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Are councils embracing the Public Services Network?

he Public Services Network (PSN) is at the heart of the Governments ICT strategy and aims to deliver joined up, shared public services. However, to what extent are local authorities embracing PSN and what are the drivers behind its adoption? Do council chief executives view the benefits of the strategy in the same way as senior IT professionals on the ground? Local Government News, in partnership with eircom UK, conducted a survey of both chief executives and IT officers to find out how councils are utilising PSN and what benefits they expect to see. Every council surveyed said they were looking to join PSN, September/October 2013

with most councils considering adopting the system this year. Between 13-19% will also consider joining in 2014, with the rest joining in 2015. In terms of services, 73% of chief executives surveyed said they expect to purchase connectivity (wide area network), with 18% looking to purchase services such as voice, video and unified communication. Around 27% of IT professionals said they are looking to purchase both. Reassuringly, the majority of council chief executives said their authority understood the potential of joining PSN, with 73% saying they understood it well. Of those surveyed, 9% said they understood it a little with only 9% saying not at all.

The Government may be keen for local authorities to sign up to the Public Services Network, but are councils really aware of the benefits it can bring? Laura Sharman reports on the results of our reader survey on the subject.

For the IT professionals, none of them said their council did not understand the potential benefits, with the majority (47%) saying it was understood very well. In our survey, the Cabinet Office came under criticism from the chief executives, with many saying it fails to communicate effectively with local authorities. When asked what the Cabinet Office could do to improve the communication of PSNs benefits, most chief executives said it actually needs to start communicating. The chief executives called for clearer documentation, a more consistent approach to responding to queries, and communication on the Offices medium and longterm strategy. www.LocalGov.co.uk

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IT & technology

The code of connection was also mentioned, with one respondent saying it is ridiculously restrictive and obstructive to modern working practices. In addition to communication, the senior IT professionals surveyed also had concerns on how the Cabinet Office was helping councils understand the benefits of PSN. Respondents called for clearer information on delivery timescales, improvements to the compliance process and more clarity around security requirements. The survey also showed a need for more case studies that could show real examples of where savings and efficiencies have www.LocalGov.co.uk

been gained. One respondent also suggested that a recognisable PSN champion would help communicate the benefits to senior managers who werent in ICT. It was the IT professionals who picked up on the role PSN can play in the transformation of services, suggesting this message has yet to be conveyed to chief executives. One of the IT professionals said PSN briefings should be addressed to a more senior level, highlighting the benefits on service transformation. When asked what the top three business drivers are for moving to PSN, the chief executives said the ability to share services was the main priority. This was closely followed by the cost savings it offers and improved connectivity. The IT professionals also agreed with these drivers with cost savings coming out as the most popular reason. This was closely followed by cost savings and the ability to share services. The chief executives were split over the question of whether their authority had a single, shared reason for its involvement in PSN. While 40% said they did, 40% said they didnt (with 20% unsure of the answer). The IT professionals were less convinced of this vision, with 36% saying there was a single, shared reason for the involvement with PSN. Around 43% said there was no joint reason, with 21% unsure of the answer. Encouragingly, the majority of IT professionals felt the use of PSN would encourage collaboration between their authority and others, with 73% saying this would happen. Just under 7% said it would be unlikely to promote collaboration. The chief executives were equally sure about PSN aiding collaboration between councils, with nearly 73% saying it would do so. Only 9% said it would not help collaboration between authorities. When asked about the level of savings the council could achieve through using PSN, most chief executives (60%) expect to make LGN 43

under 10% of savings. Of those surveyed, 20% said they could make between 11-20% of savings, with 10% expecting to make between 21-30%. However, 10% also said it was possible to make more than 30% in savings by utilising PSN. The IT professionals were more confident in the level of savings possible, with 13% saying greater then 30% was achievable. There was a mixed response from chief executives as to whether PSN providers understood the needs of local authorities, with 36% saying they understand them well. However, 27% said they did not understand the needs of councils at all with 36% saying they understood them a little. The majority of the IT professionals felt PSN providers understood the needs of local authorities a little with 73% agreeing with this statement. Only 13% said they did not understand the needs of councils at all with a further 13% saying the needs were well understood. Stuart Turner from eircom UK said: This survey shows that PSN is on the agenda for the majority of authorities. Communication and collaboration between central government and councils is critical to make this programme a success. It is encouraging to learn that technical teams understand the overall benefits and, more importantly, how PSN can enable innovation in public service delivery. The challenge is to convey this message to all stakeholders at all levels. n

September/October 2013