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G-Cloud – A Historical Perspective

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Plenty has already been written and said about G-Cloud, both within Redcentric and in the industry at large. Sometimes it is necessary to take a sizeable step backwards to gain a true perspective on the merits of this major government initiative, especially at a time when the cynicism of the public at large towards government is probably at its most acute in modern history. The regular televised grilling of IT executives by the indignant representatives of parliamentary audit committees in the face of another failed major public-sector IT project brings neither the noisy Westminster village nor the industry I belong to any credit whatsoever. In public sector land, IT has become a ‘by-acronym’ for confusion, wastefulness and ultimately finger-pointing and recrimination, following repeated non-delivery. Not quite FIFA-esque in terms of its PR status, but certainly a bruised and tarnished industry and hardly the career legacy I was hoping for when I wrote my first line of COBOL code to enhance a stock-picking application. With G-Cloud7 now live, this is an appropriate time to take stock. To echo the House of Commons speaker, “Order Order”.

From any historical perspective, G-Cloud will be deemed radical in the context of the sorry state of affairs leading up to its introduction. G-Cloud has allowed many hundreds of SMEs and new players to break through the glass ceiling and gain a foothold in the public sector ICT market. When the Coalition government was formed in 2010, it was unthinkable that one framework agreement could accommodate nearly 2,000 suppliers, 87% of whom are SMEs. It would also have been unthinkable that 49% of sales by value, and 58% by volume could be with SMEs – well in excess of the government’s SME target of 25%. To counter this back-slapping, there have been many less than flattering studies undertaken that reveal the lack of awareness of G-Cloud amongst public sector employees. However, there has probably never been a single government initiative undertaken which has not desperately cried out for greater education and marketing to raise its profile. Improved awareness and buy-in will be driven by success and relevance expressed in plain-speaking business terms, but this is true of the adoption of the Cloud in general. My hopefully balanced interpretation of the various surveys is that it tells us that almost one-third of public bodies support moving operations to the Cloud – which means that acceptance has gone well beyond the ‘early adopters’ phase (early adopters typically make up 13.5% of the population). Staff may not have heard of G-Cloud, but that does not necessarily mean they are reluctant to use Cloud in principle, just that they are unaware of this procurement framework. Central government is well ahead of local government in terms of adoption, but Central Government was mandated to go Cloud first and therefore compelled to use the G-Cloud Framework.

Much of G-Cloud’s success has been based on new requirements that have been driven by the Digital by Default agenda. Over the life of the next government, contracts held within the wider public sector with an estimated total value of over £6bn will be coming to an end and there will be focus on splitting these contracts across a fairer and more transparent G-Cloud marketplace. For large central government departments, this is the compelling event either to modernise their current systems or a reason to make a step change in how they provide services to their users. This is laudable, but one of the greatest challenges will be balancing the desired openness and competitiveness with the reality of moving these large SI-dominated contracts to a greater mix of smaller providers, within a fixed 2-year period as dictated by G-Cloud framework. A number of platform services supported by open-source technologies are the ultimate aim to provide a new era of digital government. However, let’s not underestimate the effort to reach a new steady-state as these contracts come to an end, when you have a major re-hosting or systems migration to undertake at a departmental level or perhaps a less than enthusiastic incumbent holding the current system keys to co-operate with. I am therefore dubious whether the G-Cloud two year contract term is sufficient for this important next phase of G-Cloud’s evolution, whilst appreciating its very purpose to avoid previous expensive lock-ins and also acknowledging the inherent issue of consistency imposed by a framework agreement. Not a time to cry foul or sulk on the sidelines, but just a polite appeal for flexibility and refinement of an IT procurement model that has already fundamentally changed things for the better.

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