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CIF gears up to target public sector cloud

Cloud Industry Forum wants to help the UK government achieve its digital strategy, but working with government is still a big challenge for many providers

The Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) has created a special interest group (SIG) to tackle the challenges faced by UK providers when trying to work with the public sector.

With the challenges of Brexit, continuing austerity and a new government, CIF believes there is a risk that momentum and progress on the Government Transformation Strategy could stall.

CIF regards its role as one of the organisations that is able to work in partnership with government to identify and remove barriers that might prevent delivery of digital and cloud-based technology to support transformative change.

The SIG’s formation follows a decision last year for CIF to take on board UK members of EuroCloud.

Speaking to Computer Weekly about the decision to form the group, CIF chief executive Alex Hilton said: “When we took over the membership for EuroCloud, it brought a number of individuals with career knowledge of the public sector.”

Hilton said studies conducted by CIF had previously shown a relatively low adoption rate of cloud services in the public sector compared with the private sector. “From the forum’s perspective, we haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on the public sector,” he said. “We think it is important to have a voice here in the public sector market.”

As Computer Weekly has reported previously, cloud providers have found it hard to win business on G-Cloud. Of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers that are winning business via G-Cloud, just 8% earned more than £100,000 in business during the 12 months to January 2016, according to a study by former EuroCloud secretary general Lindsay Smith.

Speaking at Computer Weekly’s 50th anniversary celebration event in London last September, Liam Maxwell, the UK government’s national technology adviser, spoke about one of his experiences of cloud computing at Whitehall. He described how Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon Web Services (AWS), was invited to talk to government CIOs about the AWS cloud.

Maxwell said: “On the way out, one of the old guard turned to another and said, ‘this is really good, we should build one of these’. And that’s the challenge we have. It’s about culture.”

Eight-point plan

The SIG aims to help cloud service providers align better with the needs of public sector buyers by using the UK government’s G-Cloud procurement framework and Digital Marketplace. It has set out an eight-point plan.

CIF said its main objectives are to increase the volume of cloud services purchased through G-Cloud, pursue openness and transparency on the future vision and direction of G-Cloud, and help cloud providers to match their services with the requirements of public sector buyers.

The SIG is chaired by Peter Middleton, director at Cloudline, who has worked in the public sector for 15 years. Middleton said he had been involved in the Government Gateway and Government Transformation Strategy programmes, both on the supply side and client side. He also worked on the first iterations of G-Cloud.

Speaking about the need for the SIG and its role in G-Cloud, Middleton told Computer Weekly: “Although G-Cloud is a success, it is critical to keep the momentum going and we need to strive to get it right.”

According to Middleton, years of outsourcing core IT services to system integrators have left many public sector bodies lacking the internal functions to understand how to fit cloud technologies into a multi-sourced, hybrid IT environment.

Discussing the challenges the public sector faces with migrating to the cloud, he said: “The transition from legacy contracts are a big barrier. Complexity and costs cannot be underestimated.”

Although G-Cloud was established to speed up the rate of IT adoption, difficulties arise in large government departments that are often dominated by big system integrators, said Middleton.

“Someone in the organisation has to take over the role when the SI disappears because the cloud services need to integrate with other services,” he said. “This is a difficult nut for buyers to crack.”

Read more about G-Cloud

It should come as no surprise that the rationale for Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Salesforce establishing UK datacentres is to attract UK public sector business.

But with the largest cloud providers growing their UK cloud businesses and the challenges of replacing old-school multi-year outsourcing contracts with a more multi-sourced approach, the risk is that smaller cloud providers will find it hard to compete.

Middleton said: “G-Cloud was about having a wide range of providers, and SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] are fundamental to this.” The government needs to ensure there is diversity in the IT supply chain, he added.

“There is a role for suppliers who can work with cloud interoperability, open source, open standards and open APIs to interconnect services,” he said. “This needs to be driven by government. The dialogue needs to flow from the buyers and should be built in tandem with the suppliers to make things work together.”

Middleton sees an opportunity for smaller cloud providers to work alongside in-house functions within government to fulfil the job that would previously have been done by a big outsourcer or major system integrator.

The large providers also offer partner ecosystems, which CIF believes could provide opportunities for smaller cloud providers.

Eight areas that CIF wants to address

1. Restate the commitment to a cloud first policy and publish detailed cloud transition and IT sourcing plans for each department, so industry can respond and adapt business and product strategies to better meet government needs and means.

2. Clarify how the programmes of activity intend to work in ongoing partnership with industry, starting with the definition of a joint priority list of changes and improvements for the G-Cloud 10 framework.

3. Work to provide clarity and guidance on how GDPR compliance will be achieved for existing and future G-Cloud contracts.  

4. Support and co-host events with industry that actively bring buyers and suppliers together in ways that encourage the sharing of best practice and a better understanding of user needs.

5. Define and jointly deliver a comprehensive stakeholder engagement and communications programme to encourage improvements in the buying process to reduce unnecessary “waste” caused by poorly articulated needs, unclear supplier services, a lack of digital skills and bad buying behaviour.

6. Use the substantial body of case studies to demonstrate how the consumption of cloud services in government is generating economic growth.

7. Commit to maintain and publish up-to-date G-Cloud sales figures on a monthly basis.

8. Ask the Cabinet Office to nominate a representative that CIF can work with to take forward the above priorities.

Source: Cloud Industry Forum

Read more on IT for government and public sector

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