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G-Cloud: hitting the spot?


Article Type: Analysis          Published: 05-2014         Views: 2126   

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Public Sector ICT is a 14 billion GBP market, yet a recent report from the OFT suggests that there are still significant barriers to entry, particularly for SMBs. Can the much-vaunted G-Cloud approach work if it remains a 'closed shop' open only to a chosen few big suppliers?

When it comes to the cloud, it appears the UK government is prone to exactly the same 'niggles' as the rest of us, from the smallest SMB to the largest global corporation: public sector migration to cloud services has suffered as much as anyone from a combination of common issues - budget, security and compliance, and perhaps most worryingly, concern over legacy systems integration.

The G-Cloud concept was initially seen both internally and externally as 'an all encompassing government-wide computing platform' - and thus something requiring potentially huge investment. Now it is generally viewed as sitting somewhere between a tool for reducing procurement costs, and a strategic initiative with the potential to modernise the government's IT infrastructure. Cloud Hosting magazine spoke to a selection of industry experts to get their views.

The government is certainly giving the right signals to indicate that it's committed to the adoption of cloud computing, says Christian Nagele of CentraStage: the recent adoption of Office 365 by the Houses of Parliament being a good example of this commitment translating into real results. Nagele goes on: "The Government has repeatedly released figures showing that business to SMEs has increased. However, it is hard to gauge the amount of business that is filtering down to SMEs from the larger suppliers to government - many big technology suppliers are actively engaging more with SMEs in order to position themselves well with the Cabinet's Office's new dictat.

A fit for purpose G-Cloud government ICT strategy needs to take advantage of new technologies in order to deliver faster business benefits and reduce costs, whilst meeting environmental and sustainability targets and at the end of the day adoption of innovative tech into Government will be driven as much by the big IT service providers, as it will by G-Cloud."

GETTING A FOOT IN THE DOOR
Louise Dunne, MD of G-Cloud listed supplier Auriga, believes the framework approach has been a success but there is still much to be done to make things better. Of over 150 million pounds of G-Cloud expenditure to April 2014, around 60% by both value and volume is believed to have gone to SMEs.

Says Dunne: "Any organisation willing to go through the application process and comply with the requirements now has a chance of winning contracts. But the scales are still weighted. The G-Cloud sought to provide the reassurance and access necessary to connect with vetted SMB suppliers. But the open marketplace concept at the heart of the Cloudstore initiative has been compromised. Some of the largest suppliers are using SMB partners as little more than shopfronts to deliver services. Moreover, those same suppliers can afford to sell low with loss-leading services to get their foot in the door."

One of the main issues, according to Dunne, is high-level access to the Public Sector Network (PSN): SMBs are able to offer accredited services to the PSN community but must negotiate a complex range of processes and mandatory compliance, codes and accreditation requirements before being admitted to the community. Clive Longbottom of consultancy QuoCirca agrees that this is a concern: "Initially, the main framework providers were the large telecommunication companies: they have been trying to cling on to pushing the PSN as the main network for government. Although smaller players have been brought in and a few connectors have been built between the PSN and G-Cloud, it is still piecemeal and counts against a PSN network user plugging in easily to G-Cloud."

Richard Blanford of Fordway, another firm who've won several G-Cloud contracts, believes that a more basic problem arises from public sector organisations simply not understanding how G-Cloud works and what it can offer them: "Public sector buyers are risk averse and many tend to favour larger, more traditional and on-premise suppliers. Are they stifling the innovative ideas of their IT colleagues, perhaps because they worry it will mean less work for them? I believe the key to building trust in G-Cloud is to explain that it follows the same steps as traditional procurement: research into potential suppliers, RFI, RFP, supplier references and contract award."



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