The government has launched its CloudStore, a catalogue of 1,700 cloud-based, pre-approved IT services now available for the public sector to purchase.
The store was built by UK SME Solidsoft and is hosted in the Microsoft Azure cloud. It is split into four categories of infrastructure, platform and software as a service, plus consultancy services. Products range from e-mail and collaboration tools to more tailored services such as health records and case working for police forces.
Eleanor Stewart, engagement manager for the G-Cloud programme, said in a blog post: “We hope that this site will help us to make the big step change in the way that suppliers and buyers do business on ICT services in the public sector.”
Some 257 suppliers are listed on the store, including large system integrators such as Atos, Capgemini, HP, IBM and Fujitsu; as well as a large number of SME cloud providers like Memset and Huddle; and bigger cloud companies such as Rackspace.
Notable supplier exceptions include Amazon and Salesforce.com, although some of the latter’s products are being offered through Fujitsu.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: “The launch of CloudStore is an important milestone in the government’s ICT strategy to deliver savings and an IT system fit for the 21st century. Simply stated, purchasing services from CloudStore will be quicker, easier, cheaper and more transparent for the public sector and suppliers alike.
“Using cloud solutions that have already been secured and accredited will almost always be less expensive, and we will only pay for what we use. We will also know from the outset the cost of the product and, importantly, the cost of exit from contracts that will be no longer than 12 months.”
Price transparency was a pre-requisite for companies seeking to join the framework, and could lead to more standardisation in the amount departments pay for IT services. Computer Weekly recently revealed that some Whitehall departments currently pay three times as much as others for comparable software.
The release is the first iteration of the store and as such it is not always clear from some of the supplier descriptions what actual services are being offered, which could make it difficult to accurately compare offerings from competing suppliers. For example, the range of services available from supplier Capita covers 10 pages when browsing through the CloudStore.
However, a comparison of seemingly similar services reveals significant price variations and the Cabinet Office hopes this transparency will help drive down overall IT spending.
For example, Atos is providing Microsoft Dynamics CRM on Demand at £43 per user per month, compared with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM on Demand provided directly through Microsoft at £25.96, both at the same level of security.
Productivity software offered by Google and Microsoft also revealed price differences. Google’s Apps for Business came in at £33 per user per year compared with Microsoft Office 365 Web Apps at £52.68 per user per year.
Notably, both Google and Microsoft were registered under their Irish operations on the list. A number of tech companies have set up a base in Ireland, where corporation tax is half that of the UK.
Eight services were listed to be used for information classified at security impact level four (IL4), for data that could cause major loss of confidence in government if released. Around 300 services are available at impact level three – covering information that could compromise the workings of government, with around 500 services being offered at lower security levels IL1 and IL2.
One of the major objectives of the store is to reduce procurement cycles by offering pre-approved services, so that Whitehall buyers do not need to go through individual tenders or publish notices on the official European Union site. The Cabinet Office hopes this will make it more likely for departments to buy from SME suppliers.
Advice to buyers on the store warns that public sector bodies should not hold an additional mini-competition between suppliers. “These are commodity services and the CloudStore contains all the information required to select from the suppliers that best fit your needs,” it said.
A second cloud framework will be available in the spring and broaden the number of suppliers and services currently listed.