Putting heads into the cloud

The G-Cloud programme has come a long way since it was launched in February 2012, but there is still much more to do to deliver the levels of change that the government is aiming for in its commitment to invest in technology as a way to facilitate positive changes for the over-stretched public sector.
    
The project has forced the re-appraisal of the UK public sector ICT market. To date, the programme has delivered a number of benefits to public sector organisations and has tackled the numerous problems associated with traditional methods of procurement – delivering more efficient, cost-effective, scalable and secure services and a greater and better informed choice. The programme has also succeeded in facilitating a behavioural change, by allowing organisations to turn servers off during evenings and weekends, resulting in significant energy and cost savings as a direct result.
    
The far-sighted approach that the government has taken to improve public sector IT deployment is also leading the way in Europe. The initiative additionally supports the government’s target to transact 25 per cent of its business with SMEs, by giving them a low-barrier route into the ICT market.

Increased competition
The only ones for whom the Framework hasn’t been good news is the incumbents, who have for too long remained complacent, inflexible and expensive. Instead of offering easy-to-adopt, easy-to-use and easy-to‑leave services, many incumbents have for far too long been delivering services that not only lock-in customers but fails to deliver, either in terms of performance or cost.
    
In a bid to create a superior end-user experience, which directly impacts the general public, the G-Cloud initiative has driven competition among vendors to deliver the best cloud services at the most competitive prices. Even the best suppliers will have to continually evaluate their offerings and ensure that they are delivering the best service possible in order to stay ahead of the game.

Marketing concerns
The fourth instalment of the programme went live in October last year. With the fifth set to swiftly follow in 2014, the initiative is set to continue delivering positive change to the UK public sector. However, resent research by Six Degrees Group suggests around 90 per cent of UK councils have not used G-Cloud yet. In the survey of 300 UK councils and local authorities by G-Cloud accredited managed service provider Six Degrees Group, 87 per cent of respondents said they are not using the procurement framework to purchase cloud-based services at this time. Furthermore, 76 per cent of those surveyed said they had no idea what the G-Cloud framework is for.
    
Six Degrees Group claim its survey results bring to light concerns about the way G-Cloud is being marketed to public sector organisations, with the firm’s group strategy and marketing director Campbell Williams citing communication issues: “Cloud services have the potential to be revolutionary for the public sector and G-Cloud is a framework specifically intended to make sourcing these services simple,” he said.
    
“However it’s clearly not doing its job for a huge number of councils and local authorities in the UK, which could otherwise be benefiting from the expenditure savings, innovations, agility and security of cloud computing.
    
“We’re disappointed G-Cloud is still failing both customers and suppliers alike. If those behind G-Cloud don’t educate the public sector soon, government procurement for IT will continue to be handled by the same old faces delivering the same poor outcomes for the taxpayer,” Williams added.

At the helm
Back in May 2012, 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. In an interview with Computer Weekly soon after her appointment, 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.”
    
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.

Extend and blend
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.
    
McDonagh left the post in June 2013 to focus her efforts on her role as head of IT for the Home Office. Her departure came at a turbulent time for the G-Cloud, which was placed under the control of the Government Digital Service (GDS), a body tasked with various initiatives designed to make Britain a ‘digital by default’ nation.
    
Leaving the post, McDonagh said: “I can now hand over G-Cloud to GDS, safe in the knowledge that we have started such a groundswell of support and momentum for change that G-Cloud is here to stay and can only continue to spread and evolve, ensuring better, cheaper and more responsive IT in the public sector. “This has been the most enjoyable rollercoaster ride ever,” she said.

A new leader
Tony Singleton, chief operating officer at GDS, took over the reigns to lead on G-Cloud, and the fourth iteration of the framework went live in October. G-Cloud 4 attracted over 40 per cent more suppliers than the previous procurement, taking the total number of suppliers with services in the CloudStore catalogue to 1,186, 84 per cent of which are SMEs.
    
In all, CloudStore now features more than 13,000 services. Cumulative sales from CloudStore reached £78 million barrier, with 58 per cent of the total spend going to SMEs. Tony Singleton said: “We are constantly working to improve G-Cloud and the CloudStore, making it more straightforward and less expensive for suppliers wanting to join the marketplace and for public sector customers to purchase the technology they need.
    
“For G4, we have fed in valuable intelligence and opinions from buyers and suppliers. But the job of lowering barriers to participation and making the process as easy and open as possible goes on.”
    
The list of suppliers that have won places on the G4 framework includes names such as IBM, Capita, Amazon Web Services, Computacenter, Hewlett Packard, Capgemini and Atos as well as gov.uk hosters Skyscape and Carrenza. Atos said it had ‘dramatically’ expanded its portfolio of cloud services on G4, and together with its specialised cloud entity, Canopy, it will have 97 services listed, including offerings in partnership with SMEs.

Accreditation
Accreditation is a crucial consideration for public sector buyers looking to procure assured cloud services through G-Cloud. Vendors should endeavour to understand and meet with the government assurance standards, certifications and accreditations regarding quality, information security, IT service management and the environment in which data is hosted.
    
Tony Singleton writes: “Since the launch of G-Cloud in February 2011, accreditation has been an integral part of delivering cloud services securely to Government and the wider public sector. During that time we have reviewed the accreditation process once already. We initially took all of the services registered onto a G-Cloud framework and sorted them into tranches for accreditation. In August 2012 we adjusted our approach for accreditation prioritisation in order to give more suppliers the chance to start the process.
    
“We have had some great successes as the first few services have achieved pan‑government accreditation. As more services achieve accreditation status, we need to support competition in the marketplace. We must also ensure that our accreditation processes fit with new Government Security Classification. In addition some new guidance for Cloud service security principles was recently published as a public beta. Together with CESG, we are looking at how the accreditation process can be made simpler, clearer and faster.”

Ten fold increase
Phil Dawson, ceo of Skyscape Cloud Services sees a massive increase in uptake by the end of next year. He writes:  “It has been a momentous and largely successful year for public sector IT.  The latest recorded spend via G-Cloud was just under £63.5m up until the end of November – a substantial sum given that the spend was just over £2m in January 2013. Various other Government initiatives have had great success in growing the public sector take up of cloud technologies and in tackling the overly risk-averse culture that exists in the public sector.  Judging by the rapidly escalating spend via G-Cloud last year, we predict October 2014’s spend will be ten times that of October 2013.”
    
“As a Framework supplier, we are keen to see more transparency around the opportunities that are now available in the market.  We hope to see GDS tackle some of the rather tenuous myths that surround cloud computing.  Additionally, while the G-Cloud programme has without doubt succeeded in broadening the market to smaller suppliers, there is more to be done to increase competition in the higher Impact Levels (ILs) – at IL3 and above, for instance.  At present, there are relatively few suppliers that are accredited to IL3 and above
and we hope so see an increase in competition at this end of the market moving forward, with suppliers upping their game when it comes to accreditation, without the bar being lowered.”

Further information
http://gcloud.civilservice.gov.uk

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