A recent blog post from the G-Cloud team talks about how they plan to take the framework forward. I don’t think it goes quite far enough, so here are my thoughts on taking it even further forward.
Starting with that G-Cloud post:
It’s noted that “research carried out by the 6 Degree Group suggests that nearly 90 percent of local authorities have not heard of G-Cloud”. This statement is made in the context of the potential buyer count being 30,000 strong. Some, like David Moss, have confused this and concluded that 27,000 buyers don’t know about G-Cloud. I don’t read it that way – but it’s hard to say what it does mean. A hunt for the “6 Degree Group”, presumably twice as good as the 3 Degrees, finds one obvious candidate (actually the 6 Degrees Group), but they make no mention of any research on their blog or their news page (and I can’t find them in the list of suppliers who have won business via G-Cloud). Still, 90% of local authorities not knowing about G-Cloud is, if the question was asked properly and to the right people (and therein lies the problem with such research), not good. It might mean that 450 or 900 or 1,350 buyers (depending on whether there are 1, 2 or 3 potential buyers of cloud services in each local authority) don’t know about the framework. How we get to 30,000 potential buyers I don’t know – but if there is such a number, perhaps it’s a good place to look at potential efficiencies in purchasing.
[Update: I’ve been provided with the 30,000 – find them here: http://gps.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/2013-04-15%20Customer%20URN%20List.xlsx. It includes every army regiment (SASaaS?), every school and thousands of local organisations. So a theoretical buyer list but not a practical buyer list. I think it better to focus on the likely buyers. G-Cloud is a business – GPS gets 1% on every deal. That needs to be spent on promoting to those most likely to use it]
[Second update: I’ve been passed a further insight into the research: http://www.itproportal.com/2013/12/20/g-cloud-uptake-low-among-uk-councils-and-local-authorities/?utm_term=&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=testitppcampaign&utm_source=rss&utm_content= – the summary from this is that 87% of councils are not currently buying through G-Cloud and 76% did not know what the G-Cloud [framework] could be used for]
Later, we read “But one of the most effective ways of spreading the word about G-Cloud
is not by us talking about it, but for others to hear from their peers
who have successfully used G-Cloud. There are many positive stories to
tell, and we will be publishing some of the experiences of buyers across
the public sector in the coming months” – True, of course. Except if people haven’t heard of G-Cloud they won’t be looking on the G-Cloud blog for stories about how great the framework is. Perhaps another route to further efficiencies is to look at the vast number of frameworks that exist today (particularly in local government and the NHS) and start killing them off so that purchases are concentrated in the few that really have the potential to drive cost saves allied with better service delivery.
And then “We are working with various trade bodies and organisations to continue
to ensure we attract the best and most innovative suppliers from across
the UK.” G-Cloud’s problem today isn’t, as far as we can tell, a lack of innovative suppliers – it’s a lack of purchasing through it. In other words, a lack of demand. True, novel services may attract buyers but most government entities are still in the “toe in the water” stage of cloud, experimenting with a little IaaS, some PaaS and, based on the G-Cloud numbers, quite a lot of SaaS (some £15m in the latest figures, or about 16% of total spend versus only 4% for IaaS and 1% for Paas).
On the services themselves, we are told that “We are carrying out a systematic review of all services and have, so far, deleted around 100 that do not qualify.” I can only applaud that. Though I suspect the real number to delete may be in the 1000s, not the 100s. It’s a difficult balance – the idea of G-Cloud is to attract more and more suppliers with more and more services, but buyers only want sensible, viable services that exist and are proven to work. It’s not like iTunes where it only takes one person to download an app and rate it 1* because it doesn’t work/keeps crashing/doesn’t synchronise and so suggest to other potential buyers that they steer clear – the vast number of G-Cloud services have had no takers at all and even those that have lack any feedback on how it went (I know that this was one of the top goals of the original team but that they were hampered by “the rules”).
There’s danger ahead too: “Security accreditation is required for all services that will hold
information assessed at Business Impact Level profiles 11x/22x, 33x and
above. But of course, with the new security protection markings that
are being introduced on 1 April, that will change. We will be
publishing clear guidance on how this will affect accreditation of
G-Cloud suppliers and services soon.” It’s mid-February and the new guidelines are just 7 weeks away. That doesn’t give suppliers long to plan for, or make, any changes that are needed (the good news here being that government will likely take even longer to plan for, and make, such changes at their end). This is, as CESG people have said to me, a generational change – it’s going to take a while, but that doesn’t mean that we should let it.
