By Jeff Paris, Senior Vice President of Public Sector Sales at Level 3

This year will be a crucial year for the Public Service Network (PSN). Discussion of the PSN first began in 2008, when the Cabinet Office created a programme to develop the defining standards for the public sector's 'network of networks'.

Fast forward to today, and while there have been a few supporters, take-up remains tentative across the public sector.

But this is all set to change and by 2015 the PSN should have 5.5 million end users, making it the biggest single market in Europe.

That’s a significant increase over the next three years. At the moment we’re at the start of an upwards curve — but what factors will affect an increase in take up?

Simpler, faster procurement

One key objective of the PSN was to make procurement simple and reliable, so PSN-certified services are easier to procure than traditional IT services or standalone products. They create a dynamic market where suppliers and customers can interact, enabling the best standard of service to be delivered at the best possible price.

As more suppliers become PSN-certified, customers will be increasingly assured that they are buying services that are suitable, secure, compatible with existing services and offer a clear return on investment. Confidence will grow in the market as the strict certification process for suppliers to the PSN means end users can be guaranteed that the suppliers they procure from are fit and proper companies to do business with. In all, end users are going to have an easier time justifying investment to the business decision-makers while also benefiting from a faster procurement process.

New governing frameworks

This year in particular will see a number of milestones ahead for PSN. These include two frameworks that will provide a procurement route for the PSN, one for connectivity and one for services, coming into force. As the objective of the PSN is to create a multi-supplier, multi-customer environment, whose participants are not necessarily contracted to each other, there is a best practice guide and a set of standards to achieve this.

PSN has been designed so that once connected, a supplier can deliver their service to any other PSN connected user, either other suppliers or the public sector users. Compliance with PSN standards will mean that companies also have to allow their services to be used by other providers and that they will work with other PSN suppliers to maintain service levels, irrespective of whether they are contracted or not. PSN is where all suppliers play nicely together.

Better understanding of change management

It goes without saying that the shift to PSN involves a degree of change for both suppliers and customers. For those procuring PSN services, the Cabinet Office has published a transition guide that is designed to inform and guide public sector organisations in their move to PSN. While the transition path will be unique to each department or agency, there is certain information that all organisations need to be aware of. As more documentation is made available, more people will become of this information.

At the same time, the delivery of PSN services impacts suppliers. For example, should a change be made to a service, the impact to any other service or customer is reviewed. This change management request is in a consistent format up and down the supply chain. Each supplier is responsible for notifying affected parties within an adequate timescale to ensure minimum disruption. In the event that agreement can’t be achieved, then the change can be escalated to the PSN Authority for resolution.

So, what now?

When the PSN was designed, it was important that standards would be adopted that were sensible, consistent with the commercial environment and open to competition. PSN should not be a ‘cutting-edge’ environment; it should be a safe and dependable one. The machinery of change is perhaps not as fast as some might have hoped for but given the fiscal constraints, we believe that 2012 will be the year PSN will flourish. Suppliers need to feature PSN in their plans while those procuring IT services across the public sector should support its ambitions so that its true benefits are felt across the industry.

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