The next five years for g-cloud?

Gee-ing up

A week is a long time in politics, as the old quote attributed to Harold Wilson goes. It is a trait undoubtedly shared by the technology industry. When the two sectors are combined, the landscape can change dramatically over the course of a single parliament.

You need only look back to the last general election in 2010 to hammer home that point. At that time, ‘the Cloud’ had not really made a mark on the public consciousness and was yet to be fully embraced by government. Arguably, it is still yet to be fully embraced by government, with the public sector often playing catch-up in the digital world.

That started to change in 2012 when the G-Cloud platform was established to streamline the public sector procurement process for cloud computing. The Digital Marketplace - a platform through which government departments and other public sector bodies can easily buy cloud services from approved suppliers, of which my company is one, with confidence and without the need for a costly tender process – was introduced.

So, what does the next parliament have in store for G-Cloud?
This article is being written without the advantage of knowing the election result, but that might not be as big a factor as it would be in some policy areas.

Conservative MP Francis Maude had G-Cloud in his portfolio as Minister for the Cabinet Office. He feels it is not only more efficient but also more secure for public sector cloud services to be administered by approved suppliers.

“Doing things in the cloud is more secure than doing [it] ourselves. It is comforting to know where your data centres are – although in government we don’t always. But actually cloud providers live or die by their cloud security,” he said.

Tory minister pushes for private sector delivery might not seem like a massive surprise, but this goes beyond party political ideologies. Whatever the colour of the next government, it is hard to imagine a sea change in that policy.

For starters, the civil service is geared up to that way of thinking. Magnus Falk, who was appointed as the government’s first deputy chief technology officer last year, used one of his first public speeches in the role to implore government to “get out of the data centre business”.

With that in mind, the first thing to expect in the next parliament is much more of G-Cloud. Total government IT costs were £4.3bn last year. Sales through G-Cloud from its inception until March 2015 were £559m. G-Cloud’s stated target was to account for 50 per cent of all IT spend by 2015. It has fallen short of that, but expect it to get much closer over the course of the next parliament, especially as long‑standing IT contracts start to expire.

Little but more often
In the digital age, consumers are buying little but more often. We buy a song, not the whole album. We buy an app for £1.99 rather than a computer program for £29.99. With the aforementioned IT contracts winding down, the public sector will be able to follow suit.

Multi-million pound investments in 15-year IT contracts belong to a bygone time. Expect to see IT procurement move towards more flexible, a la carte purchases. G-Cloud is already geared up to these new consumption patterns.

In perhaps the most telling indication of the direction of travel for government IT, head of the Government Digital Service Mike Bracken wrote a final blog post on 29 March before the pre-election period came into effect on 30 March. The article was entitled: “Government as a Platform: the next phase of digital transformation.”

Bracken’s vision is for IT services to be built in such a way that those services work across government and are personalised for a specific department or requirement, whereas currently many systems are bought, built and used by a single department or entity under what he calls a “siloed” approach. This leads to duplication and waste.

Single payment system
The most obvious example of how the Government as a Platform (GaaP) idea works is payment processing. Under the GaaP approach, a single payment system would be at work whether you want to pay your council tax, dog licence or a speeding fine. The same philosophy would underpin case management, appointment booking and a host of other systems.

That is undoubtedly where we are heading. How much of it we will see in the next parliament is a different matter. While the technology is there, it is difficult to imagine such systemic changes in five years.

Nonetheless, expect to see much more of that digital ethos becoming apparent. Away from government, digital will continue to become less about ‘big, beige box on a desk’ computing. As citizens start to use their phones and tablets in increasingly sophisticated ways and embrace wearable computing, connected cars and the Internet of Things, this will fuel demand for public sector services to be equally accessible.

For example, the weather forecast was once something you waited to see after the news. It is now accessed immediately and on-demand via mass market apps. That kind of ‘expectation escalator’ will have a profound effect on what citizens demand from government IT. This will be most keenly felt in local government and the agencies responsible for land, vehicles and childcare, where an expectation to adapt and deliver according to digital norms will be most apparent.

One way in which public sector bodies will be able to satisfy that demand is through personalisation. When reading the news or doing our shopping, we now expect the content to be tailored to us.
Things like our location, our previous purchases and our preferred choice of salutation all go towards creating a more personalised digital experience.

While core government IT systems cannot easily tailored to the individual, front end customisation would create this impression for the citizen. G-Cloud is the ideal tool for IT departments to have a presentation layer added to their core systems. This is a quick-win in terms of improving usability and meeting customer demand. The personalisation process is set to become more prevalent as GaaP takes hold but, as we’ve established, that could be beyond the next parliament.

Faster project delivery
Finally, this parliament could see an end to – or at least a big reduction in – the dreaded delayed IT project. Time to deployment will go from being a source of professional pride for the departments, project managers and suppliers involved to a key benchmark in delivery assessment

Faster project delivery can be a big efficiency gain for the department involved. Given the need for efficiency savings across the board, speed of delivery will go from being a nice bonus to a critical key performance indicator over the next five years.

G-Cloud is designed to cut time spent on procurement and is well suited to offer fast delivery in comparison to the old way of doing things. It looks set to be the first port of call for government IT buyers wanting speed and efficiency over the course of the parliament.

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