The challenges and opportunities associated with implementing next generation networks (NGNs) in government arise from government’s dual function as both enterprise and service provider.
This is according to Isaac Mophatlane, Business Connexion’s group executive: public sector and regional chief executive of the company’s Pretoria Regional Office, who says that from a systems perspective government operates as an enterprise, but from a departmental and citizen’s perspective it operates as a service provider. Typically, an enterprise runs its own network and a service provider runs a network on behalf of another entity.
“The government network is modelled on the way enterprises operate their networks. The difference is that government also provides services to many different departments, making it a service provider in this respect,” he says.
The fundamental difference between an enterprise and service provider network is that an enterprise network prioritises multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) traffic segmentation while a service provider network prioritises MPLS packet forwarding. Whereas a service provider is most concerned with the switching of packets across the network, an enterprise focuses on directing traffic to different business units.
This is because a service provider network will tend towards reduced complexity and risk, to accommodate disparate clients, whereas the enterprise will tend to exploit technology to reduce capital costs. The service provider model will therefore be more bound by agreement than the enterprise model, which is likely to be characterised by increased flexibility and control.
But according to Mophatlane, these models can co-exist. “Government could have the best of both worlds by being able to offer financially competitive services, but also by being as technologically inclusive as a traditional service provider.”
Part of the convergence of service provider and enterprise models should be the adoption of the enterprise view of an end-to-end communication platform: “From an enterprise point of view, end-to-end means person to person, person to application, or machine to machine. This makes for more dynamic communication and allows the network to act as a stepping stone towards ubiquitous computing.”
In this environment, the way in which networks are accessed and aggregated becomes particularly important for government. To gain the full benefits of NGNs, citizens should be able to access the network from a variety of endpoints, such as mobile phones or the Internet. This would leverage the potential of a government NGN to democratise and extend access to information and services – allowing, for example, citizens in rural areas to pay their bills from their mobile phones instead of travelling long distances to do so.
Despite such possibilities, Mophatlane says that a government NGN will not be fully exploited without an effective change management process: “Unless technology is adopted by the end-users the impetus behind its development and deployment will go to waste. An effective communication strategy is central to the successful deployment of a government NGN.”
If well deployed, however, the government NGN model could occupy the space where successful enterprise models and successful service provider models intersect. The end result would be a cost efficient and accessible service. “The idea is to commoditise technology so that its usage and availability mirrors that of water and electricity,” he concludes.