Louise T. Dunne examines whether the new G-Cloud shopping channel is more than just a rebranding excercise.
Cloudstore is dead. Long live the Digital Marketplace. But is there much difference between the two or is this simply a rebranding exercise?
The replacement of Cloudstore has caused some confusion – particularly given the blood, sweat and tears ploughed into promoting Cloudstore over the last two and half years – and it’s even more perplexing given the Cloudstore’s success.
Total G-Cloud sales amounted to £270m by the end of September 2014, averaging £22m a month. That’s more than double the £120m sales predicted by 2014/15 by the inaugural programme director, Denise McDonagh, back in 2012.
The number of suppliers on the framework has also increased, up from 832 to 1,132 suppliers, equivalent to more than a quarter. Plus the message seems to be spreading beyond central government with local authorities, such as the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and Peterborough Council both completing full cloud implementations sourced via G-Cloud.
So why the name change? One of the major changes proposed is to scrap the need for PGA banded compliance for services which has caused something of a bottleneck in the recruitment of suppliers. But bringing in some level of self-regulation could threaten the integrity of the G-Cloud altogether.
Reports also claim the Digital Marketplace will offer better search functionality, once G-Cloud 6 comes online, allowing buyers to more easily find applicable services.
But it’s not yet clear how far the changes will go. For instance, will there be recommendations and cross-selling as part of the search tool? Will buyers find it easier to approach suppliers with enquiries?
The Cabinet Office has stated that the Digital Marketplace will be largely identical to the Cloudstore in terms of system requirements, so clearly the changes will be more tweaks than drastic changes in functionality.
A principal motivation behind the name change seems to be to unite the G-Cloud framework with the Digital Services Framework (DSF), combining Cloudstore with the Digital Services Store procurement channel through which the public sector obtains agile software development services.
This will create “a single place to go for cloud-based software, infrastructure, platforms, and the people and teams needed to help design and build digital services on a per-project or phase basis,” according to Tony Singleton, G-Cloud and digital commercial programme director.
While this makes sense for some projects, this could risk marginalising those SME suppliers which specialise in particular cloud services. One of the central tenets of the G-Cloud framework is to encourage innovation and promote an open marketplace.
A one-stop shop could undue the gains the G-Cloud has made in promoting SME services, allowing the big four to once again step in and dominate the end-to-end provision of cloud services.
Just as supermarkets have all but obliterated the butcher, baker and greengrocer on the high street, so SME services could be sidelined, unless provisions are made to join-up associated services from different suppliers.
Combining the G-Cloud and DFS will result in a much bigger operation, taking the G-Cloud away from its humble origins.
Its move to the GDS last year saw the G-Cloud benefit from some much needed publicity and access to additional resource. But if it becomes a faceless shopping channel it is liable to become more bureaucratic, no longer championed by enthusiasts intent on making the framework actually work better.
We should be on the verge of a golden opportunity for G-Cloud as many of the major contracts previously taken out with the big providers are coming to an end, opening up the field to the competition.
And, with a general election looming, each of the parties will be keen to push public sector digital transformation.
But the priority for G-Cloud has to be in ensuring it doesn’t lose its passion and purpose.
As G-cloud continues to grow, it mustn’t lose sight of the end goal – to provide an opening playing field for SMEs, connecting buyers with the best solution for them.
Ultimately, the G-Cloud has the potential to become more than a dumb conduit for services. With some vision, it could evolve into a real organic community of suppliers and buyers both working together to create a more agile, effective cloud environment for public sector services.
Louise T. Dunne is managing director at data Analytics, ICT and Security consltancy Auriga Consulting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.