Make PSN

Change by doing noteIn his first post since becoming the Chief Technology Officer for the Public Services Network, James Duncan outlines the plans for improving the PSN.

People have told me many times that they think the Public Services Network is something that needs to change. I heard this before I took the role of the CTO, and it’s not a message that has been lost on me since.

It’s been difficult to understand what the PSN is, what it does, and what it could do. Partly because it hasn’t been well communicated, but also because it’s been a difficult thing to understand. Is it a network? Is it a group of people? A set of standards? The what has been as complicated as the how.

Simply put, the Public Services Network (PSN) is the government’s high-performance network.

In an attempt to more clearly explain the PSN, we’ve migrated the PSN website to GOV.UK. With the change comes a focus on simple, clear writing that anybody can understand. More importantly however, is a strong focus on the user need.

Our users, predominantly, are the ±380 local authorities that rely on the PSN to conduct their business. We can’t forget about the central government departments that also use our network, but in the past it seems that we’ve focused on them at the expense of the many city, district and county councils that make up the majority of our customer base.

The original vision for the PSN didn’t just call for these organisations either. It had a mission - one that we think is valuable and viable - of ensuring everybody who regularly uses public sector data can communicate. This includes schools, doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies, emergency services, hospitals and charities large and small.

In some ways, the timing of the PSN team moving to the Government Digital Service, was difficult. The new Government Security Classification system was introduced the very next day, and the PSN makes for a very good example of a product designed to operate in the old protective marking system. Fortunately, this gives us an opportunity to change things for the better, and to move forward from what has happened in the past.

Two networks become one

Firstly, we need to look at the two aspects of the PSN.

The PSN has been two networks, one suitable for what was once called IL2 traffic, and another suitable for data at IL3. However, now both only carry OFFICIAL traffic. This has left us with the question of what the user need is for the Protected network, as what we really need is one Public Services Network.

There are currently some ±580 connections to the PSN, of these comparatively few are connections to the Protected network. The incongruence between OFFICIAL and the stratification of the PSN network means that we need to do something to simplify it. We need the PSN to become a single network, where information can travel seamlessly from one end to the other. We have been talking - and will continue to talk - to suppliers, customers and stakeholders about how best to achieve this.

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