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G-Cloud’s success goes beyond the numbers

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Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock proudly Tweeted the Digital Marketplace’s achievement in reaching £1 billion in sales across the G-Cloud and Digital Services frameworks last week. Technology media followed with an approving news story.

Crashing the billion-pound barrier is a spectacular achievement for the Government’s very first dynamic purchasing system and (too easily forgotten) a small Digital Marketplace team.  

We’ve watched the marketplace’s sales gain momentum month by month but the insights don’t stop there. What wider lessons in acquiring Government ICT - or even changing departmental buying culture - could be learned?

An appealing aspect of G-Cloud iterations five and six has been the effort Digital Marketplace team has put in to making the platform more user-friendly. In response to feedback gained from end user workshops, version seven has asked suppliers to provide less ’techy’ product definitions and jargon, simplifying procurement teams’ product discovery work alongside suppliers own efforts.

But taking a wider view of the Digital Marketplace’s feedback loop, other, more far-reaching possibilities emerge. If G-Cloud suppliers can take on board specific observations from buyers and procurement personnel around the business case, what else might be achieved?

In some circumstances, shorter, more agile buying cycles can mean that a hard-pressed buyer might not actually save money or is obliged to spend a lot of time organising supplier competitions. Buyers might welcome longer timescales for each version of G-Cloud so that they have greater room for manoeuvre on budgets.  

We know for example of public buyers who would procure more through the Digital Marketplace if G-Cloud had a longer lifetime. Whilst departments appreciate a ’pay as you go’ ethos, many buyers are actually looking for complex services like consultancy, or migrations involving multiple stakeholders, that inevitably have longer implementation cycles. These projects raise immediate business case questions: how can we spread the cost through operating expenditure budgets, rather than committing to upfront CAPEX?  

In my own company’s role supporting public sector organisations’ infrastructure and cloud migration needs, the appeal of business technology offerings could lie as much in the robustness and flexibility of the financing options as the technical capabilities (with the latter already supported by the Marketplace’s assurance processes).

Since we have seen that G-Cloud 6 will be extended for around for six months before version seven is launched or even that G-Cloud 8 could be delayed, could that delay be advantageous for buyers and procurement teams alike?

Extending our elastic Digital Marketplace’s feedback loop further, could we start to inspire a step change in government buying culture? While the Digital Marketplace has been a considerable success, healthy annual revenues from ‘traditional’ frameworks such as Network Services show that many departments remain unwilling to adapt their habits. Change often equals risk.

So could the Marketplace inspire new procurement habits by, for example, bringing new types of frameworks into the G-Cloud? Bringing the PSN on board would increase buyer choice (and arguably reduce the framework provider’s overheads). If buyers are still telling us that existing frameworks count because they ensure long-term options and EU-compliant procurement processes, why not create a real incentive for further change?

The Digital Marketplace is a striking achievement but imagine how many proud Tweets minister Hancock might be sending if the Digital Marketplace incentivised rather than challenged buyers to change their thinking on procurement.

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