The G-Cloud looks set to become the future model for the way government buys its IT – with a new framework in the pipeline that will include secure email services for the NHS – and calls for it to become a blueprint for all new government IT frameworks. But what challenges lie ahead?
The second phase of the government’ G-Cloud framework is now complete, with the number of suppliers and services doubled to 450 and 3,000 respectively.
“We’ve added to the services provided on the first framework such as gamification, agile, end-user device services,” Denise McDonagh, programme director for the G-Cloud told Computer Weekly.
“One reason the second framework took longer is because of all the people who expressed interest in it. If it continues to increase at the same rate, we will need to rethink what span we do.”
Some 12 services have so far received pan-government accreditation, with a further 61 services in the pipeline, a significant achievement considering the amount of potential service re-use across the 29,000 organisations signed up. Accreditation for services above restricted use – beyond Impact Level 3 – is also expected to happen at some point, but not before there is a market for it, said McDonagh.
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Initially, the G-Cloud was to be a three-year programme designed to embed a new model into the psyche of government, said McDonagh. The Government Procurement Service is expected to assume the process of rerunning the framework and take on responsibility for CloudStore after that point.
Continuous new frameworks are intended to stimulate the market and increase competition, giving access to wider range of SMEs. McDonagh hopes work on the third framework can begin around Christmas, with the aim for subsequent frameworks to become a business-as-usual function, said McDonagh.
But the next challenge is to increase the number of buyers.
“The big measure of success will be when we see more people buying from the cloud,” she said.
I would think we have had that first period of toe dipping and now organisations are considering more seriously and looking at substantial things in the cloud
Denise McDonagh, G-Cloud programme director
Some department are starting to put more mission-critical IT through the cloud, such as the Government Digital Service and HMRC. McDonagh hopes other departments will soon follow suit, including a greater use for enterprise-wide software-as-service (SaaS).
“I would think that we have had that first period of toe dipping and now organisations are considering more seriously and looking at substantial things in the cloud,” said McDonagh.
Awareness-building to stimulate the buy community is one of the key challenges, particularly if government is to meet its ambitious target of funneling 50% of all new IT spend through the CloudStore by 2015. “The next big thing is about propagation,” said McDonagh.
“I sometimes think, and it’s my personal view, that people on the frontline are a bit more enthusiastic about opportunities, whereas some of our bigger, more cautious organisations, quite rightly take their time to think about it a bit more,” she said.
The team is talking to the people responsible for IT procurement in big organisations to help foster interest.
“We do a lot of tweeting and blogging – but someone said the people we need to talk to are not necessarily doing that. They are more traditionalists,” said McDonagh.
Demonstrating the obvious measurable benefits is key to making that case.
“The easiest way is the sales information, what would it have cost if did it in the old way,” said McDonagh.
Examples already cited include an SME able to offer a like-for-like service through the CloudStore at an eightieth of the cost quoted by a system integrator. Other benefits include incumbent suppliers dropping prices because comparable services were significantly cheaper in the cloud, said McDonagh.
"That is the carrot part. The stick part is obviously the controls from Cabinet Office, which will force people to look at cloud in their new IT spend," she said.
The G-Cloud 2 framework came through just as the government decided to freeze all new procurement frameworks. Government is also reviewing all existing IT frameworks as part of an assessment into their efficacy.
But the G-Cloud framework is unlikely to be affected by the review, with Deputy CIO Liam Maxwell having described it as the only framework that provides true competition to the market.
“More than any other framework, it gives the choice of the market and to the departments to realise better IT for much less money,” Maxwell told Computer Weekly recently.
However, the viability of other frameworks, such as G-Hosting – designed to provide a route for departments with large, complex application environments that don't fit into the CloudStore model – is being called into question, according to senior Whitehall sources.
Legacy mainframe expectations
Kate Craig-Wood, founder of small cloud company Memset, attempted to join the G-Hosting framework but came to the conclusion that it is not SME-friendly.
"We were hoping to join the G-Hosting framework, since we are perfectly capable of 'heavy lifting' with high-spec servers and enterprise clusters, which was our understanding of the purpose of the framework. We even have partners who can help with migrations off legacy systems.
“However, it transpires that you can only join the framework if you can do 'soup to nuts' including running/maintaining legacy mainframe-type systems – something that, as a 21st century company, we're unwilling to do,” Craig-Wood told Computer Weekly.
If such frameworks do get rolled back following the review, an even greater emphasis could be place on the G-Cloud as a means of future procurement.
One possibility could be to expand the G-Cloud beyond the scope of cloud services, to include a transparent catalogue of all IT products available to government.
That would mean procurement capability will require an even larger boost, as a move to managing multi-sourcing environment across IT is at odds with the previous reliance on system integrators to manage services. The Cabinet Office will also need to push departments harder to release detailed cloud strategies, as many departments appear to have been lacklustre in their responses.
But for McDonagh the task of the G-Cloud team is to evangelise on the benefits of the cloud for government IT.
“I don’t think this programme alone could be responsible for a culture change across the public sector,” she said. “My job is to educate people so they understand all the enablers of the G-Cloud,” said McDonagh.