UK Government signs procurement memo of understanding with Salesforce, but are more needed to prevent a cloud oligopoly?

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan August 2, 2022 Audio mode
Summary:
Salesforce is the latest cloud provider to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the UK Government.

legal

The UK Government’s Crown Commercial Service (CCS) procurement body has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Salesforce to make it easier and cheaper for public sector organizations to buy from the supplier.

According to Philip Orumwense, Commercial Director and Chief Technology Procurement Officer at CCS:

The agreement will further ensure increased collaboration and aggregation of government and wider public sector spend to achieve increased automation, forecasting, reporting and customer engagement management tools.

The main items on the Salesforce MoU are:

  • A discount on licences (Salesforce, Mulesoft, Tableau & Slack) and services for eligible UK public sector bodies, including health bodies.
  • Free experimentation projects, so that eligible bodies can test and learn how Salesforce solutions can be used to meet their requirements.
  • Direct access to a panel of Salesforce’s SME implementation partners.
  • Discounted training and support.
  • A discounted trial of Salesforce’s Net Zero Cloud, supporting the UK government’s drive towards Net Zero.

Salesforce has a number of UK public sector customers, including the Health Service Executive, Department for Works & Pensions, various local authorities and CCS itself.

More MoUs

CCS has signed a number of such MoUs in recent years with cloud suppliers, including the likes of Oracle, Google and Microsoft. Oracle’s agreement was first signed as far back as 2012 with an updated  and expanded deal signed last year. At that time, Orumwense commented:

This enhanced Memorandum of Understanding will continue to deliver savings and benefits for new and existing public sector customers using Oracle's cloud based technologies. It will continue delivering value for money whilst supporting public sector customers' journey to the cloud.

Expanding the list of suppliers offering cloud services has become a political agenda item in the UK as legislators have queried the amount of business that has gone to Amazon Web Services (AWS). As of February last year, some £75 million of contracts had been awarded in the previous 12 months.

Lord Maude, who previously ran the UK Cabinet Office where he waged a war on excessively priced tech contracts and essentially began the MoU process in earnest as part of his reforms, was quoted as warning:

When it comes to hosting, we've regressed into allowing a small group, and one vendor, in particular, to dominate. If you take a view of the government as simply as a customer, it makes absolutely no sense for the government to be overly dependent on one supplier. No one would sensibly do that.

The Salesforce MoU looks well-timed as CCS recently launched a tender for a range of cloud services in a set of deals that could be worth up to £5 billion in total. Procurement notices have been issued under the G-Cloud 13 framework, covering cloud hosting, cloud software and cloud support, with a further lot for migration and set-up services to follow. Contracts can last for 3 years with an option to extend by a further year.

Eligible suppliers must be able to offer services in the following capabilities:

  • Planning - the provision of planning services to enable customers to move to cloud software and/or hosting services;
  • Setup and Migration- the provision of setup and migration services which involves the process of consolidating and transferring a collection of workloads. Workloads can include emails, files, calendars, document types, related metadata, instant messages, applications, user permissions, compound structure and linked components.
  • Security services - Maintain the confidentiality, integrity and availability of services and information, and protect services against threats.
  • Quality assurance and performance testing - Continuously ensure that a service does what it’s supposed to do to meet user needs efficiently and reliably.
  • Training
  • Ongoing support - Support user needs by providing help before, during and after service delivery.

My take

Having a wider range of potential providers operating under such MoUs is crucial for government to deliver value for taxpayers money.

Those of us who lived through the crusading days of Maude insisting that tech vendors - mostly large US systems houses and consultancies - come back to the negotiating table, tear up their existing contracts and start from scratch, have been dismayed, but not surprised, that the so-called ‘oligopoly’ simply had to sit it out and wait for a change of government/minister to get things back to ‘normal’.

There were successes that linger. The UK’s G-Cloud framework was a triumph when set up and continues to do good work. As an aside, and given this article has been triggered by a Salesforce announcement, I do remember talking to CEO Marc Benioff in London prior to the formal announcement of G-Cloud and how it would work.   

At the time there was a heavy push from certain quarters to make G-Cloud all about virtualization and private cloud rather than the public cloud push it was to become. I asked Benioff if he thought this was the right direction of travel and got a very firm rebuttal as he told me:

The UK government is way behind in this, and way too much into virtualization…Government needs to stop hiding behind the private cloud.

I was in good company - Benioff had been in at the Cabinet Office the previous day and given Maude the same message.  Thirteen years on, the Public Cloud First policy that was shaped later that year still stands, but progress hasn’t been made at the rate that was promised back in those heady launch days and which needs to be achieved.

In 2022, there’s the risk of a different sort of oligopoly, as the concern around AWS' grip on government contracts suggests - and not just in the UK -  but unfortunately there’s no sign of a Maude to take charge this time and bang the negotiating table.

Instead the Secretary of State with responsibility for digital thinks the internet has been around for ten years and retweets memes of politicians being stabbed. Meanwhile a putative, unelected new Prime Minster has just announced that she (somehow) intends to redesign the internet into adults-only and kid-friendly versions. Sigh. 

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