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Central authority to enforce G-Cloud standards

Mark Ballard

The Cabinet Office is considering the creation of a central G-Cloud authority to pick winners among competing technology standards and vet suppliers.

The authority would seek to impose technological, commercial and security standards on the public sector and its suppliers to create the level playing field necessary for G-Cloud to operate.

The proposal was fleshed out in detail during Phase 2 of the G-Cloud programme, the documentation for which was published by the Cabinet Office this week in response to a Computer Weekly Freedom of Information request.

The G-Cloud business case, which was withheld from the 100 or so government and industry experts who worked on Phase 2 until its publication on Tuesday, said government must define common standards to break the stranglehold incumbent suppliers have over public sector customers.

The suppliers' hold over government IT had been mutually assisted by the UK's "federated" approach to IT procurement and provisioning, it said.

"This decentralised approach haslead to a proliferation of IT solutions, which have been developed against different standards that are not interoperable," said the business case.

The CIO Council and G-Cloud Programme Board responded by creating a "governance framework" to co-ordinate the dismantling of IT silos across the public sector.

"The model will mandate standards across the public sector but will not mandate how public sector organisations go about tailoring solutions to their specific needs and objectives," it said.

However, it warned that the technology used to run the overarching cloud system was beset with the same supplier problems that caused the government to turn to it in the first place. "Proprietary standards used by some public clouds create the risk of lock in," it said.

The report of Phase 2's commercial workstream warned that incumbent IT suppliers would resist the changes since they stood to lose their grip on the profitable relationships into which they had locked public sector customers with their mainly proprietary technologies.

"Their existing business models seriously hinder delivery of the intended operational cost savings," it said. "Barriers to change here are very real."

A senior member of the G-Cloud Phase 2 programme, who asked not to be named, said even those large incumbent suppliers who where most vociferous in their support of G-Cloud had not adapted their technical architectures to operate in tune with the cloud's commercial model.

"They are happy to say we can charge on a per-usage basis. But if you say to them, 'My requirement's gone down, can I lower my payments?' that's more problematic," he said. "That defeats the object."

Suppliers were nevertheless encouraged by a proposal that the G-Cloud governance body would put them through a single due diligence procedure, accrediting their financial and security credentials so they do not have to be assessed every time they go through a procurement. The current system of due diligence is said to discourage smaller IT suppliers from pitching for government business, perpetuating the hold large firms have over the public sector and stifling innovation.

The Cabinet Office did not respond to questions. It is due to publish a formal G-Cloud proposal as part of the government ICT Strategy in March.


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