Worryingly: “we’re excited to be looking at how a new and improved CloudStore, can
act as a single space for public sector buyers to find what they need on
all digital frameworks.” I don’t know that a new store is needed; I believe that we’re already on the third reworking, would a fourth help? As far as I can tell, the current store is based on Magento which, from all accounts and reviews online, is a very powerful tool that, in the right hands, can do pretty much whatever you want from a buying and selling standpoint. I believe a large part of the problem is in the data in the store – searching for relatively straightforward keywords often returns a surprising answer – try it yourself, type in some popular supplier names or some services that you might want to buy. Adding in more frameworks (especially where they can overlap as PSN and G-Cloud do in several areas) will more than likely confuse the story – I know that Amazon manages it effortlessly across a zillion products but it seems unlikely that government can implement it any time soon (wait – they could just use Amazon). I would rather see the time, and money, spent getting a set of products that were accurately described and that could be found using a series of canned searches based on what buyers were interested in.
So, let’s ramp up the PR and education (for buyers), upgrade the assurance process that ensures that suppliers are presenting products that are truly relevant, massively clean up the data in the existing store, get rid of duplicate and no longer competitive buying routes (so that government can aggregate for best value), make sure that buyers know more about what services are real and what they can do, don’t rebuild the damn cloud store again …
… What else?
Well, the Skyscape+14 letter is not a terrible place to start, though I don’t agree with everything suggested. G-Cloud could and should:
– Provide a mechanism for services to work together. In the single prime contract era, which is coming to an end, this didn’t matter – one of the oligopoly would be tasked to buy something for its departmental customer and would make sure all of the bits fitted together and that it was supported in the existing contract (or an adjunct). In a multiple supplier world where the customer will, more often than not, act as the integrator both customer and supplier are going to need ways to make this all work together. The knee bone may be connected to the thigh bone, but that doesn’t mean that your email service in the cloud is going to connect via your PSN network to your active directory so that you can do everything on your iPad.
– Publish what customers across government are looking at both in advance and as it occurs, not as data but as information. Show what proof of concept work is underway (as this will give a sense of what production services might be wanted), highlight what components are going to be in demand when big contracts come to an end, illustrate what customers are exploring in their detailed strategies (not the vague ones that are published online). SMEs building for the public sector will not be able to build speculatively – so either the government customer has to buy exactly what the private sector customer is buying (which means that there can be no special requirements, no security rules that are different from what is already there and no assurance regime that is above and beyond what a major retailer or utility might want), or there needs to be a clear pipeline of what is wanted. Whilst Chris Chant used to say that M&S didn’t need to ask people walking down the street how many shirts they would buy if they were to open a store in the area, government isn’t yet buying shirts as a service – they are buying services that are designed and secured to government rules (with the coming of Official, that may all be about to change – but we don’t know yet because, see above, the guidance isn’t available).
– Look at real cases of what customers want to do – let’s say that a customer wants to put a very high performing Oracle RAC instance in the cloud – and ensure that there is a way for that to be bought. It will likely require changes to business models and to terms and conditions, but despite the valiant efforts of GDS there is not yet a switch away from such heavyweight software as Oracle databases. The challenge (one of many) that government has, in this case, is that it has massive amounts of legacy capability that is not portable, is not horizontally scalable and that cannot be easily moved – Crown Hosting may be a solution to this, if it can be made to work in a reasonable timeframe and if the cost of migration can be minimised.
– I struggle with the suggestion to make contracts three years instead of two. This is a smokescreen, it’s not what is making buyers nervous really, it’s just that they haven’t tried transition. So let’s try some – let’s fire up e-mail in the cloud for a major department and move it 6 months from now. Until it’s practiced, no one will know how easy (or incredibly difficult) it is. The key is not to copy and paste virtual machines, but to move the gigabytes of data that goes with it. This will prove where PSN is really working (I suspect that there are more problems than anyone has yet admitted to), demonstrate how new capabilities have been designed (and prove whether the pointy things have been set up properly as we used to say – that is, does the design rely on fixed IP address ranges or DNS routing that is hardcoded or whatever). This won’t work for legacy – that should be moved once and once only to the Crown Hosting Service or some other capability (though recognise that lots of new systems will still need to talk to services there). There’s a lot riding on CHS happening – it will be an interesting year for that programme.
The ICT contracts for a dozen major departments/government entities are up in the next couple of years – contract values in the tens of billions (old money) will be re-procured. Cloud services, via G-Cloud, will form an essential pillar of that re-procurement process, because they are the most likely way to extract the cost savings that are needed. In some cases cloud will be bought because the purchasing decision will be left too late to do it any other way than via a framework (unless the “compelling reason” for extension clause kicks in) but in most cases because the G-Cloud framework absolutely provides the best route to an educated, passionate supplier community who want to disrupt how ICT is done in Government today. We owe them an opportunity to make that happen. The G-Cloud team needs more resources to make it so – they are, in my view, the poor relation of other initiatives in GDS today. That, too, needs to change.