News Analysis

How the G-Cloud is developing ahead of the Spending Review

Rebecca Thomson

The G-Cloud is shaping up to be a key part of the government's new IT strategy, with more details on the project emerging ahead of this months' raft of announcements.

While most are anticipating the government's planned cuts with trepidation, October will also see some new projects launched that are designed to overhaul the way government IT works, bringing new opportunities as well as reducing costs.

Government CIO John Suffolk's updated IT strategy is in the process of being finalised and details on the central project, the G-Cloud, are slowly being revealed.

The G-Cloud, according to deputy government CIO Bill McCluggage, is a bad name - he says to think of it as an eBay for government, but "with a twist".

Andy Tait, deputy director of the G-Cloud programme, had a similar idea for explaining the application store, urging delegates at the recent Government ICT Goes Green conference to think of it as "a marketplace - the Amazon of public sector IT provision".

The G-Cloud will consist of five "worlds", with separate areas for testing, hosting, web applications, SMEs and a "shared" world. It will also be organised into business communities, with central government, health, or education organisations all expected to need largely similar software.

Tait said the team is working on the IT strategy, of which the G-Cloud is part, at the moment. "It is similar to the current one, but it will be strengthened in a number of areas," he said.

As part of that, he said the G-Cloud should not be thought of as a "thing", but as a set of standards and specifications to enable organisations to buy pre-approved software.

It also allows their suppliers to build G-Cloud-compliant systems. "We want to become more agile in our ability to move around suppliers when we are dissatisfied with services. We want competition," Tait said.

The idea central to the G-Cloud is using the large size of the UK public sector to its advantage. "Having five or six e-mail systems, each with one million people on them, is a lot cheaper than operating the 50,000 that we have today," Tait said. And having 90,000 servers that operate at 10% utilisation makes little sense - he added the team looks forward to being able to turn off 60,000 servers.

Kate Craig-Wood, CEO and founder of hosting company Memset, has worked with the Cabinet Office on the development of the G-Cloud. She said the focus in the short term appears to be as much central consolidation as possible. "Perhaps within the next few months they will be looking to start to go to market for other services like hosting and infrastructure."

Once this happens, Craig-Wood said she is hopeful the government will keep to its pledge to give a significant amount of new business to small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

"They seem to have a real commitment to 25% of business going to SMEs," she said. "Chris Chant [programme director of the G-Cloud] recently made a speech where he seemed keen to put his money where this mouth is. But exactly how they are going to achieve that remains to be seen. There are still a lot of barriers for smaller businesses in government procurement."

There will be two separate zones in the G-Cloud relevant to suppliers. One will be certified, where all software that has been assessed and certified will able available. Another be open, where suppliers can either advertise non-certified software, or users can post their requirements and the market can respond.

Tait said the team believes it can save £3bn to £4bn a year with the new approach to IT procurement, but that it will take 10 years to reach this level of savings and overcome various hurdles.

He says, "The G-cloud is a leap for us. Culturally, it is very different. Many people ask how can they control things when they don't own the infrastructure. We are also pushing the boundaries of information assurance because we don't know where data is when it's out there. Plus, EU procurement law poses a challenge.

"A lot of people are nervous of taking advantage of the G-Cloud. I am trying to help them use the public cloud with confidence."

At the moment, he said, the Treasury is more interested in saving £60bn in the next 12 months. But he added, "We are on their radar, it is just a matter of time."


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