G-Cloud reflections on Think G-Cloud for Vendors event

I attended an excellent event yesterday which was a vendor focused event to discuss progress on G-Cloud, what has been achieved to date and how vendors can successfully participate in the market.

I have been involved with G-Cloud since G-Cloud II and have been involved in submissions at two previous companies as well as Data News Blog.

I’m very positive personally about the initiative and the progress which has been made has been extraordinary in terms of changing the mind-set and approach within government to procuring IT services and in particular how to tap into the capabilities and services available from small and midsized companies.  To some extend this also mirrors changes in the wider IT landscape where larger IT inflexible outsourcing contracts have fallen out of favour in a more dynamic, multi-sourced Cloud world.

That being said, I have yet to transact any business through G-Cloud at either of my previous companies or yet at Data News Blog (to be fair to us here we have been operating only for a relatively short period).

This highlights the first issue which was discussed yesterday –  that the spend has been concentrated amongst a relatively few successful suppliers.  Particularly in certain categories of service where more than three quarters of vendors have yet to transact any business.  The likes of Skyscape, Huddle, Kahootz, Memset have been particularly engaged in G-Cloud and therefore, unsurprisingly have been successful in winning business through it.  I applaud them for their endeavours, thank them for their hard work in blazing a trail for small and midsized business into Government and helping to create a marketplace for others to participate in and congratulate them on their success.

It does tend to become a little self reinforcing where category killers can dominate supply of a particular type of offering due to buyers emulating what others have done.  Kate Craig-Wood, CEO of Memset herself highlighted the cosy-clubbery still inherent in Government procurement.  This is understandable and suppliers who offer good services and earn a good reputation should and will be successful in any market (a phenomenon not exclusive to Government).  G-Cloud, however, needs to have a wider base of successful suppliers to be the vibrant marketplace that everyone would like it to be.

One of the changes which may assist in this is the change of security approach within Government.   Personally, I’m a big fan of this change.  Government has in general made a problem for itself by applying over rigorous security regimes to data which really doesn’t need it and therefore has imposed significantly higher costs and reduced supply options.  I do remember early days in G-Cloud recommending that Government make more use of industry standards such as ISO27001 which are used in the Commercial sphere and limited more rigorous security controls to data which merits it.  I am therefore very pleased that essentially this has been done with the new Official level and also think that the open declaration approach (with optional audit) which draws upon work by the likes of the Cloud Security Alliance is a major move forward.  This actually allows a new vendor like Data News Blog to participate in the G-Cloud market much earlier than potentially we would have done.

On the other hand some attendees yesterday expressed the view that removing the old IL approach with potential for suppliers to work through Pan-Government Accreditation increases uncertainty for buyers.  They were concerned that this could create a drag on adoption and those early movers who have spent time (up to a year in many cases) and money (£10s of thousands on CLAS consultants) do have a short term locked in market advantage as new suppliers can’t follow the same path.

Of course the change in security approach does open up the marketplace to wider competition from a broad base of international companies.  For example, if your use case is public facing data, as Tony Richards, Head of Security at GDS put it yesterday, location becomes less of an issue (apart perhaps from performance and latency) if it is one at all.  This may conflict a little with the desire to encourage the UK SME base, but on the other hand in these times of austerity Government needs to procure cost effective services and the SME’s, to have a future, need to ensure that their services are competitive in the wider market outside Government.  One of my former CEOs once said that “Customers are like elephants.  You hang around them for long enough and you begin to smell like them.”  It is no good replacing a cosy club of System Integrators providing custom expensive Government services with another cosy club of Cloud providers providing custom expensive Cloud services.  We at Data News Blog firmly believe that we need to create services which are price and feature competitive with those available in the commercial marketplace to have a long term future.  At the same time we need to make these readily available and accessible to customers in Central Government, Local Government, Agencies and Education.

The real meaning of PaaS (People as a Service).  The third issue highlighted yesterday was that the majority of spend to date (more than three quarters) has been spent in the special cloud services category with G-Cloud framework being used as a convenient way of buying consulting.  A charitable view says that this is natural as Government clients, shorn of internal expertise through previous outsourcing, are reaching out to knowledgeable companies in the private sector to help them embark on their Cloud journey and that much of this activity should result in a pull through of services in the other categories (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) with a lag.  A less charitable view is that it has been abused a little as a convenient body shopping in an era when internal staff numbers are being reduced and hiring contractors has been under close scrutiny.  There is probably a little truth in both, particularly as revenue reported is billing and not contracted value and cloud services of their very nature tend to grow in adoption once the first project is implemented successfully.  The G-Cloud team have wisely put some controls in place to try to ensure that consulting purchased through the framework is actually related to Cloud delivery.

I finish with a comment which Chris Chant, who was instrumental in getting G-Cloud off the ground, made yesterday.  He indicated that he did enjoy reading comments on Twitter and blogs about how G-Cloud wasn’t working right and needs this or that improving.  He regarded this as very positive.  He did remind people, however, that this complaining can often be without insight as to how difficult things have been before G-Cloud.  It is very difficult to imagine the Government IT space now without a G-Cloud and that some of this achievement is probably under-appreciated

UK is very advanced in technology.  It is the most competitive large IT economy in Europe and provides a melting pot and marketplace for suppliers across the globe to participate in be it from US, India, mainland Europe or elsewhere.  At Data News Blog we are very conscious that we therefore need to constantly on our toes to make sure our services remain competitive on cost and feature in this environment.