‘Hub’ agencies will drive government network adoption

Recruiting "hub" agencies would increase the value of the GSN to those considering adopting it, says GSN programme manager

“Network effects” are being used by the State Services Commission to encourage adoption of its Government Shared Network (GSN).

GSN programme manager Michael Foley told an audience at last week’s IBM Forum, held in Auckland, that recruiting “hub” agencies would increase the value of the GSN to those considering adopting it. These “hubs” are agencies other government bodies interact with on a regular basis, such as Land Information New Zealand and Statistics, he says.

In a presentation called “Staying the Course”, Foley said the GSN should be considered a successful case study in multi-sourcing. He says New Zealand is by no means a leader when it comes to networking consolidation in government, but it may well have leapfrogged other jurisdictions with its GSN.

Foley says the business case for the network developed very easily and was put before Cabinet in mid-2005. Cabinet got it, he says, and it now has bipartisan support.

“Ministers across the board got this,” he says. “They said ‘this is a ‘no brainer’.”

He says the GSN is often cast as a cost-saving initiative, but top of the list of deliverables for the project was not efficiency gains but security improvements. He says the possibility of real attacks from foreign governments was considered.

“It was an opportunity to raise the bar on security and our understanding of the government’s perimeter,” he says.

The next major driver was to increase collaboration and break down barriers to inter-agency cooperation, he says. Cost and efficiency gains were third on the list.

Foley says the GSN provided the opportunity to build a network to the government’s own security standards, as set by agencies such as the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau). The network is secured for information classified up to the “restricted” level, with secret and top-secret “spook” information travelling through other channels.

He says the GSN is particularly attractive to small agencies that cannot afford to build infrastructure to this kind of specification in their own right.

The GSN also offers significant cost benefits, he says. The ability to design and build once, and roll-out many times is just one benefit, along with avoidance of tendering and procurement costs, and increased leverage of government purchasing power.

Foley says the GSN is a not-for-profit entity funded by debt. As such, it is run like a business: “We have to live within the debt curve,” he says.

Service is delivered via service-level agreements. However, agencies are charged for participating, not for data usage. They are encouraged to use available data capacity to “fill up the pipes”.

Foley says the GSN is not just another telco, rather it is owned, and influenced by, the agencies and was built to meet their needs.

“It’s about management of infrastructure rather than control; shared service rather than centralised [service]; owners versus customers, and merit over mandate,” he says.

Current GSN users include Maritime New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, the Ministry of Education, State Services Commission, Foreign Affairs and others. Inland Revenue, Statistics and Land Information New Zealand have signed letters of intent to use the network.

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