Public Services > Healthcare

Branch Offices: the public sector’s Achilles’ Heel

Published 16 August 2016

John Street, regional director, public sector UK and Ireland for Riverbed Technology, discusses the challenge facing technology-starved remote and branch offices


When I speak to senior IT decision makers at public sector bodies, they regularly lament that the wider employee base has heightened expectations for digital experiences.  It looks to the private sector, or even to their smartphones, and it doesn’t take a lot for them to recognise what “good” looks like.

Speed and performance matter too. Even the best technology, designed specifically with end-user experience in mind, will be cast aside if it’s buggy, sluggish or prone to glitches. With increased cloud adoption, we all know that public sector IT architectures are becoming more complex and harder to operate.

Now, more than ever, the performance of government applications and the networks that deliver them are vital to citizen experience, as well as government efficiencies. A key issue which is often overlooked however, is that many departments are dependent on different branches that are still run on old equipment.

For the government’s digital transformation projects to succeed, the key is to build an agile and responsive infrastructure that will allow innovation across departments, and for IT Directors to have full visibility across functions. After all, so many departments are dependent on different branches. And if one office still runs on old equipment, then communication and processes will undoubtedly break down.

Take border control, for example; a very clear example of a public service where siloed offices and branches are spread geographically across the country. Communicating messages to employees at these branches, where the network architecture is often notably worse than at Whitehall, is not always an easy task. The Home Office once trialled streaming a specialised TV channel to such branches to relay important messages and updates. But with many branches lacking the sufficient network capacity to stream video, many resorted to physically pinning these announcements on noticeboards. A far cry from the digital future public sector employees and constituents expect. Poor technology breeds poor communication, which in turn breeds a poor public service.

Health trusts are another example where gaps in network and application performance can prove detrimental not only to the NHS staff, but more importantly to the patients they are serving. Yet when you look at the way healthcare has changed in the past 10 years, it’s hard to believe that Trusts still use the same network and databases they did a decade ago.

This can’t continue. Hundreds more applications are being used these days and are continually trying to access that back-end data flow from a patient record management platform. When something like patient management is being executed via something like a tablet, it may be running an application very specific to the specialisation – but all these applications are all pulling data from the same places. The fact is the network that was built to deliver patient management and care 10 years ago, cannot support the needs and delivery methods of patient care today. It’s a perfect example where gaining visibility into how that environment is actually running could save a lot of time, money and frustration.

For one health trust we work with, their application and network environments have grown in size and complexity during the last few years, as they have taken on new responsibilities and higher workloads after merging with a neighbouring health provider and also the delivery of services to related functions outside their core organisation.

Their IT environment had become increasingly complex due to new applications (a mix of customer developed and vendor packages), the demand for everything to be web based, as well as a move to healthcare facilities where absolutely everything is a network based service.

With examples like this, the ability to deliver provisioning and orchestration all from a core location is essential to ensure the user experience across branches is consistent and seamless. Effective planning for this transformation is needed and performance must be at the heart of it – performance of your IT systems, of your data transmission and of your staff. They are all intrinsically linked. Without a seamless connection between the equipment that staff use to do their job, the whole infrastructure and the information it delivers falls down including the overall citizen experience. In an industry like healthcare, you can’t afford to take that chance.

The public sector is evidently dependent on a resilient infrastructure across all its branches and as such needs to be modernised to match the new working practices of its users. The government’s commitment to going digital therefore needs to involve equipping edge locations with equipment that allows these remote locations to be managed efficiently.

These locations need to be able to quickly provision and manage edge infrastructure in a timely and cost-effective way. IT should be able to update edge locations with new applications and features, and provision a new edge location from the organisation’s central data centre in minutes — without costly and time-consuming onsite visits. If an unplanned outage occurs, rapid recovery is a must to keep services up and running. The information being delivered through these systems also needs to be encrypted and secure, particularly at a time where our data and identity is constantly exposed to being stolen.

With remote offices and branch offices (ROBO) underpinning our public services, the government must embark on this digital journey with new technologies and new thinking about edge IT investments. In order to achieve operational cost savings, rapid service deployment, and instant recovery — all while providing unmatched data protection — the government needs to understand what’s happening across different locations and act accordingly. By ensuring that the right tools and processes are in place, the government can ensure the security, resilience and flexibility they need to meet the public’s needs and expectations. 

John Street, regional director, public sector UK and Ireland for Riverbed Technology

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