By Jon Burt, 29th April 2021
For our people, world class infrastructure can remove barriers to social, economic and public sector reform objectives. Whilst already important, the pandemic has highlighted the need for high quality digital infrastructure that can enable people to work, live and study differently.
As public sector finances are continually stretched it is imperative that we continue to digitally transform our organisations including our own digital infrastructures. I have been following Simon Wardley for several years with Wardley Mapping resonating with our cloud native approach to delivering the Early Years Digitisation programme across the region. By commoditising the infrastructure layer using cloud and development environment using low code we were able to move up the stack focussing where we add the most value to our citizens and employees.
Enterprise networks haven’t changed very much in the last 25 years with the amount of interconnectivity between public sector organisations increasing as we work more closely together. To be an enabler of joined up working there is a pressing need to commoditise Enterprise networks in the same way the large cloud providers have with the data centre. By turning the network into a platform we can be more agile in our service provision and release much needed capacity to support activities where we add more value through digital transformation, data analytics and cyber security.
Greater Manchester is making significant progress in this space having secured the Government backing for full-fibre investment, with Virgin Media Business appointed to deliver up to 2,700km of new fibre optic broadband infrastructure across the region.
The £23.8M Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Programme, plus other local investment, will connect more than 1,500 public sites across the city-region making this the biggest government full-fibre investment project in the UK.
Good progress continues in delivering the Greater Manchester Local Full Fibre Network with significant completion of the trunk network that supports the sites to be connected. As of March 2021;
91% of site surveys, design and wayleave agreements had been completed.
Over 730km of fibre cable had been installed across the region.
437 public sector sites had been connected and commissioned
Whilst the LFFN programme is laying the foundations for a network of world class infrastructure, each of the local public services involved needs to consider how best to make use of that investment. The programme has however demonstrated the value of close collaboration and consequently several partners agreed to investigate the potential benefits of a joint approach to utilising a network without bandwidth limitations.
GM One Network is the result of that collaboration with the vision of becoming the Public Sector Network Platform of choice for the Greater Manchester city-region: A Network as a Service Platform approach that provides a converged solution across the Local Full Fibre Network, sites outside of the programme and connectivity within buildings providing network services that are more efficient, secure and flexible.
This is a foundational digital project for Greater Manchester to support our smart city region ambitions. With many sites being urban traffic control signals, we see the potential for these – and others - to act as Smart City nodes with potential to enable Next Generation Advanced Wireless solutions.
GM One Network will enable further delivery of the priorities within the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint and act as a platform for research and local innovation, supporting our ambition for Greater Manchester to be a world leading digital city region.
GMCA, on behalf of the initial GM One Network partners, contracted UBDS to undertake a discovery and develop an Outline Business Case for the GM One Network. As well as the public service innovation potential, the Outline Business Case indicated significant cashable savings for the initial five organisations involved over a 10-year period compared to the projected operating costs for the current network over the same period.
In addition to the financial side, other potential benefits include:
Improved user experience, by providing a common and consistent platform for each organisation to use, users can seamlessly move between public spaces.
The acceleration of adopting modern working practices such as remote and mobile working, something that is more important following the lessons learnt from recent Covid-19 related lockdowns.
The ability to shift from revenue to capital spend on wide area networks (WAN), interconnect services and core network infrastructure, including routers and firewalls – with further benefits accruing from standardisation, reducing duplication and economies of scale.
A “do things once” approach for Greater Manchester, freeing up resources to focus on more value adding activity in each partner organisation.
Moving to a software/policy defined network platform, where reduced effort will be required to deploy, configure and install network infrastructure, using automation to reduce the need for third party site visits.
Accelerated adoption of modern working practices such as Wi-Fi, remote working and mobile working.
Wireless-first approach reducing the required density of fixed local area networks LAN connectivity, which will reduce site installation and maintenance costs.
Additional buying power and the ability to gain investment in social value through this procurement which we would like focussed on efforts to address digital exclusion.
We want to bring together the best of breed in network services under a system integrator lead, experienced in partnering on large next generation metropolitan networks with high levels of orchestration enabling a City Region Network Platform.