The latest indication from GDS is that the PSN could close down as early as 2023. Organisations have been mandated to migrate to modern network solutions which offer more competitive commercial terms, increased security and greater flexibility. Many organisations lack the resource or expertise to manage this transition without disruption to services or users, spiralling costs and delays. This blog is going to examine some of the challenges local and central government entities will likely face over the coming months and years migrating away from the PSN.
The latest guidelines
Mark Smith, Head of PSN and Cyber Compliance at GDS, wrote as recently as September 2020 that “we (GDS) aim to have an estimated date when most organisations will exit the PSN by the end of March 2021. The PSN closedown could take place as early as 2023”. The legacy network is no longer considered fit for purpose as alternative technologies offer greater agility, security and value for money. The government is obliged to ensure the most effective and economical solution is being leveraged to fulfil this vital function. Not only is it the taxpayer who ultimately foots the bill for the PSN, but its performance and reliability directly influence the success of critical policies and initiatives that UK citizens rely upon now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issue further and accelerated the need for change.
The need for urgency
A technical debt has evolved over recent years. Legacy infrastructure and technologies now underpin critical communication networks that central and local government entities alike rely upon to deliver key services. The PSN is no longer capable of facilitating collaboration and innovation as it once could. The high cost of maintaining the PSN is likely the key driver for Smith’s ambitious 2023 closure date, but the negative impact that an underperforming legacy network can have on citizen outcomes is certainly a factor too. As new and disruptive applications, services and technologies become available, organisations require their underlying network infrastructure to provide an agility and fleetness of foot that allows them to be consumed immediately, or as close to as possible. This is simply not possible with the PSN.
What does all this mean? For organisations either delivering or consuming services via the PSN, there is a requirement to begin exploring alternative connectivity options. The transition away from the PSN will require careful planning and likely take a significant amount of time. Smith, as he should, is encouraging organisations to begin making preparations sooner rather than later.
Next steps and the challenges that lie ahead
The sheer size and scale of the PSN network makes its closure an enormous risk to all who rely upon it. Careful and thorough planning is critical. The digitalisation of services and processes is fundamental to almost every policy or initiative across central and local government. The underlying network infrastructure is the enabler for this transformation. It must be rebuilt with this in mind. In order to consume and leverage new technologies and services as they emerge, organisations will require an agile and responsive network that allows them to connect quickly and without fuss, expense or disruption.
The biggest challenge in the short term is negotiating the transition period where some organisations, services and applications have moved away from the PSN, but others have not. There is going to be a lot of moving parts as the transition gathers pace. Organisations need to be mindful of how they intend to consume services or applications that remain on the PSN longer than themselves. This creates an additional layer of complexity when migration plans are being finalised.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that when required organisations of all sizes and levels of digital maturity can respond rapidly and with a high degree of effectiveness. Many were forced to deliver key services remotely with little or no pre-warning. Whilst closing the PSN will be a large undertaking, the COVID-19 response across all sectors has, broadly speaking, been a reason for optimism that Smith’s 2023 estimation is achievable.
Future proofing the network
The advent and proliferation of cloud is the biggest single enabler of digital transformation on the scale with which we’ve witnessed in recent years. The things that make cloud great - flexibility, scalability, control, cost and security, amongst others - must now be demanded from the networks that serve them if they are to avoid becoming an inhibitor to further digitalisation. Organisations need to retain access to services on the PSN while also having the ability to connect rapidly and securely to a range of cloud service providers. They need a suite or ecosystem of network and security functionality that is available on demand, without burdening them with concerns around excessive cost, long lead times or security implications. These solutions do exist and will be critical to the public sector post PSN.