The worrying cloud building around the G-Cloud - special report part 1

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan April 22, 2014
I've made no secret of my support for the G-Cloud programme since its inception, regarding it as one of the most important tools in the box for fixing the broken nature of public sector IT procurement and service delivery, but stand by for some tough love talking.


I'm worried about the G-Cloud.

I don't want to be, but I am and I'll tell you for why, but it's going to be long explanation, so maybe grab a cup of tea first.

Derek yesterday picked up on some of the good news numbers around the G-Cloud, the UK government's national cloud computing initiative and increasingly the template for other countries own programmes.

I've made no secret of my support for the G-Cloud programme since its inception, regarding it as one of the most important tools in the box for fixing the broken nature of public sector IT procurement and service delivery.

So what I'm about to say isn't intended to undermine, but to be some kind of 'tough love'.

I think G-Cloud is in trouble.

Not trouble that can't be fixed, but trouble that demands some urgent stepping up to the mark to put it right.

Where we've come from

Let's take a step back from the edge. After a nearly fatal start when it looked as though the program was going to be all about virtualization and data center consolidation, the G-Cloud that emerged over two years ago now was one built around commodity purchasing, fixed term contracts and (latterly) a public cloud first philosophy.

It's a scheme that's made good and steady progress. The latest numbers are still heading in the right direction. Total spending through the G-Cloud framework has now reached £154.6 million as of the end of March.

At this point it is of course traditional to pop in the disclaimer about this being a drop in the ocean of overall public sector IT spending - somewhere around £6 billion, according to some estimates – but the point is that the direction of travel is good.

Tony Singleton
Tony Singleton 

Tony Singleton, G-Cloud and digital commercial programme director at the Cabinet Office, notes on the official government blog that purchasing via the framework is effectively delivering half-price IT:

On average, we saw savings of around 50% and there are examples of savings of more than this. Other benefits buyers have spoken about include greater transparency; flexibility; a simpler, clearer, faster way to buy and ultimately better value for the taxpayer – once the requirement has been defined, we have put a contract in place in three minutes!

Meanwhile other countries around the world are emulating the initiative. In India the GI-Cloud owes much to the UK model, while in Canada the architects of its national cloud computing program pay explicit tribute to the UK inspiration.

So, all good on the face of it. Why then am I talking of trouble?

Frankly because I think the G-Cloud programme is losing the profile that it desperately needs right now if it is to deliver on its full potential.

Oligopoly ending

An argument made regularly is that over the next 18 months or so, the UK public sector will start to wind down the multi-year, multi-billion pound lock-in deals with what the Cabinet Office refer to as 'the oligopoly' ie the IT and services establishment.

As these come to an end, they will be replaced by commodity digital and public cloud first alternatives and public sector IT procurement and delivery will undergo a radical revolution.

It's a great argument and one worth pursuing with the utmost vigor and here's where we run into trouble. Where's the energy gone? Where's the presence? More to the point, where's the assistance for both buy and sell side participants in the program that used to be there?

Last year the G-Cloud program was folded under the umbrella of the Government Digital Service (GDS). This was largely applauded as a good thing by commentators – yes, including me.

Up until that point, the program had been driven by force of will of the likes of original director Chris Chant and then Denise McDonagh, now Chief Technology Office at the Home Office, aided and abetted by a small team of largely-part time staff who went above and beyond in their efforts.

What Chant, McDonagh et al achieved under the circumstances was astonishing, but if G-Cloud was really to flourish it needed more resourcing, something which would be found inside GDS.

The problem is, as I see it from the outside, G-Cloud now has a lower profile than it did a year ago when it should in fact have a higher one.

Rolling back

So why is that? Let's roll back a few months to a gathering of EuroCloud, a vendor-led group of cloud services providers which held a meeting in London built around the topic of how to sell via the G-Cloud framework.

The meeting was well attended with presentations from G-Cloud veterans offering advice on how to get the most out of the framework – and me chipping in from the sidelines as an outside observer. I'm told a GDS G-Cloud rep was due to attend the meeting, but withdrew at short notice.

What concerned me that day was the level of basic ignorance about how the G-Cloud program worked in practice from the sell side and how to go about participating.

Someone even asked the 'is it legal?' question that should have been stamped out long ago. Over two years into the program, it is simply unacceptable that a potential supplier to the G-Cloud should still be asking about the legality of the framework in terms of European Union procurement law.

But they are. It was the same at the Think Cloud for Government conference last month, but this time there was confusion from the buy side as well as the sell side.

What would have been useful on that occasion would have been a full presence by the G-Cloud team – as there had been in previous years – to address the questions of a captive audience of buyers and sellers.

One delegate from the buy side told me during the conference that the reason for attending was to try to understand more about the arguments for using the framework and how to go about it. Another, from the prospective sell side participant in G-Cloud, wanted to know more about how to get accredited in the most effective and efficient manner.

But then the G-Cloud team don't even seem to be doing their own events these days. In the pre-GDS days, regular outreach workshops and webinars would take place, such as BuyCamp or AccreditCamp.

The last one of those was held in July last year as can be seen here:

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.58.02

And when's the next one? Er....:

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.58.31

Now, put that lack of official workshops against the context of a new study by cloud services firm Eduserv that reports that 88% of civil servants across central government think they need training to understand the benefits of the cloud, with only 51% believing that they have the necessary skills in-house to roll out cloud. That's doing nothing much to help with that public cloud first push, is it?

In part 2 of this special report, the sell side speaks out - and some uncomfortable conclusions are reached

Update: late this afternoon GMT, the Cabinet Office press office told me:

We will be raising awareness of G-Cloud across the public sector in a number of ways, including staging events for buyers.

No further detail was provided.





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