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The Scottish government has been accused of using “cloud-washing” to generate interest from IT suppliers in a recently announced £20m mobile device procurement framework.
Ministers are currently seeking a single supplier to provide a range of Scottish public sector organisations – including councils, further education institutions and NHS trusts – with a mix of fixed and mobile computing devices.
According to the accompanying framework advisory documents, obtained by Computer Weekly, the government is looking specifically for two types of mobile devices that are “optimised for cloud computing” that feature either a maximum screen size of 11.6 inches or 14 inches.
It’s also looking to procure a “range of fixed and mobile computers” featuring a proprietary operating system.
The National Framework for Cloud Computing and Proprietary Devices, as it’s been dubbed, is scheduled to last for up to four years and has been valued at between £10m and £20m. Interested parties have until 21 August 2015 to submit their bids to become the framework’s single supplier.
Suppliers raise cloud concerns
However, suppliers have expressed disappointment to Computer Weekly about the fact it’s being presented as a cloud computing framework, when it’s truly geared towards the procurement of hardware.
Particularly as the latter point isn’t overtly stated in the introductory and full text of the publicly accessible contract notice, it is claimed, which says the framework will be used for the “provision of cloud computing and proprietary devices and associated services”.
This was a view backed by TechMarketView principal analyst Michael Larner, who agreed the framework’s name risks creating confusion among suppliers who – at first look – might assume it’ll be used by government departments to procure cloud services.
“If it’s not clearly stated that it’s a hardware-orientated procurement, there is a risk suppliers will waste time, money and effort engaging in the process before they realise it’s really about procuring a Chromebook, a Microsoft Surface or an iPad, for example,” he said.
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“The opportunity really for the cloud software providers will be at a later stage once the hardware is sorted out, and the datacentre consolidation process the Scottish government has embarked on is completed.”
Jessica Figueras, research director at fellow market watcher Kable, said shoehorning “cloud” into the title could be considered opportunistic, given that it will be used to procure low-cost and specification laptops.
“This is just an opportunity to spend a little less on hardware, as the idea is if you have a group of workers who are mainly going to be using cloud services, opposed to traditional fat clients, then they don’t need as high a spec laptop so you can get it cheaper,” she said.
Public sector IT suppliers are used to framework owners employing these kinds of marketing tactics to drum up interest in their procurement opportunities, added Figueras.
“Part of a framework owner’s job is to market their frameworks and obviously they want to get the widest range of suppliers bidding for them to make things as competitive as possible,” she said.
“You can see how, in some cases, there would always be the temptation to big things up a bit more and give them slightly sexier titles, but suppliers are all pretty grown up and understand what the deal is.”
Hardware type 'clearly specified'
What suppliers should be wary of though, added Figueras, is putting too much stock in the projected amount of money the government claims the framework could generate.
“This, again, is absolutely nothing new for suppliers as all frameworks are legendary for delivering a fraction of the value they say they’re going to,” she said.
In a statement to Computer Weekly, the Scottish government defended the framework’s presentation, as the details about the type of hardware it’s looking for are “clearly specified” in its invite to tender documentation.
“The generic title of 'cloud computing' was selected to differentiate between the lower specification of the devices required predominantly in the education sector to access cloud or internet-based services. These devices differ in specification from the traditional corporate mobile device category of laptops,” the government statement reads.
It also went on to say that it had taken steps to make suppliers aware this was a hardware-orientated framework, rather than a cloud procurement one.
“The requirement is clearly defined as hardware in the tender documentation and the main common procurement vocabulary code used to advertise the opportunity. Any reference to services [made in the tender documents] are the services required to deploy the devices,” the statement continued.