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Mixed messages: 5 ways for public sector organisations to cut through the confusion

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So another day, another set of contradictory stories in the media reporting on announcements from the Government on IT procurement. Firstly it was the turn of the Government Deputy CTO Magnus Faulk who, in his first appearance since joining the GDS last year, said that public sector organisations need to stop running their own data centres in-house. During his speech at the Public Sector ICT Summit last month, Faulk (as quoted in CIO Magazine) said that the scale required for in-house data centres to make sense financially is “beyond government departments.

Of course, that makes sense and is in line with the principles behind the Crown Commercial Services G-cloud buying framework, where economies of scale are gained through multiple, outsourced, short-term supplier agreements.

Then the very next day, the Cabinet Office announces that it has signed a seven-year joint venture with Ark Data Centres to create the Crown Hosting Service. The deal aims to centralise all non-cloud datacentre services across the government. While the new service is quoted as providing a ‘cross-government approach to buying data hosting services’ it runs in complete contradiction to the CCS principles. Firstly the contract is for seven years rather than the maximum of two under G-cloud and it lies with one single supplier creating essentially vendor lock-in. Of course, it also means that the Cabinet Office now has a vested interest in seeing the venture succeed since it will own 25% of the service.

What struck me about both announcements was not the contradictory nature of them but rather the environment of confusion that these messages create with public sector IT buyers and departments. Faced with on-going budget cuts and conflicting direction from senior members of the GDS, how do IT buyers cut through the confusion and pick the right supplier for their needs?

While the GDS is there to provide support, IT buyers need to ensure that they are still in control of determining their needs – both from a business and technology perspective. So here’s my top five tips on how to cut through the confusion:

  1. Don’t work with companies who have a vested interest. See earlier discussions on Crown Hosting Services.
  2. Do work with companies that own their own network, staff and data centres. That way you know that you’re buying an end-to-end service and dealing with a team that can support you. Check the ownership or you may end up working with companies who have a vested interested (see earlier point).
  3. Do work with companies who’ve been in it from the beginning. By that I mean who have been working within multiple supplier, short term contract buying frameworks like G-cloud from the first iteration. This insight and knowledge will help bring clarity when the messages get mixed.
  4. Do work with companies who are big enough to provide assurance. Despite the governments much lauded attempt to only ensure that SMEs are able to secure the majority of contracts over G-cloud, the reality is that these same companies struggle to provide the service and support large contracts demand.
  5. Do work with companies that are well connected - and I don’t mean within the public sector. I’m referring to physical network connections to the public sector through N3, PSN, HSCN (when it comes) and so on. Good connections make it easier for you to do business.

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