Public Services > Blue Light

Enterprise Computing for Government? Yes, but only on enterprise terms and conditions

Published 24 December 2014

PSNGB director Neil Mellor calls for stability, guidance and sense in 2015 for PSN


The last 12 months in the UK public sector tech space, and specifically PSN, could be likened to a roller coaster ride at 1000mph.

There have been ups and downs and some tight turns with changes in governance and innovative new procurement frameworks, but the supplier community has responded well. And there is nothing extraordinary in that. However, there now needs to be more clarity on PSN's direction.

PSN was initially scoped on providing Enterprise technology into government. This would allow suppliers to provide standard services at standard prices and move the public sector away from each organisation being special and requiring expensive bespoke solutions.

Since the initial PSN creation there has been a steady creep of more and more unique customer requirements so that suppliers wishing to provide compliant services and win business have had to invest quite heavily not only to achieve certification for each service but to meet additional needs. In some cases, services can be delivered at close to standard commercial specification. For other requirements, such as additional network encryption, secure management or bespoke servce levels and reporting, very significant new investment has been needed.

Suppliers now need to start seeing the return on their investment. And there is a real danger that without more certainty and stability the supplier community will be reluctant to invest further in PSN or other areas of ICT specialised for the public sector.

Last month, a statement was issued by a supplierlisted on the PSN Connectivity Framework which suggested the margins being made on PSN connectivity alone are not sustainable. We are hearing from our wider member base that the vast majority of PSN connections to date are not at sustainable margins. To build on this cheap connectivity, the public sector needs to exploitPSN to share information and services and achieve much greater, sustainable savings by using ICT make public service delivery better and more efficient. When money is tight, there's a stronger incentive to adapt to use standard ICTservices to do this and not buy to custom requirements each time.

We are at an interesting position. Without the adoption of PSN-driven services, PSN will not have realised its potential. The rationale for a common network platform linking all public servicesin one digital community is only relevant if it's used for the common good. If it's only used to access a limited set of data or applications, then it's failed.

The high entry cost, coupled with uncertain returns, is further compounded by changes in direction. If you were to look at the current investment profiles for 2015 from within our own member base, few are being geared towards UK public sector business. Suppliers are not putting their money where there is uncertainty- why would they?

The same for less?

It is our view that the public sector has gone as far down the road of buying the same services for less asthey can do. Not least because public sector requirements still don't equate to the 'same' as standard commercial services.

Government ICT is not yet a standard service - often there will be requests for secure management or non-standard and more onerous contractual terms for example. In addition government suffers from well intentioned but insufficiently thought out policy implementations. This can be reflected in qualification questions or information requirements that can discourage entrants and place cost on suppliers; for example being asked to measure the distance their employees cycle to work. This all adds cost, especially to a commodity service where these factors are not built in to the design.

A standard commercial service from most large suppliers includes an element of global management. Some aspects of standard contract service management, such as billing, enquiries etc are likely to be offshore, following the sun to maintain 24x7 service at least cost. But, requirements from the public sectorusually do not allow for that offshore element and suppliers must invest in bespoke,non-standard local service centres, security clearances and additional systems. If the public sector still insists on enterprise standard pricing, this is not sustainable for suppliers.

In order for the public sector to benefit from enterprise prices and services, they need to procure against standard, commercial enterprise terms and not gold-plated public sector terms and bespoke policies.

The public sector needs to set their requirements and conditions accordingly and, in doing so,could open the door to more providers able to satisfy public sectorrequirements. Currently, that door is neither open nor closed; the conditions mandated by the public sector and the uncertainty create a 'do I, don't I?' mentality within the supplier community and, as stated, suppliers will not invest where there is uncertainty. Without a strong direction and management, the losers will be the general public who will have to pay more in the long run.

A better alignment of those requirements with established commercial standards would be seen as worthwhile, as would clear direction and stability.

Where next?

Going forwards, we would like to see a marketplace developing that makes it easier for all suppliers to bring PSN and wider ICT services to the public sector and to contract with their customers through more flexible and dynamic frameworks. We hope that the Network Services framework will be a significant step in the right direction and that the public sector embrace and take full advantage of this framework.

We believe it's possible to build on the secure foundation of PSN connectivity whilst encouraging more users to connect and a greater variety and diversity of commercial services to flourish on the platform. If this can be achieved whilst revitalising ICT enabled innovation and growing the marketplace for services, then PSN can achieve its potential to underpin public service transformation.

Neil Mellor is a director of PSNGB ( @neil_2_mellor @psngb

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