PSN: Can it really save money?

 
Across the public sector, the transition to the PSN has started, and Central Government organisations have until 2014 to achieve mandatory compliance and departmental plans are in place. Local government, Police, Fire and Rescue, and other Authorities and agencies are already moving towards PSN compliance, and as more providers and services become available, Government estimates that 80 per cent of the public sector, approximately 4m users, will be connected to the PSN by the end of 2014.
Since the beginning of 2011 tests have been completed, a number of companies have signed deeds of undertaking for places on its core Government Conveyance Network, various services have been certified, and the first procurement frameworks have been set up. In March 2012 the Cabinet Office announced the connectivity framework, following up in June with one for services such as secure gateways, mobile communications and video conferencing.
PSN’s savings are generated by reducing procurement cost and complexity, eliminating network duplication, and standardising network services. As a medium for innovation, the PSN can enable much greater benefit by enabling transformation through new ways of working, shared services, and more efficient public service delivery.
Neil Rogers, president, Global Government, BT Global Services, said: “The promotion of shared services is hardly a recent development, and has been a government priority for some years, if only to assist in the reduction of spending in the public sector. But while this may have been the catalyst for the creation of PSN, the sharing of essential organisational operations has since been recognised as a real opportunity to redraw the public services map, and in turn to reshape, fundamentally, how the public sector works together to serve citizens. Since the inception of state-run social initiatives, the public services map has always been dominated by locality. Not only were services obviously easier to implement on a regional basis, but also proximity allowed for deeper understanding of specific local requirements.”
“In the 21st century, however, initiatives like PSN are transforming infrastructures and enabling an unfettered flow of information, thus removing those barriers. These changes have clearly been identified in this paper, with one of the key findings showing how common processes are becoming more important than geographic location in the success of shared services, and the resulting benefits to the nation.”
Looking beyond regional
One of the key findings of the report is that over 70 per cent of respondents agree that common processes are more important than geographic factors in the success of shared services, and that it is possible to run successful services that are shared across the country.
This indicates an opportunity for the PSN to stimulate the use of national shared services with the potential to realise more benefits. But, the report says, to achieve those benefits there must be a concerted effort to look beyond regional initiatives and suppliers, and to build a culture within the public sector that embraces change, is willing to look hard at its business processes and be honest about the degree of customisation that is really needed.
They also have to overcome reluctance to cede control. That will enable public sector organisations to cast the net more widely in seeking partners across the country for shared services based on common process to deliver real savings.
Some obstacles to progress were also identified by the research. The most common barriers were identified as a reluctance to cede control, a tendency for public sector organisations to exaggerate unique features of their operations, doubt surrounding the potential financial benefits and concerns over the security and reliability of connections to services provided through an outside organisation. The issue of losing control was raised by only a handful of respondents to the Kable survey, suggesting that it is receding over time.
Not yet delivered value
The National Audit Office says in its report of March 2012 on central government shared services that they have not yet delivered value for money to Whitehall, and a few respondents to the Kable survey expressed doubts that they would be cost-effective. Even in the ventures that have apparently satisfied the partners, little data has been put out to demonstrate the benefits. This suggests a need for clearer evidence that shared services can deliver value for money. The Cabinet Office has recognised this in its Strategic Vision, responding with a plan to publish performance data for the ISSCs serving Whitehall. Similar steps could be taken for other parts of the public sector.
There are also concerns over the security and reliability of connections to services provided through an outside organisation. This is one of the issues that prompted the development of the PSN in the first place.
These are significant issues, but against the financial pressures on the public sector some will shrink in importance and there will be more resolve to overcome the others. There is a strong interest in sharing common processes around the country, and while senior officials have struggled to envisage how it could be achieved with their existing communications infrastructure, the implementation of the PSN now strengthens the potential to realise the benefits.
Research by BT shows attitudes to the PSN are generally positive. Of the public servants questioned for its PSNsus Survey, 69 per cent considered themselves to be well informed about the programme, and thought it would be important or very important to their organisation’s efficiency programme.
They identified a number of expected benefits, the most important being the secure exchange of data, followed by a fast and reliable network, economies of scale, and the ability to strengthen ICT systems against attack and data loss.
Geographically dispersed shared services
Parts of the Kable survey focused on the potential for the network to facilitate more geographically dispersed shared services, and the results provide a guide to the priorities in dealing with suppliers.
A key finding was that 90 per cent of respondents agree or strongly agree that accountability for service level agreements on connectivity is among the requirements for a successful shared service. This implies that suppliers need to be able to provide that accountability across broad geographical areas if the potential from national shared services is to be fully realised.
Neil Rogers, president, Global Government, BT Global Services, said: “This paper not only provides us with a glimpse into a PSN-enabled world, but also shows us the steps that public sector organisations need to take in order to get there.
“The Public Service Network opens up so many possibilities to share resources across public sector organisations. If PSN is used smartly and proactively, organisations will see a significant increase in the efficiency of their service delivery. It’s a massive opportunity for the public sector, with advantages that go far beyond ICT cost‑saving.”
Further information
The research paper Shared Services in the PSN era, compiled by Kable on behalf of BT, can be downloaded from tinyurl.com/dx8dqc5

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