A Short History of PSN

In order to understand the UK’s PSN we need to first delve through a bit of alphabet soup. PSN for example – what does it mean? According to the government’s website, the PSN is “the government’s high-performance network, which helps public sector organisations work together, reduce duplication and share resources.” A broad and interesting definition to be sure, but we need to go back, further to the original plan to start to really understand it.

Today’s PSN was conceived as part of the mid-2000’s “Transformational Government” under the original moniker the ‘Public Sector Network’ which was simply a part of what the government was at the time moving to ensure: “The future of public services has to use technology to give citizens choice, with personalised services designed around their needs not the needs of the provider”.

Curious that, that the original PSN was part of a program designed to “give citizens choice” and “designed around their needs, not the needs of the provider” where today the PSN in many ways does the exact opposite. The immortal truth remains the only constant is change!

By the time (2010) the PSN began to actually take form, what you had was the GCN or ‘Government Conveyancing Network’ being built by a number of GCNSPs or ‘Government Conveyancing Network Service Providers’ which then interconnect a number of DNSPs or ‘Direct Network Service Providers’. Confused yet?

You see a “customer” of the PSN would ask a DNSP for connectivity to the GCN which in turn would allow them to connect to other customers and services via other DNSPs. There is in-fact a set of rules that everyone involved in supplying services to the PSN must follow, contained in their “Code of Connection” document:

In many ways it’s a bit like asking someone to build you a house and instead of describing what the house should look like in the end spending all your time discussing how you would like the bricks to connect to the other bricks. Surely your builder knows a bit more about how to effectively and correctly lay brick than you do?

A framework too far?

Before we go too far, it’s worth mentioning that while many are still struggling to understand exactly what the PSN was designed to do, that the PSN is in-fact no more! As of July 27th, 2016 the Network Services Framework (RM1045) has replaced the RM860 PSN Connectivity, RM1498 PSN Services and RM1035 Telephony Services frameworks that were part of the PSN. According to the government’s website, the new framework “provides a path for customers to migrate services from a number of legacy in-scope arrangements.” Legacy in-scope arrangements which no-doubt were put in place through the PSN, in the previous 5-6 years!

Because of the costs involved in doing things in the PSN way and because not a full range of competitive providers even bothered to develop compliant services, much of what was procured on the PSN was grossly more expensive when compared to similar services (e.g. 1Gbps of private network, bought directly vs bought via the PSN). What’s worse is that there really was no guarantee that the PSN was any better!

What did they really want?

The original concept stemmed from the obvious communities of interest which arose in the criminal justice sector during work on reforming the criminal justice system where there was a real need to enable data sharing across business units. The concept was simple; these were government departments together with external (non-government) partners who needed to use the same data, within a similar risk profile and a similar appetite for risk under a common government framework. Historically each entity would have had its own network and security policy, and some were already able to extend “extranets” to other entities however there were no standards of operation and little consideration of how services and data should might be shared effectively which meant complex and costly operations.

So taking from this point, the PSN should have been a simple standardisation framework that defines how connectivity, security and data handling should take place within a community of interest. At this point there was no consideration that it needed to be a new network.

Once the political machine got a hold of this idea it quickly became about creating a “network of networks” where networks for individual communities of interest could be created and defined while being arranged by data-type and business function. Funny thing is, a “network of networks” is exactly how the Internet evolved! They were talking about re-building the Internet. If that’s not re-inventing the wheel!

Then procurement came to the forefront and the discussion around the PSN became about how to create a single, commonly provided, procured and managed network infrastructure to replace the many separate networks serving the various parts of the public sector…. In other words, how to remove a competitive landscape and install a monopoly!

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