October 14th, 2010 Author: Howard Inns
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Howard & Afshin

Afshin Attari, Director of Public Sector and Howard Inns, Marketing Manager, Public Sector

The vision that has been developing since 2005 is a Network Infrastructure created from the existing commercial networks, a ‘network of networks’ for the Public Sector.  Alongside this, a marketplace is envisioned providing opportunities for the industry, and savings for the Public Sector. The benefits anticipated for Government Departments and Agencies, Local Authorities and the Third Sector are cost savings and efficiencies in procurement, through a range of technical and service standards which will lead to an open, collaborative environment for all UK Public Sector employees. 

As the work goes on to turn this vision into reality, we also see a more immediate, pragmatic approach being taken, particularly in Local Government, who want – right now – to establish networks in their own geography as a shared network resource for all public sector bodies. The intention is for these PSNs to eventually become incorporated into the broader PSN programme.  Kcom is actively involved as a bidder in several such projects.

HI: We hear a lot in the news is about cost cutting in the public sector – this all sounds like a lot of new investment.  How does that sit with the constraint on public sector spending?

AA: The PSN will use the next generation infrastructure of existing suppliers to create this ‘internet for public sector’ so we are not talking about a big investment in new network build.  The PSN Programme is more about establishing the necessary standards to allow network traffic to flow securely between these interconnected networks.  Because that will primarily be achieved through contributions of skill and expertise by the participating service providers, it doesn’t represent a great deal of new public sector money being spent.

Therefore the central programme is more about establishing the appropriate standards.

The other phenomenon is local or regional PSNs, lead by the County Councils wishing to establish a PSNs in their own geography.  This will mean spending money but that should be considered an investment in an infrastructure that can be shared across a number of public sector bodies which will be significantly less expensive than individual networks for each separate organisation.

You also have to bear in mind that these procurements are happening because existing contracts are expiring and the existing networks are often badly in need of upgrade or enhancements to meet today’s business demands

HI: OK, I can see that a shared network would cost less than several separate networks but how much would that save?

AA: Remember that it’s not just the direct network cost that is under consideration here.  One of public sector’s biggest areas of expenditure is premises.  If your local council can close premises by allowing employees to work from home or from another location, then they can save a lot of money.  Similarly – and we are seeing this happen with police stations – if more than one public body can share the same premises, so a police station could be put into a council office for example, this too can save money.  The PSN is essentially the technology that can enable flexible working or could allow the different organisations sharing a building to each have secure access to their own applications.

Over and above that there are services that can be offered over a PSN such as video conferencing or even unified communications – so it’s easy to keep in contact with and work with people who have a flexible work pattern – sometimes at home, sometimes in an office.  We use this technology at Kcom – most of our meetings are collaborations over the network so we will all be looking at or working on the same documents – but we avoid the hard cash and carbon emissions associated with travel. 

Going back to the overall PSN programme, one of the first things that the new government did was to review all existing ICT projects and the PSN programme was reviewed and got a green light and a mandate to be accelerated because at least half a billion pounds-worth of savings were envisaged from programme.

HI: That makes a great deal of sense – how is Kcom contributing to the PSN programme?

AA: This is clearly a big programme and bearing in mind that the intention is to create a network of networks from service providers existing networks, the programme involves organisations like Kcom through a series of work-streams.  These work-streams recommend and agree the standards that need to adopt to ensure that the PSN works.  Kcom contribute by sitting on the work-streams which cover Governance, Commercial, Service Management, Technical and Security.

Once these standards are agreed, the telecommunications industry will maintain its involvement and contribution on an on-going basis through the PSN Governing Body and Kcom is represented on that as well.

The programme also needs to set up the procurement routes – Framework Agreements – for UK public sector to buy PSN services. Kcom are aiming to win places on these frameworks to ensure that our skills and services in the area of IP Telephony, Unified Communications, LAN infrastructure and Managed Services for example are available over the PSN. 

