Public Services > Blue Light

2014: realising PSN's benefits

David Bicknell Published 17 January 2014

Richard Barnes, Head of PSN at Virgin Media Business, discusses the ongoing development of PSN from earlier regional procurements into central government departments and the drive towards collaboration and subsequent cost savings.

 

Richard Barnes, Head of PSN at Virgin Media Business (VMB), is responsible for ensuring that his organisation maximises opportunities within the PSN marketplace, and develops and drives its PSN go-to-market planning and strategy.

VMB's recent win at West Midlands PSN was the latest in a number of regional PSNs that have gone down the VMB route, including Yorkshire and Humber, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire and the London Grid for Learning. So what are his views on how the PSN market will develop in 2014?

Regionally, says Barnes, PSN has been about bringing the different regional public service providers together. For example, getting county councils, borough councils, regional councils, health and care providers, and blue light and emergency services all onto a common network where they can share information.

"The regional PSNs were in the vanguard of adopting PSN standards and ethos even though it was a centrally driven programme out of the Cabinet Office. Regional government adopted and drove that agenda in advance of the frameworks two years ago and in advance of some of the ratification of the standards, partly because they had to as a way of making cost savings but also partly because they could see the benefits of collaboration across regions and between regions as well."

Looking ahead to 2014, adds Barnes, many of the big procurements are likely to be in central government, though until now, they have been delayed.

"They were supposed to be procuring the big departments by now and there has been something of a delay, for a number of reasons. We're now seeing the Ministry of Justice about to award, and we are in the process of the Department for Work and Pensions competing its wide area network (WAN) contract. Going into 2014, there will be some other big central government PSNs. But regionally, much has now been done.

"Now, it becomes a story of the services on top of the network. Getting those organisations that haven't previously been part of the PSN story, or not so robustly part of it, to come on board and start to realise the benefits. We're already seeing fire organisations becoming part of the regional PSNs. The police have been running both behind but in parallel and slightly separate. As we reach between the two of them there starts to be some real benefits there. And there's a real programme looking at PSN for health which is being driven out of the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC)."

Barnes says he is aware that the Cabinet Office may need to 'sell' the benefits of PSN to councils following amid ongoing discussions over PSN compliance. Organisations such as public sector IT managers group Socitm wants to see a more pragmatic balance of security and business agility.

"We've been aware of the brewing conversations between regional government and the Cabinet Office, and an announcement is necessary and due. Exactly what it is going to contain we don't know. But ultimately it is about being able to collaborate and share information securely, quickly and safely. So that's how, if I was the Cabinet Office, I would be trying to sell the benefits to Socitm and regional government.

"It's about collaboration and cost saving. PSN has never been about technology, without trivialising the technology. In VMB we've got some hugely intelligent people who make the technology work. PSN isn't about selling technology. It's about enabling a marketplace through the adoption of common standards. It's about saving now to invest in transformation in the future, rather than just looking for the cheapest answer. It's about buying things in the most cost effective way, that satisfy the requirements of the public sector, so they can then collaborate and save money to invest.

Barnes says public sector CIOS are faced with the need to ensure that their ICT underpins transformation in the service delivery model and that is where the big money is, not in ICT budgets.

"ICT budgets are a big number but they are a small proportion of the public purse spend. Their ICT has got to underpin service transformation in the service delivery model. But they have to do so in such a way that hits their budget targets as well. And so ultimately that's what PSN's about - it's about the marketplace enabled by common standards."

Barnes also discusses PSN frameworks, which are being extended into next year to provide more continuity and flexibility.

"It is public knowledge that they are extending the exiting PSN connectivity and PSN services frameworks by a year. The connectivity one expires in April and services in June, and they are both being extended by a year, for two reasons. The first is to allow 'in-flight procurement' to complete under the framework they've come out to market. So the MoJ, DWP, and some of the regions are out to tender. And that procurement process will probably take longer than the expiry date of the current frameworks. So they've got to extend to allow those in flight procurements to complete," he says.

"But they are also thinking long and hard about the structure of the replacement frameworks and extending the existing frameworks effectively buys them some time to think that through. The frameworks have been very successful, certainly for us. Take up hasn't been quite as comprehensive as the Government Procurement Service would have hoped and they want to know why that is.

"So they're looking at simplifying the routes to contracting. And they're looking at introducing more SMEs into the supply chain. But when you're looking at multi-million pound contracts, these are complex things to work through."

Barnes suggests that there was some activity last summer, with the Cabinet Office looking at the best way of improving the frameworks, together with a proposed timeline. However, industry feedback has taken more time to wade through and that has driven the need to extend the frameworks to allow more time for new proposals to emerge.

"Looking ahead, I think they will examine enabling different ways for customers to contract. There is a big drive towards catalogue entries, for want of a better description, where customers can compare on a direct like-for-like basis suppliers' standard product offering and choose the one that fits their requirements best. That is not available now. They have to run tenders for everything, whether it is for a couple of handsets or for a £5m network. So they're looking at simplifying the contracting options through from smaller purchases at one extreme to a major competition at the other end. At the moment, there is no middle ground; you have to run the competitions. So they are looking at the way that customers can come to market."

Could any lessons be learned from the success of the government's G-Cloud frameworks and CloudStore? The CloudStore is an online marketplace where suppliers offer their services to the public sector via the G-Cloud framework.

"The G-Cloud is one model, that is basically enabled by PSN because that is how people access G-Cloud services," says Barnes. "Certainly G-Cloud is a very successful initiative allowing people to buy point solutions. What PSN does is allow access to those solutions.

"The difference between G-Cloud and PSN is that PSN has a set of standards and compliance obligations against it. G-Cloud doesn't as part of its existence mandate any particular standards. You can sell more or less anything that looks like a Cloud service through G-Cloud. It's then up to the customer to determine what they want to use it for."




Source: Company Press Release








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