The government announcement of the launch of its App Store equivalent, the slightly less catchy CloudStore, has been welcomed by suppliers that would have found it impossible to become a government supplier in the past.
Not only was the process of becoming a government supplier painful but it was also expensive. It costs UK suppliers four times more to bid for public sector work than private sector contracts.
Speaking at The Crown and suppliers: A new way of working conference in November, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, said the UK is particularly inefficient with the public sector procurement process costing twice as much to run in the UK than in France.
He said lengthy procurement practices make it “exceedingly and prohibitively [difficult] doing business with government”. This prevents SMEs from getting involved, which the government wants to increase value.
The government’s chief procurement officer John Collington said, at the same event, that there are not enough SMEs winning business through the usual procurement channels.
But the CloudStore, which is part of the government G-Cloud project changes this. The catalogue of cloud based discreet services already has over 200 suppliers and about 1700 services signed up after less than a week.
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.
Workbooks.com, which makes CRM and business applications aimed at small organisations, has made it onto the CloudStore. CEO John Cheney says his target customer base through the CloudStore is local government.
He says the application process was relatively straightforward. “We had to fill in a compliance form and prove that we had financial stability.” He adds that already the company has had requests for more information about its products for public sector organisations.
Financial stability is important because public sector organisations will want confidence that the services they chose will not be at threat if the publisher gets into trouble.
Cheney was actually surprised there was not more technical assessment.
But Andy Maclellan, operations manager cloud at Onyx which is also in the CloudStore, says that the fact that the services are cloud based with service level agreements (SLA) reduces the need to have the technology assessed heavily. “Cloud services should not require too much technical assessment because it is about providing something as a service with an SLA.”
Additionally organisations will not be tied to long contracts but rather pay per use. This means they can drop a service and move on. Other checks and balances will come over time as CloudStore users share their experiences and make recommendations about services.
Onyx is supplying Infrastructure as a Service as well as Microsoft Exchange as a service. Maclellan also says it was relatively straightforward to apply for CloudStore and he was impressed by the questions the company was asked in regard to cloud services.
“The questions that were asked were fair and put my mind at rest because they were asking the right questions. It covered everything we would expect from a cloud service.”
Alan Pelz-Sharpe, analyst at Real Story Group said: "From what I can gather 250 firms submitted information on a total of 1500 services they could deliver to the public sector, and all of them have gotten duly listed on the site.
That was the first red flag, and indeed further investigation reveals that as of now not one of those services has been tested or certified in any way at all; the claims have just been taken as verbatim. Even so, Cloudstore allows you to circumvent thorough tendering processes through the Official Journal of the European Community (OJEC), yet cannot guarantee whatsoever the quality or fit of the services it promotes."