HI: So that sounds like on-going and quite long term, and I assume it relates to the Cabinet Office PSN programme but let’s consider Regional PSNs.  I know that there are already several regional networks that are being referred to as PSNs and other procurement’s underway. How is Kcom involved in those and what does that mean to its customers?

AA: Well there are very few already implemented, Kent and Hampshire are about the only partial examples.  There are several Regional PSN projects in procurement and quite a number being planned or discussed.  Kcom is bidding for those that are currently out to tender and is advising some of the organisations still in the planning phase.

There is a bit of a challenge here for customers as it’s impossible to find organisations who have done it all before and also it will be some time before the PSN programme is sufficiently advanced for any of the current regional PSN’s to be considered PSN compliant.

Let’s take a look at what’s needed.  Typically a regional PSN needs to provide a mix of raw connectivity, LAN infrastructure, overlaid service such as telephony, unified communications or security but then over all of that a comprehensive service and most important a commercial model that delivers best value to all participants in the PSN.

HI: Let’s take those in turn

AA: In terms of connectivity, Kcom delivers connectivity to over 2,000 schools in the East Midlands and also to 500 schools in the South West as part of the South West Grid for learning. We are also building network infrastructure as part of a Digital Britain initiative to deliver high speed broadband in South Yorkshire as part of the South Yorkshire Digital Region.  Our relationship with BT Wholesale, access to our own network and relationships with other operators means that we can make use of network connections that already exist and pretty much guarantee to provide lowest cost if we do need new connections.

In terms of overlaid services we have a range of technology partners including Cisco, Avaya and many others and some great examples where we have used unified communications to help public sector save costs and be more effective– whether that’s simple video conferencing to save travel time, cash and carbon or enabling police in North Wales to access criminal records via their telephone.  We work extensively with police forces and understand the issues around protecting the security of information and this is another critical factor for the PSN.  Kcom has also got the experience of putting new technology into hospitals as part of new build PFI (Private Finance Initiatives) including wireless networks and ground breaking speech activated badges as an alternative to bleeps.  These are major long term contracts – like those envisaged for PSNs.

Service is always going to be an important consideration in a shared environment.  It is vital to identify where people go for help and what response they can expect when there is a problem.  Most of our relationships with police forces are based on managed service contracts.  This does several things;

Firstly it provides an agreed and appropriate level of service for each organisation in a PSN partnership, taking account of different levels of criticality and different hours of operation.

Secondly it can provide on-going performance monitoring so appropriate adjustments can be made to address potential problems before they become critical.

Thirdly, it can allow any savings or surpluses to be re-invested to make improvements – in North Wales Police for example savings made by reconfiguring the network to take advantage of lower cost circuits was invested in a new IP telephony infrastructure.  With the savings possible by sharing communications infrastructure across a number of organisations, this could become even more interesting. 

And finally a regional PSN will only deliver savings with the right commercial model.  Again Kcom has experience of different models of pricing managed services – on a per seat basis for example, a model we have used in Sheffield City Council and even on a ‘risk reward’ basis – a contact centre solution we have implemented for the NHS to automate the issue of European Health Cards means that we only get paid if a card is issued successfully. 

As well, directly in response to regional PSNs, we have developed a commercial model that recognises different partners according to their level of investment and balances charges accordingly – thus ensuring that everybody gets value for money.

So all round we think we’ve got two things;

One – the right experience.  This is new ground but the different elements needed in a PSN are all things that we’ve done before for different customers through our dedicated Public Sector business.

Two –  the understanding of the bigger picture – both of the detail of the PSN Programme and the regulatory environment which we understand because of our history as a ‘telco’.

What we believe customers really want is the confidence that what they invest in today will meet PSN compliance. We are confident we can offer customers robust and innovative solutions capable of compliance as we understand both the public sector and PSN. 

Further information

Afshin Attari has a long history in public sector in both BT and Airwave. Afshin has been monitoring the development of PSN for several years and is Kcom’s executive lead and key liaison point between Kcom and the Cabinet Office. He is also Kcom’s representative in the PSN Governing Body.

View Afshin’s and Howard’s PSN video interview

PSN – New routes to cost reduction in Public Sector4.051

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