UK government's cloud strategy challenges SI status quo

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan October 29, 2013

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While Phil and I continue to (amicably) disagree on the subject of Europe’s standardisation push, a timely reminder of the success that nation states can have without the assistance of Brussels came with the issuing of the fourth G-Cloud framework.

G-Cloud is the UK government’s national cloud computing drive for the public sector, akin in parts to the Obama administration’s Cloud First strategy that was driven so hard by former Whitehouse CIO Vivek Kundra (now ensconsed at Salesforce.com which has a keen eye on the UK programme) and sadly somewhat less aggressively by his successors.

G-Cloud 4 (G4) went live yesterday with 999 suppliers on the new framework which allows public sector organisations to buy cloud-based digital services off the shelf, avoiding what the government calls:

lock-in to expensive contracts with single suppliers, and encouraging cost-effective, innovative solutions.

In total the number of suppliers with services in the CloudStore comes to 1,186 - and of those 84% are SMBs of the type that have traditionally been locked out of bidding for government business.

Other significant stats worth noting

  • the CloudStore online shopfront now features more than 13,000 services across SaaS, PaaS and IaaS sectors.
  • Cumulative sales from CloudStore broke the £50 million barrier last month - £53.5 million to be precise.
  • Some 58% of that total spend went to to SMBs.

Tiny acorns, mighty oaks

Now of course that remains a drop in the ocean of overall ICT spend across the UK public sector.

To put it in context, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the House of Commons last month cheerfully bandied around estimates that in fiscal 2012 UK central government alone spent £6.9 billion on IT.

But with multi-year existing contracts with big ticket SIs and the enterprise establishment suppliers due to start winding down next year - and a stated commitment on the part of the current regime not to renew them - the potential for G-Cloud to build on this baseline is significant.

That's one reason that the fourth framework contains so many familiar names from public sector IT  - you can see the full list here.

It's nice to see  diginomica partners represented by Salesforce.com, Oracle, SAP and Box, while the SI establishment is there in strength, including the likes of Accenture, Capgemini and Atos, as well such public sector veterans as Hewlett Packard, Fujitsu and IBM.

Microsoft's there of course, but no sign of a direct presence by Google to date - which is interesting given the two firms battle royal in the US federal government market.

The biggest stir this time around was caused by the inclusion of Amazon Web Services whose absence had started to gather tongues clucking about its non-participation at a time when the UK government has an ambition to see 50% of central government’s new IT spend to be in the public cloud by December 2015.

Long road ahead

Francis Maude
Francis Maude

Clearly there’s a hell of a long way to go, but the UK Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude made the appropriate encouraging noises:

“Our reforms to Government technology are designed to ensure the best possible service for users at the lowest cost for taxpayers. To make this possible we need a truly competitive marketplace. SMEs are a source of innovation and a crucial engine for growth. We will continue to knock down the barriers that have prevented them from winning public sector work in the past.

“G-Cloud is a simpler, faster and cheaper way for the public sector to buy digital services. It allows companies of all sizes to benefit from our digital by default approach to government. I’m delighted that so many SMEs have won representation in this new iteration. We will continue to embed our Cloud First principle in government and recommend it across the wider public sector.”

G4 is the first framework to emerge since the G-Cloud programme was moved under the remit of the wider Government Digital Service (GDS) where it can receive more backing and support from a larger team than it had enjoyed previously.

G-Cloud has a way to go of course before it silences all the cynics and the snipers from the sidelines.

I know for a fact that there are several of the ‘old guard’ who remain deeply uncomfortable with the way things are heading,  with at least one major SI to my knowledge quietly advocating a legal challenge to the programme on the basis that it supposedly breaches European procurement law.

(It doesn’t BTW, but good luck with that if you can muster the nerve for such a challenge - as well as kiss goodbye to much prospect of future UK public sector work if you do!).

One of the next challenges GDS will face is how to respond to the Brussels-led drive to supplant national initiatives such as G-Cloud with an overarching Euro-strategy as promoted by the likes of Neelie Kroes and Vivian Reding at the Commission.

Phil’s been covering off the progress towards - and the fears around - this ghastly effort in some detail and it’s clearly going to be a major subject of our attention in 2014.

 

Disclosure: at time of writing Oracle, Salesforce.com and SAP are premium partners of diginomica while Box is a partner.

 

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diginomica is the main media partner for Think Cloud for Government which is being held in London in March 2014, with G-Cloud head Tony Singleton and UK government Chief Operating Officer Stephen Kelly keynoting as well as what promises to be a lively debate on the European Commission’s plans.