In a victory for the government IT reformers, the G-Cloud framework and its associated CloudStore services catalogue are now live.
It’s an achievement that deserves congratulation – from the public launch of the G-Cloud tender in October, to a working, cloud-based directory of services containing 1,700 services from over 250 suppliers in five months. That’s previously unheard of in UK government IT, as any supplier that has bid for previous contract frameworks or service catalogues would tell you.
Great work – but the real challenges begin now in getting Whitehall buying its cloud services through the new store.
All those 1,700 services are pre-approved, ready to use off the shelf, with publicly available pricing and contract terms. No more hiding behind “commercial confidentiality” to avoid scrutiny of the fact that some parts of Whitehall pay significantly more than others for identical products. No more time-consuming and expensive European-law-conformant procurement processes for these commodity services. And no more knee-jerk resorting to comfortable, familiar, large systems integrators when there are so many SME suppliers available through the CloudStore, often at greatly reduced prices.
But of course, not a penny has been spent by any government IT buyer on any of the available services yet. The reformers have proved the cynics wrong by getting this far, but now they face a greater challenge – the inertia of the status quo.
For all the choice available on the CloudStore, there’s a huge option anxiety. There are so many services on offer, how do buyers actually know which is right for them – especially when they are being told not to run mini-competitions between suppliers? Where apparently comparable services are available at very different prices, how do you know what you are actually getting for your money?
Take, for example, the fact that Capita’s service offerings run across 10 pages of the online Cloudstore – can you tell the difference between the firm’s “Dynamic Hosting – Storage Ret 7 Days – Bronze – IL2” service, and a rival’s hosted storage?
Kate Craig-Wood, managing director of cloud hosting firm Memset pointed out the anomaly in a Twitter conversation with G-Cloud programme director Chris Chant – saying that if her firm had included “every permutation” of its service it would have had 10 million entries. The differences in approach, productisation and language between suppliers is going to be as much of a challenge for enthused buyers as it may be an excuse for unwilling buyers.
(Just as an aside, it’s also a huge cultural change in government IT on so many levels to be able to say that a senior Whitehall IT chief is having a conversation in public on Twitter with an SME supplier about its products and competitive positioning).
Having said all these things, it’s then important to point out that such differences and confusions are, of course, the point of what CloudStore is all about.
The suppliers that package and present their services in the most relevant way are more likely to win business. The ones that demonstrate value for money pricing in a clear and easy-to-understand way will be the long-term winners. And the buyers who resort to obfuscation to stay with their cosy status quo will soon be found out.
The CloudStore is, in effect, a giant online dating site for buyers and suppliers.
Each supplier has presented itself in the way it believes will make it most attractive to potential partners. The buyers who invest time and effort in looking for the perfect partner will be the ones who see the most benefit. All will be initially overwhelmed by the choices, potentially disappointed by their first picks, but somewhere in there is their ideal long-term partner.
Well, “long-term” in this case meaning a 12-month maximum contract on a pay-as-you-go basis.
A battle victory for the reformers, then. For the taxpayers who need to be the ultimate winners from lower-cost, higher-quality government IT, an important milestone achieved. For the Whitehall IT luddites and laggards, a few of their old excuses have been taken away from them. Let the dating game begin.