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Government 'cloud-first' policy under review by CCS and GDS

Longstanding cloud-first policy set to be replaced by more "appropriate" guidance to reflect public sector's changing technology deployment habits, CCS confirms

The UK government’s public cloud-first policy is under review, and set to be replaced with an updated policy that reflects the growing appetite for hybrid IT deployments in the public sector, Computer Weekly has learned.

The original guidance came into force in 2013 and states all central government departments must take a public cloud-first stance on all new technologies purchases, as set out in the Government Digital Service’s (GDS) Technology Code of Practice. While the policy does not apply to other public sector organisations, they are encouraged to follow this advice too.

Computer Weekly understands an update to the policy is in the works, to take into account how the public sector’s attitude to cloud has changed in the six or so years since the initiative was first introduced.

A recently issued guidance document from the National Audit Office (NAO), outlining how its committees should use cloud, states a change to the policy is set to be announced in “early 2019”, in recognition of the fact that “cloud-first may not be right for everyone” and “cloud solutions may not always save money”.

The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) confirmed the development in a statement to Computer Weekly, and said it is collaborating with GDS to create a more “appropriate” piece of guidance.

“As we have worked though the digital transformation journey with many central government departments and wider public sector organisations, it has become apparent that one size does not fit all, and organisations should make sure they understand what the journey to ‘cloud’ is and means for them in terms of costs, risks, skills and timescales,” said Niall Quinn, director of the technology pillar at CCS, in a statement. 

“We are seeing more and more customers land on a hybrid solution and therefore ‘cloud first’ may not be right for everyone.”

Procurement framework

The emergence of the cloud-first mandate coincided with the launch of the first iteration of the government’s G-Cloud procurement framework, with both initiatives intended to stimulate the adoption of cloud products and services in the public sector.

The framework was initially marketed as a tool for initiating change in government IT, which was characterised – at the time – by huge, lengthy contracts being awarded to the same handful of suppliers.

G-Cloud was seen as something of an antidote to this, on the basis that contracts awarded through the framework were capped at two years in length, while its online marketplace put SMEs and larger enterprises on an equal footing from a buyer visibility standpoint.

G-Cloud, which forms part of the Cabinet Office’s Digital Marketplace IT services procurement hub, has generated £4.57bn in cloud sales over the course of 10 generations, with the 11th iteration of the framework due to drop in July 2019.

However, while the framework’s success in providing SMEs with a way into government IT contracts is regularly lauded, it has come in for some criticism of late, as the percentage of sales being awarded to SMEs through the framework has steadily declined in recent years.

This decline coincides with the opening of UK datacentres by the likes of Microsoft and Amazon several years ago, which – in turn – has resulted in both companies seeing a marked uptick in the amount of public sector IT business they pick up as a result.

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At the same time, a number of cloud procurement routes have opened up across the public sector, in the form of other frameworks, which G-Cloud stakeholders fear could risk diminishing G-Cloud’s role as a one-stop-shop for public sector IT sales.

Despite such opposition, CCS is also consulting on the possibility of creating another public sector-focused cloud procurement framework that could offer users significantly longer contract terms than currently offered via G-Cloud.

It is an idea that has been in fruition since at least October 2018, when Quinn set out his vision for the framework in an interview with Computer Weekly. At the time, he said the framework caters towards meeting the cloud hosting requirements of organisations that want to move their mission-critical workloads off-premise, but are reluctant to do so under the two-year contract terms offered through G-Cloud.

“You’re not going to put mission-critical cloud hosting into a contract that short,” he said at the time. “We’re going to build a very short, sharp hyper-scale cloud and commercial agreement with all the cloud providers on it, allow buyers to make a shortlist and make further competition to get a better price, a better bang for their buck, and more appropriate terms and conditions.”

Fast-forward to May 2019, and Quinn said the type of workloads that might be suited to this type of framework are ones that are more “stable” in nature that are of “limited value to reprocure on a regular basis.

For this reason, he confirmed CCS is considering introducing contracts of up to five years in length as part of this unnamed framework. “This would enable customers to move appropriate data (non-confidential) to the cloud to maximise value for the money and without having to reprocure every two years,” said Quinn.

The intention is for the framework to run side-by-side with G-Cloud, but there’s a possibility that some providers might prove a better fit for one than the other. “These cloud hosting and services suppliers would move off G-Cloud, over time, to this new framework,” he said.

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