How high will the G-Cloud rise?

G-Cloud is designed to promote greater use of small and medium-sized IT suppliers by civil servants, to establish quicker procurement and shorter contract lifetimes, and enable re-use of IT across more government departments. 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.
Back in May, Denise McDonagh took over from Chris Chant as head of the Government’s G-Cloud programme as suppliers readied themselves for the second incarnation of the G-Cloud Framework. 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.”
Top Whitehall role
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 back in May, prior to the official launch of G-Cloud 2, 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 was unhappy with some issues, after he launched a scathing attack 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 per cent 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.”
Flexible Procurement
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.”

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 first 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 added: “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”
Criticism
Responding to criticism of the level of business being done through the Cloudstore, McDonagh said: “Since we launched it in February, over a million pounds of purchases have been made through the first G-Cloud framework. Some people who don’t really understand the landscape we’re working in may well look at that figure and assume that has had very little impact on the estimated sixteen billion pounds a year that government spends on IT. This simply highlights that what they don’t understand is the relationship between £1 spent with a G-Cloud supplier, and £1 spent with one of the 20 corporations responsible for delivering 90 per cent of government IT at present. That is why the fact that after only four months of completed data we can clearly see the shift away from the traditional suppliers to the SME’s is such a good thing.”

McDonagh rejects suggestions that there has been a drop in interest in supplying to G-Cloud as plain wrong. She states: “The challenge for the programme now is to ensure that the buyers understand how to purchase and consume the many services being offered. This is why we have set up an online community to support buyers, to enable all who are interested in G-Cloud to work out loud; it’s by this open sharing and community learning that confidence will grow. Giving people the chance to connect with people is ultimately the only way sustainable change and learning will occur.”

“As part of our plan for propagation of the potential that G-Cloud unlocks, we’ll be setting up communities of interest – getting everyone helping and supporting each other that the G-Cloud market becomes owned and driven by customers and suppliers and helping to prevent our small, central team becoming a limiting factor in the growth and usage of cloud services in government.  We will continue to facilitate, of course, but we have already been approached by enough people who want to help with this.”
First Accreditations
In late August, the first Pan Government accredited services appeared on the CloudStore. This means that these services have been formally assessed against CESG information assurance requirements and been given approval to operate at the level stated.

Traditionally every department or public body has taken every service or system it has used through these requirements to ensure they were up to standard, which has been an expensive and complicated process involving a degree of duplication. Achieving Pan Government Accreditation enables these services to be procured by multiple customers, benefiting both customer and supplier – fitting with the G-Cloud mantra of “do it once and re-use, re-use, re-use.”

To help make it clear which services have been accredited and to what level, new badges to appear on the CloudStore to indicate when a service has reached this milestone, making it easier for buyers to identify them.

The accreditation badge is only to be used on the CloudStore. It has been designed to be a clear indicator for buyers as to what services have been through the rigorous PGA accreditation process and to what IL level. IL scores a service or suppliers’ level of confidentiality, integrity and availability with ratings ranging from zero, least secure, to six.

“Put more simply this means that we have checked the service and feel that it is safe enough to look after our information,” said Eleanor Stewart, engagement manager for the G-Cloud.

Nine services from SCC are the first IL2 and IL3 services to achieve PGA for CloudStore. SCC’s Secure Multi-Tenanted Cloud service (SMTC) is part of what the company calls a broader strategy to nurtute “an effective multi-tenanted environment built around concepts such as pay-per-use, leveraged infrastructure, capacity on demand and access for new software players”.

“Our customers have been talking about G-Cloud for a long time, but their adoption of services was hampered by the lack of an accredited solution,” said Tracy Westall, SCC’s UK public sector director. That situation has changed.  “We took a leading role from the beginning and it was important to us to remain focused on our vision and the goal of building a real G-Cloud service - think Amazon but built for the UK public sector, hosted in an environmentally friendly UK data centre, operated by a UK company.”

“Achieving IL3 accreditation was always the target for us because this area has previously been closed to the broader supplier community, yet is also a key point at which massive government costs could be challenged.”

Denise McDonagh said: “Getting a service accredited for use by the whole of government is pretty rare – suppliers, accreditors and CESG have had to work hard to get it done.  I can probably count on both hands the total number of suppliers who have achieved it in the last five years, yet G-Cloud will quadruple or quintuple that number over the next couple of months.”
Further information
gcloud.civilservice.gov.uk
Twitter: @G_Cloud_UK

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