all Defra addresses, as well as those of the wider departmental group, including the Rural Payments Agency, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Committee for Climate Control, and some addresses at the Marine Management Organisation.

“We are following security guidance provided by the Government Digital Service, and moving away from the GSI to cloud computing with [Microsoft] Office 365,” the department said.

"These domains no longer deliver value for money and our security needs can be delivered in better ways... Other technologies that make email secure are now widely available at low cost on the public cloud, and are built into many of the messaging tools that people use every day.”
Cabinet Office guidance

The Office of Rail and Road indicated to PublicTechnology that it had already completed migration work, and that email addresses still worked both with and without the inclusion of the .gsi domain. While the Home Office still lists some GSi-based contact addresses, it is also thought to have completed migration.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland said: “The Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland uses the IT system operated by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government has completed their migration from .gsi email addresses and we are in the process of amending our email addresses to reflect this.”

The Office of the Advocate General for Scotland and water and sewerage regulator Ofwat are the other two departments that both still use GSi-based email addresses. Neither had responded to our request for comment at time of going to press.

After 22 years in operation, for those that work with GSi, the platform's – intended – final two months before retirement could be among its busiest.

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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