Network gets more for less

The financial pressures facing all parts of the public sector have been well documented, as local and central government battle to deliver not only cost-savings, but also to embrace smarter ways of working for long-term efficiencies. From an IT perspective, this has seen a shift away from expensive capital projects towards managed service-based arrangements, drawing on the development of cloud computing.

Government has been keen to develop this trend through four main pillars – G-Cloud, Crown Hosting, end-user computing and the Public Services Network (PSN). It is the latter, says Robert Parker, director for public sector at Virgin Media Business – one of a small number of PSN service providers – that underpins the rest, offering a common standard framework through which all public sector agencies can source bundled services for their IT infrastructure.

“PSN delivers more for less through economies of scale and the way we can bring collaboration and convergence by bundling services on top of the infrastructure that underpins data and voice communications,” says Mr Parker. “It means you can buy your whole communications estate through one converged solution, as opposed to buying four or five times.”

The model is already well established across local government. The Yorkshire and Humber PSN was one of the first to be delivered, underpinned by Virgin Media Business. So far 28 organisations have signed up since launch, with direct cost-savings of £30 million identified over the next five years.

The real win for the public sector is the ability PSN brings to allow disparate agencies to share data securely

Virgin Media Business was recently announced as the preferred supplier for the West Midlands PSN, which is expected to deliver at least £1.5-million savings a year. Both Cambridgeshire and Hampshire county councils have also developed their own PSNs, and now many central government departments, whose ICT spend is approved by the Cabinet Office, including the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Ministry of Justice, are also procuring services through a PSN framework.

As well as bringing economies of scale, a PSN arrangement helps public sector agencies take advantage of innovation from smaller suppliers, who often find it challenging to take on work directly. “There is a shift now towards a more flexible and competitive marketplace, which embraces SME [small and medium-sized enterprise] service providers as well as new market entrants,” says Mr Parker. “It means that it’s not just the same old logos that you have to deal with because there are more new, disruptive and energetic companies which can help with this.”

The real win for the public sector, however, is the ability PSN brings to allow disparate agencies to share data securely. “It may be a child who has been through the justice system, but has also had interactions with social services,” says Mr Parker. “We want to track the way that child is handled, whether it’s through health, police or social services. One of the restrictions we’ve had in the past is the way that the data is kept in silos. PSN allows data-sharing at an unprecedented level, and it’s now tried and tested.”

For Mr Parker, it’s all part of how the public sector can think differently to deliver better service alongside efficiencies.

“The ICT budget of any mid to large-tier departments is about 3 per cent of their operating budget,” he points out. “Too much energy is spent on how you might squeeze that down to 2.5 per cent, as opposed to looking at what of the 97 per cent is enabled by smarter spending with the 3 per cent. It’s about freeing up people through smarter technology so they can deliver against their operational responsibility as public servants.”

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