By David Bicknell and Tony Collins
Rarely has a single date had such importance in the history of government computing. That date was 20th October, the announcement of the Spending Review, which gives an ineluctable justification for the G-Cloud, a UK onshore government cloud infrastructure that enables public bodies to select and host ICT services from a secure, resilient and cost-effective shared environment.At this month’s Socitm conference, the G-Cloud deputy director Andy Tait explained what G-Cloud is, how it is likely to work, and what effect it will have on the existing IT landscape within government.
Tait suggested that the government will not cancel long-term IT contracts in order to introduce G-Cloud. Instead senior officials will wait for a “natural break” in contracts before replacing them with “G-Cloud capable services”.
The government has already disclosed that it is planning to scrap or scale back more than 400 IT projects, in a bid to meet its targets on public spending cuts. The government spends £17bn a year on ICT and, says Tait, some public-sector organisations have saved up to 65 percent on some projects by using the Cloud.
What’s particularly interesting about the G-Cloud, which will be a pillar of the new government IT strategy, is the intention of the Cabinet Office to include smaller companies in its plans, a move that we at the Campaign4Change wholeheartedly welcome.
Those at the Cabinet Office aim to give 25 percent of government IT business to small and medium enterprises. That is a ‘possibility’ now rather than ‘probability’ – actions speak louder than words. That too is a welcome objective th0ugh. And the plan to use open-source solutions wherever possible should also be encouraged, despite legal restrictions which mean that the government cannot specify open-source requirements in a tender document. All contracts over a specified value will be published online and IT projects will be much more modular, with a possible maximum value of £100m for any single contract.
The G-Cloud Application Store, Tait told Socitm, is a bid to create an Amazon-like IT marketplace where anything will be available. It will have a “certified” zone, and an “open” zone where innovation will be encouraged. Suppliers will be able to present demo applications or ‘put up Power Point presentations’ about an idea for a solution. In future government will also have a central IT authority to help it manage central components.
Of course, there will be challenges in ensuring G-Cloud is not simply blue-sky thinking. And one of those challenges is procurement.
Tait and his G-Cloud colleagues are trying to work out how they can legally do a procurement once, but with one lead organisation. G-Cloud wants the first person to procure a product to procure it on behalf of the Crown and then, once procured and the competition completed, that application or service can be made available to anybody else within the public sector, without their having to repeat the procurement.
Ultimately, officials at the Cabinet Office want to use the G-Cloud to aggregate the buying power of the entire public sector, plus the third (voluntary, not-for-profit) sector, in the hope of cutting 30% off the governments £17bn IT budget.
We at Campaign4Change see that the G-Cloud strategy, if all goes to plan, will offer a new role for small and medium-sized companies in government procurement.
Let’s hope the G-Cloud approach is as successful as another major event this month, the almost miraculous rescue of the Chilean miners. It would probably be too much to expect such a miracle quite yet from G-Cloud. But we’ll be doing what we can to support the strategy.