It’s fair to say that the Public Services Network (PSN) has been a long time coming. It hasn’t received the air time that G-Cloud has, for example, but it has nonetheless moved on significantly in the last six months.
As research we have conducted recently reveals, we’ve moved beyond simply talking about PSN - reaching a point where general understanding of the benefits it promises are such that it is now seen as central to public sector IT strategies.
My firm, for instance, recently organised a roundtable discussion in conjunction with Alun Michael MP at the House of Commons, to discuss how we could bring relatively technical, but nonetheless important, issues around PSN into mainstream parliamentary debate.
We were joined by representatives from local, central and devolved government, including Kent County Council, the Welsh Assembly and the Cabinet Office, all of whom have been deeply involved in the creation, evolution and deployment of PSN and its associated standards.
Our goal: Examine how we, as PSN enablers, can provide the right level of support, education and resource to ensure PSN can be deployed successfully.
To help inform our conversation, we presented the findings of our research into perceptions around PSN. Polling 101 IT decision makers from the public sector, the research found that PSN is a key priority in 2012. Indeed, over half (55%) of the respondents said they are either already in a testing phase, or plan to deploy PSN services in the near future.
But many face challenges when it comes to implementation. Internal resistance, funding and lack of human resources were all cited as potential barriers to adoption, while there was a clear appetite for better guidance and support from industry. Many respondents seemed unaware of the need for suppliers to be certified, and almost half (47%) saying they don’t know how to be put in touch with an accredited PSN service provider.
And some 54% said they wanted to see central government educate IT decision makers on PSN benefits and best practice. Half of those surveyed felt that central government should also offer funding.
Clearly, those at the sharp end of government IT understand the value PSN offers, but there is a significant gap in terms of the way it is communicated to a broader audience.
One way to address this is to consider the language used when discussing PSN. Perhaps we’re too technical? The conclusion we came to at the roundtable is that we need to start with the impact it will have on citizens and on the business of government, then track back to what that means technically.
Just as technology is seen as a business enabler in the private sector, so in the public sector it should be viewed first and foremost as a means of improving the delivery of services to citizens.
PSN is not technology for technology’s sake. It represents the future of public service - and is also the route for the provision of more interactive, digitised services to citizens. It’s the collective responsibility of suppliers, early adopters and the government alike, then, to ensure that these benefits are realised.