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Living the G-Cloud dream

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Towards the end of last year, in the aftermath of another Herculean G-Cloud application effort, I wrote a blog in which I declared my true colours about the Government’s efforts to ‘open the door’ to the UK public sector for the country’s SMEs. For all the hours of diligent and detailed work, I was a fan. And I still am, notwithstanding a recent run of negative opinion in the media catalysed by an SME managed services provider stating that its G-Cloud dream was dying.

Our G-Cloud dream is very much alive and well and I wanted to ponder awhile on the reasons why two vendors, who at the beginning would have been equals on that freshly leveled playing field, now have such divergent views. Arguably the most important thing we ever did as a supplier organisation was to react to what was actually there, as opposed to what was promised. G-Cloud was launched with hype and hope of transforming technology procurement for the public sector, offering buyers a transparent, commoditised smorgasbord of services that could simply be selected and served up, Tommy Cooper-style, just like that. Sadly, the reality wasn't quite so radical, but it didn't matter to us in that we quickly recognised some persistent truths: for example, buyers were not always sure of what they needed; vendors’ fixed catalogue propositions didn't necessarily gel with the ‘some customisation’ requirements so often encountered; and there was an enduring feeling that technology-oriented projects were best built on relationships, rather than a catalogue pick.

Seeing which way the wind was blowing, we trimmed our sails accordingly. We actually adopted a conventional sales approach, leaving the catalogue to do its work in the background but enthusiastically reaching out to potential customers in the public sector through a concerted marketing and business development campaign. We met with buyers, got to understand them and their needs, and used our G-Cloud offerings to deliver on some projects, and took a more bespoke approach on others. It may not have been how we originally saw G-Cloud working for us, but ultimately it didn't matter as it had done the most important thing: open the door.

Another facet of our particular story has been that we have always been proactively positive, for example, in reviewing and refining our products at each iteration so that they are as good as can be, and as good a fit for our target audience. And now, with G-Cloud 8 out and G-Cloud 9 in preparation, we are looking outwards too, at how we can work with the public sector to improve the core buying framework. We’ve got ideas and suggestions we want to share and make happen. For example, currently the onus is on the procurement team to find, select and compare offerings from within the catalogue. Why not simply have a noticeboard where they can instead advertise opportunities and then await a response from G-Cloud suppliers?

We also want to explore another idea: we believe there’s an opportunity to reinvent the SI role. SIs have intrinsic value if you understand what they do, but the reputation of today’s SIs within the public sector is that they have become too big, too unwieldy and too impenetrable. But what if you could take the values of an SI and put them in an agile, responsive, smaller scale, G-Cloud inspired package? So rather than needing to negotiate four separate procurements for a particular project, with all the cost, expertise, resource and time burden that entails, why doesn't a public sector organisation leverage those larger G-Cloud suppliers who have the substance and ability to take on an SI role? That may see the lead vendor delivering a key component itself and/or knitting together other smaller suppliers (and extending the fruits to more SMEs in the process) to secure the requisite end-to-end solution, with full oversight and responsibility for the service deliverables, the budget, and the client relationship. The scale is manageable, teams and individuals are accessible, there’s accountability…but there’s also incentive: for the SI to impress the client, the contracted vendors to impress the SI, and for the client to make a game-changing procurement and project model work.

For too long, IT projects have been akin to pushing rocks up a hill or wading through treacle. Undoubtedly, the advent and continued development of G-Cloud has reduced some of the traditional pain points…but the potential is there to do even more. We just have to keep believing.

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