Public sector CIOs welcome more 'pragmatic' approach to PSN security compliance

CIOs running PSN services can breathe a sigh of relief

The Public Sector Network (PSN) experience is expected to be "less frustrating" for council CIOs this year after the Cabinet Office agreed to take a more pragmatic approach to security compliance.

The aim of the PSN network, which is core to the government's ICT strategy, is to create a network of networks by joining up organisations, departments and agencies that deliver public services at local, regional and national levels. However, stringent cyber security compliance demands have put off organisations from joining the PSN, and raised concerns among CIOs who have already started to deliver services on the network.

As part of an 'ongoing dialogue' with PSN stakeholders, the Cabinet Office chief operating officer Stephen Kelly wrote in a letter: "The work done to date, as agreed with representative bodies, achieves a practical and pragmatic approach to compliance taking into consideration the different context around local public service delivery.

"The PSN team will ensure the PSN infrastructure best serves the interests of all public service organisations. This requires ongoing learning from all parties in order to deliver a secure infrastructure that delivers a level of security that is proportionate to the business risk and pragmatic in its implementation."

Steve Halliday, president of Socitm, which represents public sector CIOs, welcomed Kelly's letter, which he said comes after "intense" campaigning by the organisation and other stakeholders.

"For those who already have PSN engagement, we've been worrying that if we are unable to continue those services running on PSN because of security compliance, it puts our business at risk," he said.

"The good news for CIOs in this position is that it reduces the risk. There's a pragmatic balance, where business comes first. We worry about the cyber security, but we also need to make sure that the usage requirements are met in a secure way, rather than the security comes first."

New leadership

As well as adopting a more pragmatic approach to compliance, Kelly has appointed Sarah Hurrell, commercial director at the Cabinet Office with 20 years' experience in private sector IT and of delivering change programmes, to lead the the PSN project as it moves from the programme stage to business as usual. In addition, Mark Pope has been appointed PSN programme director, working with Hurrell.

"The appointment of anyone who's going to listen to customers and understand the requirements of the business is absolutely welcome. It's not to say the previous people weren't listening, but there's been cultural changes at the top to enable it to listen," said Halliday.

According to Kelly, as of 9 December 2013, 70 percent of organisations are compliant. The remaining 30 percent are expected to achieve compliance by the government's short-term deadline of 31 March 2014.

"There will be part of an ongoing review of pragmatic risk mitigation. The cyber threat and security landscape is continually changing and we will be working with all our stakeholders to ensure we make the right decisions in the interests of delivering a secure infrastructure for efficient and modern public service operations," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Socitm is planning to launch a portal in the next few weeks to help "continue the dialogue".

"We're using a crowdsource funding solution to gather extra capacity to continue the dialogue, to help organisations deliver solutions compliant with the PSN," said Halliday.

"We're just in the process of building a portal to make that possible."

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