part one of this special report, I outlined my unease at recent developments around the UK government's G-Cloud program. In this second part, we take a closer look at what we do and don't know about the current situation and reflect on growing sell side discontent.In
Concerned by what I've been hearing, I did some rooting around. One senior source in government told me that they were hearing rumors of tensions within GDS directly related to what should happen to the G-Cloud brand in light of the decision to create an all-encompassing Digital Marketplace. (Check out Derek's piece on this here). The implication, I was told, was that the G-Cloud brand should 'de-emphasised' while the Digital Marketplace was to be promoted.
Another source told me to ask how many are now working directly on G-Cloud within GDS. So I did. I asked the Digital Marketplace team who told me I'd need to talk to the Cabinet Office press office.
So I did – a very simple question: how many people are working on G-Cloud? That was midway through Thursday, GMT.
With Easter in the way, let me tell you what I was told in the interim. I was told that there are only 5 people working on G-Cloud and that two of those, including of course Tony Singleton, have other responsibilities.
This was enormously alarming as it would mean that resources dedicated to G-Cloud had actually declined since the move to GDS. Surely that couldn't be the case?
I engaged in some back-channel discussion on Twitter with Singleton – who kindly responded during his Easter break, for which many thanks. I reproduce that exchange here:
It's a helpful response, but not one that answers the question of how many people work directly on G-Cloud.
My reading of this was that the 25 full time employees (FTE) mentioned clearly have wider responsibilities related to the Digital Marketplace.
This afternoon I got an official statement from the Cabinet Office press office team which adds up to a different number. It states that:
- A total of 15 people in GDS work on G-Cloud in some capacity. (My underlining for emphasis).
- Of these, 11 are dedicated to G-Cloud and are involved with outreach to both buyers and sellers.
- Three people from the Crown Commercial Service support G-Cloud.
So that is additional resource since the move to GDS, although perhaps not as much as might have been expected given that GDS itself now has 350 staff.
I'm glad there are more people working on G-Cloud directly, but I'm not convinced that that headcount necessarily demonstrates a high profile future for the program.
Singleton himself has admitted that there's room for education and evangelism to improve. In his blog he notes:
It is essential that we get the message across to service owners and those developing policy, senior civil servants and the equivalent in the wider public sector. We will involve as many leaders involved in IT procurement across the wider public sector as possible, as well those who plan and deliver IT projects so that understanding and using G-Cloud truly becomes their first .
We will capitalise on the great work and success stories from those who have already successfully adopted cloud based strategies and harness the goodwill of early adopters to build supplier and buyer community ‘champions’.
We are also developing an online resource that can be widely used by anyone that wishes to. This will include case studies, myth busting articles and short videos.
(On that last point, I'm hoping that this will be moderated in some form as an open-to-anyone unmoderated forum will be spammed by suppliers on the make and bury useful buy-side information under marketing dross.)
The one thing that is undoubtedly true is that the sell side – including G-Cloud champions – are restless.
One of the companies that has benefitted the most from the G-Cloud has been cloud collaboration firm Huddle, whose CEO Alistair Mitchell gave a striking interview to our affiliate partner Strategist magazine in which he went on the record with his personal concerns. You can check out the full interview here, but the G-Cloud specific content I reproduce here:
“I have two concerns on the G-Cloud. They had a leader for it when it was a distinct group, and definitely you notice that that doesn’t exist anyone. I am concerned about that. It still exists as a framework, but it’s not being pushed anymore or led from the top. And this is down to [Cabinet Office Minister Francis] Maude [to fix], and I told him this when I met him recently, to push it back onto the radar, because it had such promising beginnings.
“The other thing that I’m concerned about now , from the UK plc point of view, is that the other thing the British government did [until recently] – and this stems back to the days of Labour before the Coalition – was they very heavily promoted SMEs. They said ‘If you’re an SME and you work for government, we will pay you faster, which is transformational for a small business. And they set up frameworks, such as the G-Cloud, to make it easier to transact with government.
“But since it’s lost its leadership, the G-Cloud has opened up to everyone, and that means that suddenly you’ve got Oracle and IBM and Salesforce.com and all the big guys invading the space, which was originally designed for the purchaser but is now being taken over [by large corporate interests].
“It’s just become an amorphous cloud tool, which means that the original benefits are being lost. You’re buying from the same big companies that previously you were trying to get away from. And from an SME perspective, you’re losing the benefit of government buying from that sector.”
Now clearly Mitchell has commercial skin in the game here, but these are bold statements for a committed G-Cloud enthusiast to make.
He's not alone in his concerns. For EuroCloud, board director Rhys Sharp told me:
"The view from a EuroCloud perspective is that as a community of companies that are all involved in the cloud, the G-Cloud offers a great opportunity to focus our market approach to deliver innovation to a sector that has been lacking innovation for many years. The way that the framework and Cloudstore are constructed go some way to help that position and whilst they are not perfect they do make the task of engaging government significantly easier.
"The frustration we feel is that the buyers struggle to use the framework and Cloudstore, they often don’t understand cloud computing and the key principles of cloud, they are sceptical about how the framework operates and they do find it hard to understand what each service delivers.
"The challenge we have from an education perspective is reach, scale and trust. Educating a customer is great for our community to do as direct customer access is what we want however we are typically SME organisation that don’t have the reach across government, we don’t have the scale to be able to address a wide audience and there is still mistrust of the supply community by government."
None of this is a good place in which to find the G-Cloud.
As I said at the start of part one of this report, I am – and remain – a big fan of G-Cloud.
I want it to succeed, to build on its early triumphs and achieve the genuinely transformative potential that it has.
But it needs more energy behind it. The drive seems to have gone. It's going to take more than a new blog to raise the profile again.
If the Digital Marketplace is now the priority, then some better messaging is needed to position the G-Cloud within it. There's too much, to use the phrase I was given by one source in the Cabinet Office, “bemusement” around that right now.
All of this can be fixed. In fact, it can all be fixed relatively easily I'd suggest.
The question is whether we want to do so. That's up to GDS and to Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, of course.
I fear that somewhere in all this there is a blockage. Whether that's a policy or a person, I don't know.
But something needs to be done.
NB: updated at 16.40 GMT to include Cabinet Office numbers.