UK Government's record of technology project success is littered with failure, some of which have been spectacular in scale. So it was with something of a tongue firmly planted in cheek that I attended Think G-Cloud, a conference aimed at both buyers and sellers of technology via the G-Cloud initiative.
The line up of speakers was excellent and the name badges were easily among the most important of UK government departments. However, it was the ending keynote given by Joan Miller, Director of Parliamentary ICT Service, that caught my attention.
Over the weekend, I edited the material we captured during the day. It gave me an opportunity to re-assess what we saw. It has given me an entirely different perspective of government technology.
During the panel session that included suppliers and government representatives (see above for a heavily edited version) the most striking messages that came across were:
- SME vendors are perfectly capable of becoming valued technology providers to government
- The G-Cloud initiative, while small scale today - £22 million has been transacted, a rounding error in government spending terms - has the potential to scale massively.
- The risks to buyers are minimal because the accreditation processes in place are agreed on both sides.
- If they've put in the legwork, sellers can get through the accreditation process in a matter of days.
Time and again, I heard the same message, both on the main stage and in the halls. It's one that is only a whisper right now but which has the potential to represent a massive shift in government policy. That message? UK government is done with a model that requires large SI contracting and the costs that go with that model. In her keynote, Denise McDonagh summarized the the thinking well when she said: "Every pound spent on cloud represents ten pounds in current spend."
I have a soft spot for SMEs and so it was especially heartening to hear Phil Dawson, CEO Skyscape talk to his company's success in landing a significant infrastructure project for the Home Office via the G-C;loud Store. If Skyscape's story is a leading indicator of what can happen then there is a very bright future ahead for those vendors who 'get' the new reality and are prepared to invest for growth.
Despite the enthusiasm, we should exercise some caution. As Stuart Lauchlan recently observed:
On the sell side, I’ve been seeing a grim awakening on the part of many of the traditional public sector providers. This isn’t going away and even those who hoped that it would be a passing fancy on the part of government are having to adjust their thinking. That’s all to the good.
The critical question will remain one of cultural change within the public sector however. The buy side old guard needs to get its collective head around the new model and shake off the embrace of bad practice from the past.
The new Cloud First mandate will help in central government circles – although there will undoubtedly be a lot of ‘well it’s OK for everyone else, but not for us of course’ thinking that takes place at first.
I am more bullish, in part because of the strong endorsement given by Joan Miller. Parliament is the least likely to jump into 'cloud first,' yet her discussion of how they tackled the many technical and business issues and how they allowed others to figure out things first before jumping in should be a model to follow.
As the title says: who says UK government tech has to suck? On this evidence, it doesn't have to. Do you agree? Is the writing on the wall for the big SIs? Is there a bright future for smaller providers? Let us know in talkback.
Endnote: the full playlist of edited videos can be found here.
Disclosure: diginomica was a Think G-Cloud media partner.