Is the Cloud getting bigger or smaller

The month of May saw Home Office IT director Denise McDonagh take over the reins of the government’s G-Cloud programme after previous chief Chris Chant retired. McDonagh will combine the two roles, ready for the next release of the CloudStore online cloud services catalogue launched in February.
Chant has been a vocal reformer among government IT chiefs, repeatedly calling for major changes to the way the public sector purchases and manages technology.
In a valedictory blog post, he accused some government CIOs and IT suppliers of “hiding behind a comfort blanket” to avoid change. McDonagh is seen as another of the reformers in Whitehall IT and is likely to pursue a similar drive as her predecessor. In an interview with Computer Weekly last year, she said: “We’ve got to the point where things have to change. We can’t continue to deliver IT in the way we do. I have many examples of frustrated customers, as they can’t get IT quickly enough and at a price they can afford.”
Big supplier experience
McDonagh has worked in government IT for over 30 years, beginning her career at one of the most junior levels to eventually take one of the top Whitehall IT roles. During the last 10 years she has been focused on dealing with big suppliers - one of her key roles was director of outsourcing at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, before moving to the Home Office.
McDonagh implemented an “extend and blend programme” in 2009 for the Home Office, which broke up supplier duplication on a number of systems management contracts within the department, including desktops, hosting, and networks. That activity rationalised and improved hosting capabilities and took out more than £100m in costs over the life of the contracts. The experience positioned the department to become one of the government’s Foundation Delivery Partners for its G-Cloud strategy.
In her first blog post, McDonagh heaped praise on Chris Chant and his efforts to get the G-Cloud programme off the ground and raise its profile, but despite the positive words from McDonagh, it is clear that outgoing Chant is unhappy with some issues, after he launched a scathing attack last week on the government for its “unacceptable” quality of IT in his final blog post.
Chant stated: “It’s 30 years or more since government first developed IT systems inhouse, 20 years since outsourcing became a major trend and 7 years since we should have been 100% online, or digital by default as we now say. Sure we’ve come a long way in each of those periods but, honestly, we haven’t come nearly far enough. Unacceptable IT is pervasive.
He went on: “Real progress has been blocked by many things including an absence of capability in both departments and their suppliers, by a strong resistance to change, by the perverse incentives of contracts that mean its cheaper to pay service credits than to fix the problem and by an unwillingness to embrace the potential of newer and smaller players to offer status quo-busting ideas.
CIOs across government, including me in various roles at the centre of government,have been guilty for too long of taking the easy path. We have done the unacceptable and thought we were doing a great job.”
A pipeline of service needs
McDonagh has made clear it that she intends to drive forward further iterations of the G-Cloud framework, and ensure it has a flexible way to procure cloud services. She also stated that her team will be “working to build a pipeline of service needs from customers across the whole of the public sector so that industry has awareness of what it is that government wants and so that government entities can see what everyone else is doing.”
Framework Challenges
McDonagh also promised to work with customers and suppliers to ensure everyone gets a chance to present a view and so that she understands the opportunities and challenges the framework faces. But McDonagh also made it clear in her blog post that the government is not currently ready for the mass adoption of the cloud. This follows on from the warning in March by the CIO at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Phil Pavitt, who said that large government departments may struggle to meet targets on cloud computing.
McDonagh said: “Government isn’t immediately ready to make big bets on cloud – but it would be foolish not to make a series of investments and understand how it will all work together, and then learn the lessons to allow us to increase the investment we make.
“The overriding aim is to increase choice – for too long the public sector has been locked into suppliers and products for extended periods without having the ability to take advantage of the capabilities of new entrants to the market, people with smart ideas, products that can make things simpler and easier”.
“By increasing choice – and making it easier for government to make those choices – our aims are to reduce costs, increase the speed with which we can deliver new services, improve the services that we already offer and take advantage of new capabilities,”.
McDonagh concluded: “Cloud solutions are, I am convinced, a way to offer that choice far faster than we would otherwise be able to do so. Not every question should be answered with “we need another big SI to prime our contract”
Cloudstore 1 and 2
Back in February Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude announced the launch of CloudStore, the online appstore for cloud-based ICT services.
