Life after the Public Services Network: how to make your next move

By on 07/11/2019

The Public Services Network (PSN) that you rely on every day is fast, robust and secure. But now it’s being phased out and there is no direct replacement. Here’s what you need to think about in order to stay connected.

PSN, a secure, robust, high-performance network, which is accessible only by the UK’s government departments, agencies and public sector organisations, is on its way out and we all need to be ready for the transition. As we enter the withdrawal phase, today’s watchwords are ‘cloud first’ and, to coin the phrase used by the Government Digital Service when it announced that PSN would be phased out in 2017, ‘the internet is OK’. This mindset is a way forward, but will the switch from PSN mean sacrificing speed, availability and, most worrying of all, security?

In recent years, we have seen an astonishing volume of data leaked and misappropriated. Most of the breaches have affected customers of high-tech companies which are at the top of their game – businesses for which the internet and the cloud are not just useful tools but their very essence. So, you are right to be cautious. But in truth, the internet is not irredeemably insecure. Although they go beyond the scope of this article, there are some very dependable ways to manage and mitigate any security risks. And there is another positive too: the internet is widely understood. It is proven, it is resilient, it’s inexpensive and it’s getting faster all the time. The question is: could it be a suitable platform for your department?  

The short answer is ‘yes’. The long answer is ‘yes, but only if you take the right approach’. This inevitably means finding the right technology partner. 

Just as with any technology transition, there are pitfalls which lie in wait for the unwary and traps for the unprepared. Thales has found that the most pressing issues that deserve your attention in a project of this consequence are:

Minimising disruption

One of the challenges you’ll face with the implementation of any new system is disruption. Change makes people uncomfortable and there is often resistance. Not only that, but the knowledge gap between your department and the network supplier – a gap which can exist on both sides of the table – can lead to misunderstanding and poor implementation.

Maintaining compliance

Maintaining compliance is likely to be high on your list of priorities, and rightly so. Determining if new applications and workflows will support your legal responsibilities and obligations can be a real challenge, and there is no room for error. 

Assuring reliability

What happens if something goes wrong? Do you have the in-house expertise to solve problems if and when they crop up? If you opt for a managed service, do you know how responsive and knowledgeable your supplier is?

Limiting cost

The internet is much more affordable than PSN, but you don’t want to throw that cost advantage away on new applications and systems which are hard to learn or difficult to manage, or which require expensive remedial action if they fail to fulfil your requirements.

Future proofing

There will always be new challenges, there will always be change, and technology isn’t always compatible with the next generation of systems. So, as far as possible, make sure that the solution can scale easily to cope with whatever the future holds.

Preparing to move from the PSN

The government hasn’t suggested a like-for-like replacement for the PSN but the transition to a new system, and aftermath, isn’t as confusing or risky as it might seem. The IT industry will catch up. And two government departments have already made the move to internet and cloud-enabled services. There are lessons to be learned here. 

First and foremost, don’t take the risk of creating something which is ‘cobbled together’ in-house, and may or may not meet your current or future requirements. Aim for simplicity and look for a technology supplier which has a verifiable history of working with the public sector. This is not a time to be brave.

Performance and reliability are fairly easy requirements to fulfil with internet-based solutions, but security takes a great deal more experience. Your preferred technology partner should have the skills, expertise and resources to deliver the highest levels of security – for the most sensitive environments, this will mean hosting your data in a secure datacentre and monitoring it 24/7.

Don’t throw everything away. With the right solution, it is quite possible to migrate the vast majority of your applications, data and workflows to an internet-based environment, without sacrificing security, availability or performance. And being able to do so will have the added benefit of minimising disruption whist reducing costs and maintaining or improving productivity. Think of this as an opportunity. Moving to the internet and the cloud will help your department to become more agile and responsive. There is life after PSN. You just need to plan your next moves carefully in order to embrace it.

About the author: Graeme Tizard, Portfolio Manager and Operations Lead for Network & Infrastructure Systems at Thales in the UK. Graeme is responsible for the delivery of projects and programmes that ensure the security, integrity and resilience of networks that are critical for UK Public Sector and Defence customers. To contact the author for more information please email [email protected]

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