Leading users of the government's Public Services Network (PSN) have complained that the service is underdeveloped, despite the £2bn of public funds, and four years' planning, that went into the network's launch in March this year.
Speaking at a Westminster roundtable last week, there was unanimous feeling among those who had worked with the PSN that the system was not fulfilling its potential. In particular, the service's ability to host networking solutions delivered and shared by individuals – rather than G-Cloud-supplied solutions – came under fire.
"The public services and applications policy network at the moment is just not well-developed enough," said Lincolnshire County Council CIO Judith Hetherington-Smith. "You can't easily go and see what's out there, and there's still a very limited amount of things on the shelves available to you.
"I think it needs to be developed by our suppliers so it's easier for consumers to say ‘Actually, I could buy that instead of going off and ordering my own'," she added.
Patrick Clark, a consultant for the Cabinet Office, defended the PSN, explaining that "it's a journey, and all these things take time, but clearly tactical solutions are going to have to be there initially".
"But what's important for us to do is to make sure that we are working on a convergence strategy that means they're not required for very long," Clark added.
But Hetherington-Smith said this approach would not be "very helpful" or cost-effective.
"Putting something in place is very expensive, and if you're going to make the investment, then not [carrying on] is no good," she said.
As an example, she described a new public health and social care system Lincolnshire County Council is due to roll out in the near future.
"If we make that investment, we're not going to throw it away after two years because somebody else has come up with a great idea on the PSN. Hopefully, we might be able to put it on the PSN, but it's a big investment in terms of cost."
Chris Wilber, director of infrastructure at the NHS, suggested that all PSN users can really do for now is "be as transparent as possible in terms of expectation, and progress in those areas"'
But Mike Kendall, managing director of East Midlands PSN project emPSN, suggested a lack of public awareness was still slowing uptake.
"We're all trying to create a marketplace at the moment," said Kendall. "But there is still a very low level of awareness about what it is and what it can achieve. Everybody is focused on their individual solution – because that's what their organisation requires. It is difficult and it is frustrating."
Kendall suggested that local authorities need to do more to explain the benefits of using the PSN.
"At the moment, there's no voice for local authority at the moment to articulate the marketplace and what it's achieving," said Kendall. "There's a bit of a disconnect at the moment. It's about telling the story in a way that people can measure on a timescale that's deliverable."
Sara Moseley, PSN strategic lead for Kcom in Dorset, concluded, "There's lots of people round this table doing great things, working on great things, but they need to be brought closer together."