Skye Bridge 2

The journey towards a single shared network

07 March 2019

The Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) is one of the most significant single public sector Information and Communications Technology (ICT) initiatives ever undertaken in Scotland. James Pocock, Chair of the SWAN Management Board, looks at the journey so far towards a single shared network across Scotland’s entire public sector, and ahead to delivering the technology of the future to SWAN members.

SWAN was set up in 2014 to establish a single shared network and common information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure across Scotland’s public sector. To date, Capita, the SWAN contractor, has worked with 80 public sector bodies to connect around 6,000 sites including schools, hospitals, GP surgeries, pharmacists and local council offices.

The resulting network offers better connectivity, improved performance and faster speeds while delivering value for money for the Scottish taxpayer, as detailed in the £30m savings stated in the Scottish Government’s recently refreshed digital strategy. The vast range of public sector bodies connected by SWAN can more easily communicate, collaborate, share data and services and ultimately, better serve the people of Scotland.

Why was the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) established? What was the strategic context?

SWAN was set up in response to the findings of the Scottish Government’s 2011 McClelland Report. The report aimed to review the strategic management of investment in Scottish public sector information and communication technology infrastructure. A key finding of the report was that the public sector was lagging and needed to adopt radical changes in how ICT was adopted and deployed to allow for an ‘era of sharing in ICT’ that will offer better value and meet the needs of individual organisations and their customers’.

Which organisations have joined SWAN to date?

Encouraged by the experience of the four vanguard partners (NHS Scotland, Education Scotland, Pathfinder South (local authorities in the South of Scotland) Pathfinder North (local authorities in the North) uptake was brisk in the early stages of the programme.

Today’s SWAN members comprise central Government departments, including the Scottish Government, Scottish Qualification Agency, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, all 22 boards across NHS Scotland as well as 50 per cent of local authorities.

Are the member organisations already noticing the benefits of SWAN? If so, what are the most reported ones?

In the last annual customer satisfaction survey, SWAN members praised the service for stability and reliability, value for money and enabling collaboration between public sector bodies. Also in 2018, an independent benchmark declared that SWAN provided members with good value both for prices and Service Level Agreements when compared with other similar contracts.

Members particularly value the cost savings they enjoy as a result of being a part of SWAN, the competence and experience of SWAN staff and the benefits of being part of a wider shared services network, such as a single service desk, standard service catalogue and new service development.

Cyber security is a hot topic with our members just now and we provide extremely robust security solutions that are certified to industry security standards.

Good cyber security practice depends on layers of security controls that work together to reduce risk and it makes sense for many of these layers to be provided on a national shared basis. This takes advantage of economies of scale to minimise cost for SWAN organisations, while providing a baseline level of infrastructure security across the entire estate. This can be a particular advantage for a smaller organisation that may not otherwise have been able to adopt complex and expensive multi-layered security controls. Our aim is to provide our members with the peace of mind that their information and services are protected to the highest standards.

The technology landscape is constantly evolving, how does SWAN keep up with it to provide up-to-date solutions for the members?

The way that SWAN is managed and governed puts the needs of the members at the heart of our service delivery and development. There is an ongoing focus on delivering a range of value-added services which currently include Govroam (seamless, secure public sector guest internet access), hosted and on-premises voice services, secure access to cloud services and video conferencing.

Each year the SWAN members agree on a roadmap of new value-added services for development. The 2019 roadmap currently includes managed file transfer, 3g/4g connectivity, and enhanced roaming.

Capita also invests in innovation initiatives agreed with, and for the benefit of the SWAN members. Current initiatives include Internet of Things (IoT) capability and an investigation into 5g enablement of the network.

You mentioned that SWAN is currently rolling out Internet of Things (IoT) capability. What is the ultimate vision for this and what difference do you hope it will make to the public sector?

There is a great deal of interest in IoT across the Scottish public sector with many organisations planning their first implementations. Enabling a national Long Range (LoRa) IoT network is a key deliverable in the Scottish Government Digital Strategy and one of the fastest growing markets enabling Smart Cities, Regions and Countries.

IoT is a transformational technology and rapidly growing market with a significant number of use cases including Smart Metering, Agriculture, Lighting, Wearables/mobileHealth, Logistics/Tracking, Parking, Waste Management and Building/Facilities Management and it is expected that over 26 billion connected sensors will be in use worldwide by 2020.

For SWAN members, the already established SWAN network with connectivity across Scotland and our experienced service team puts us in a unique position to deploy an IoT network at a much lower cost, to a larger geography and at a faster pace than may be achieved by alternative approaches.

SWAN support of IoT will provide the public sector access to exciting new services that will support future service transformation while stimulating the SME market to provide solutions and offer a unique environment for academia and workforces to develop new skills.

SWAN has already funded proof of concept projects for two different kinds of water temperature monitoring: legionella health and safety monitoring within buildings and for water levels within the Arbroath basin.

This article first appeared in Public Sector Focus, February 2019

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