CloudStore offers the public sector a transparent way to procure the cloud services they need, including email, word processing, system hosting, enterprise resource planning, electronic records management, customer relationship management or office productivity applications.
It is hoped the G-Cloud framework will revolutionise the purchasing, management and delivery of public sector IT services and the way suppliers work with government.
Government bodies will be able to purchase off-the-shelf IT services from CloudStore on a pay-as-you-go basis rather than having to develop their own systems. This model means the government can use what it wants, when it wants it, and will save money by avoiding duplication of services that cannot be shared.
Maude said: “The launch of CloudStore is an important milestone. CloudStore offers public sector bodies a range of the best industry IT services and solutions off the shelf. It provides the flexibility to change service provider easily without lengthy procurement and implementation cycles or being locked in to long contracts; and the freedom to quickly adopt solutions that are better value and more up to date.
For the first tranche of the G-Cloud service catalogue, the Government received bids from nearly 300 suppliers, offering a total of around 1,700 services. Service details and pricing information are open to all on CloudStore, allowing buyers to compare services and suppliers. Contracts should be no longer than a year.
For suppliers not yet on the G-Cloud, it was planned to re-open the framework to applications at the beginning of May. However, according to McDonagh, the date for G-Cloud 2 might slip, she warned during a webcast on that while it’s due at the beginning of May, she meant that “in a civil service” way.
Big names likely to join
Amazon and Salesforce are likely to join the G-Cloud, according to reports on The Register website. The duo passed on G-Cloud 1.0 over concerns about their legal obligations and responsibilities on things such as data audits.
Government officials driving the programme have apparently reassured the firms’ legal departments on their obligations under the G-Cloud’s terms and conditions. Asked whether Amazon and Salesforce will be on the next version of G-Cloud, which currently gives hefty representation to existing suppliers of government IT like Microsoft, IBM and BT who have followed these two into cloud, McDonagh stopped short of saying she’d be disappointed if they didn’t sign up, but continued: “I fully expect them to be on G-Cloud 2.”
Commenting on the reason they opeted not to join up in February, she said: “There were some challenges. There was some language that gave their legal people a headache on the right to audit data. Since then we have spoken to the people at Amazon and Salesforce to explain the practicalities... therefore they are much more at ease with what we are asking them to do.”
Amazon and Salesforce are pioneers in cloud computing. Amazon EC2 and S3 deliver hosted computing and storage, and since late 2006, Amazon has become the leader, with rapid expansion in the last 12 months. Salesforce began in 1999 with a simple hosted customer relationship management (CRM) service. Through a combination of marketing, strategic development and acquisition, the company now counts among its offerings: a database-as-aservice, hosted websites, Amazon-style application hosting and crowd-sourcing and social networking apps for mobile and other devices. These are used by by Dell, Starbucks and many other big businesses.
Both companies have created dedicated practices for the hosting of US government data and apps. This has come about because US government rules set a high bar on the physical location of servers hosting the nation’s official data, and on who is allowed to come into contact with it.
The UK policy is different and has an escalating level of rules based on sensitivity of the data and whether it falls under European data privacy rules or national law. McDonagh believes the need to clarify the language of G-Cloud was among the lessons the government has learned building the next iteration of G-Cloud and Cloudstore. It had been necessary to simplify the wording and to reduce the number of acronyms to attract new suppliers and to explain the services, and to also cut the T&Cs from hundreds of pages to just 20.
Google, another huge name synonymous with cloud, had no difficulty with the language of G-Cloud. As McDonagh pointedout, Google is already listed on the G-Cloud Cloudstore, right along with Microsoft and the others. Five of Google’s products, APIs and services are listed including Apps for Business that features Gmail and calendar, Maps API Premier, and Chrome OS. Like so many vendors’ services on G-Cloud, these are waiting to be “assured” while Google has not bothered to provide descriptions of what they actually are or do in all cases.
The government also plans more ‘buycamps’ to explain G-Cloud and Cloudstore to its people and try to shift the culture of civil service IT procurement.
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