Back in May 2013, the then coalition government formally introduced the ‘Cloud First’ policy that has done so much subsequently to drive and shape IT procurement and deployment across the public sector, especially within central government.
What is Cloud First?
The principle enshrined within the policy was clear on the primacy of Cloud and its ability to drive savings, efficiencies and value, stating: “In future, when procuring new or existing services, public sector organisations should consider and fully evaluate potential Cloud solutions first – before they consider any other option.”
It was also seen as instrumental in creating a step-change in awareness and understanding around Cloud ICT services in what has been historically an on-premises legacy environment, as well as setting out advice and guidance around buying and running Cloud-based solutions.
Since then, the public sector has seen a dramatic increase in Cloud usage, facilitated by successive iterations of the G-Cloud buying framework. Latest figures show cumulative sales through G-Cloud since summer 2013 standing at £1.39bn.
Cloud First was reaffirmed in the more recent Technology Code of Practice, which looks to set the standard on the best way for government organisations to design, build and buy technology.
Who Should be Adhering to Cloud First?
When it was launched Cloud First was mandated to central government and strongly recommended to the wider public sector. Departments were given the option to choose an alternative but only if they could demonstrate that it offered better value for money.
The breakdown of that £1.39bn cumulative sales figure does tell its own story, with £1.06bn of sales recorded by central government, but the wider public sector accounting for just £245m and local government a mere £73m. Commentators have made the point that the obvious disconnect in adoption rates can be attributed to the fact that Cloud First is obligatory in one case, optional in the other. However, there is also recognition that the customer bases are essentially polarized – Whitehall is smaller, departments are working together more, the programmes are large, success is more easily socialised, the Cloud ‘bug’ is catching; local government on the other hand is much more dispersed, geographically disparate, less susceptible to the viral effect, and the projects are smaller.
Then there’s the fact that vendors have naturally chased the lower hanging fruit of a market operating under a Cloud mandate; that has stimulated relationships and engagements and catalysed sales, not something that has happened where that mandate is missing. But while Cloud First, for all the reasons listed, hasn’t yet caused a major upshift in Cloud beyond Whitehall, that’s not to say it won’t. And nor is it necessarily dependent on extending the mandate, but more a case of making a collective effort – organisations and vendors – to better understand one another, to partner effectively and to ensure that solutions, procurement and delivery are fully aligned with the needs of local government.
The Benefits of Cloud First
There’s a certain irony that something so rich in operational and financial benefit has to be mandated; why wouldn’t you want these good things? Actually, despite the G-Cloud figures, there is evidence that the wider public sector and local authorities are working with Cloud already, it’s just not through the G-Cloud framework. It’s certainly not the dominant force it could be, given the potential advantages of leading with a committed Cloud First policy.
For a start, Cloud now provides access to some of the best technology available, technology that it would be hard for on-premises alternatives to match for either functionality or value. Security, collaboration, storage, email filtering are all classic examples where Cloud has made significant inroads with its as-a-service propositions. In addition, Cloud always offers the latest technology by default, with no internal effort or budget needed to keep pace with improvement.
Ease of support and reduced complexity are also notable by-products, with the Cloud service provider doing the heavy lifting around maintenance, resilience, security and capacity, with users simply left free to consume as needed.
For those solutions that are not readily available as an online service or for those applications that need to kept in-house or those parts of the IT estate that are not quite ready to transition completely off-premises, then Infrastructure as a Service provides a useful half-way house. While IT teams maintain responsibility for managing applications, the physical hosting passes to a Cloud provider – and their scalable, elastic, consume as you go, network, storage and compute resource.
At a time when government is increasingly focused on delivering innovative, value-based services to the tax-paying public, Cloud’s innate agility and speed of deployment is hugely advantageous. It is integral to accelerating the digital transformation agenda, delivering real change on the ground in an acceptable timeframe, and just as importantly, derisking fresh, experimental approaches.
Finally, there’s the question of cost efficiency and cost certainty. The government has made no secret of its belief that broader Cloud adoption will bring major savings, not because it’s ‘IT on the cheap’ but because the utility pay –as-you-consume model is so cost-effective. Add to that the removal of upfront investment, the lowering of housekeeping and overhead costs, the reduction in spare ‘just in case’ on-premises capacity, and transparent service provider pricing, and you have a compelling mix of better value, greater affordability, less waste, greater predictability, and higher return on each £ of your IT investment.
Cloud First and Procurement
The Digital Marketplace was formed to enable all public sector organisations to find technology services and human resources to support IT projects. It’s akin to a supermarket with discrete ‘aisles’ for different service/project types. One of those aisles is styled ‘Cloud technology and support’ and is underpinned by G-Cloud, the specific buying framework for Cloud deliverables. And while G-Cloud actually predated the launch of the Cloud First policy by more than a year, it is fair to say that it took the mandating of the policy to truly stimulate sales through the framework.
Today, G-Cloud comprises over 25,000 services available across four different ‘lots’: Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Software as a Service and Specialist Cloud Services. Its transparent catalogue-style, commoditised approach is designed to simplify and accelerate purchasing: you can find suppliers of the requisite service eg database hosting more quickly and compare their proposition and pricing more easily. (Each listing contains a service definition, terms and conditions and pricing information.) That momentum should carry through into the further enquiries, final evaluation and award stages; and as G-Cloud is a buying framework and negates the need to enter into individual procurement agreements the final contract element can be rapidly concluded too. The onus is very much on streamlining the process: finding, assessing and signing up for a service that meets user requirements in as light a touch way as possible, generating savings in both time and money.
G-Cloud also avoids lengthy lock-ins, with contract maximums being 24 months. This ensures that there is a regular cycle of ‘going to market’, to check that no better value options or alternative IT approaches have emerged in the interim. This drive for continuous improvement is supported by the biannual iterations of G-Cloud, with suppliers extending and finessing their offerings and revising their pricing to maximise competitiveness.