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Public Sector Network confusion rife among government IT professionals

BT research reveals only 7 per cent are carrying out feasibility studies on PSN

Over half of public servants (56 per cent) working in an IT or commercial function do not know where their organisation stands in the process of adopting a public services network (PSN), according to a new survey.

The PSN is core to the government's ICT Strategy with the Cabinet Office estimating it could save up to £130m a year in central government by 2014. In three years time the government wants 80 per cent of its PC based staff (four million users) to be using the network.

BT's research, entitled the 'PSNsus Survery', asked 1,300 public servants from a range of professional areas and sectors in January this year to get an idea of whether the public sector is moving towards the government's goal of creating a shared information and communications infrastructure.

However, there appears to be more awareness of PSN projects in local government, when compared to central government, with the figure rising to 69 per cent for Central Government respondents being unaware, which compares to only 31 per cent for local government.

"In my experience there is a huge amount of innovation happening in local government when compared with central government," said Neil Sutton, VP Global Portfolio at BT Global Services.

"An idea, to concept, to procurement, happens in local government on a timetable that is about less than half of the time it would take in central government. But that's understandable because of the scale and complexity found in central government," he added.

The PSN will create a network of networks by joining up organisations, departments, authorities and agencies that deliver public services at local, regional and national levels.

A catalogue of PSN services will be sold to the public sector by a number of PSN providers, who will connect to Direct Network Service Providers (DNSPs) via the Government Conveyance Network (GCN).

The GCN is, in effect, the backbone to the PSN, acting as the gateway between the networks of different service providers. BT, Virgin Media, Cable & Wireless and Global Crossing have all agreed to 'mesh' together their networks to create a single network for the PSN.

BT's research also found that of the 44 per cent IT savvy public servants that knew what stage their organisation was in adopting PSN, only 12 per cent were carrying out initial scoping exercises; 9 per cent have an implementation in place; and 7 per cent are carrying out detailed feasibility studies.

Sutton believes that these low figures should not be cause for concern, as the scale of the project means that it will take time to create the government's vision for a fully connected PSN.

"This is a snapshot of where we are. You can envisage in three years' time where we all want to be, but I do think this is the sort of thing that is quite difficult to do inside one parliament," he said.

"It's such a big set of infrastructure, to do it in a short amount of time is quite hard. It's like trying to change the universal credit system inside one parliament is difficult. There are so many social systems that have developed over 100 years, not from any design that's recognisable because they just evolved, and changing that in just a few years is virtually impossible," he added.

However, among the IT respondents questioned, 45 per cent did state that PSN was either significant or very significant to their organisation's ICT and business strategy.This figure rises to 46 per cent for central government, and 47 per cent for local government, but drops to 25 per cent for Health and Defence public servants.

The most important benefit of the PSN that public servants cited was that it provides a secure way to exchange data with other public bodies, followed by benefits of having a reliable network and the cost savings that could be achieved through economies of scale.

Although, 14 per cent of respondents that were familiar with the PSN said that they would not adopt it if they thought that there may be a lack of widespread adoption by other public bodies, while 12 per cent also said that they would be deterred if there is a risk to their organisation's cyber security.

The PSN is core to the government's ICT Strategy with the Cabinet Office estimating it could save the public sector up to £130m a year in central government by 2014. In three years time the government wants 80 per cent of its PC based staff (four million users) to be using the network.

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