Why ministers should continue prioritising G-Cloud

Nicky Stewart says David Cameron’s new Conservative government has a host of reasons to support the further development of G-Cloud over the next five years.

Plenty has already been written and said about G-Cloud – mostly positive, sometimes not. While views diverge, there is some common ground. To date, G-Cloud has allowed many hundreds of SMEs and new players to break through the glass ceiling and gain a foothold in the public sector ICT market. When the Coalition government was formed in 2010, it was unthinkable that one framework agreement could accommodate nearly 2,000 suppliers, 87% of whom are SMEs. It would also have been unthinkable that 49% of sales by value, and 58% by volume could be with SMEs – well in excess of the government’s SME target of 25%. We hope that this growth continues with the new government.
There has been significant effort in developing a consistent arena, based on a level playing field, within the government’s Digital Marketplace. However, there are many other diverse elements that aren’t featured in the Digital Marketplace such as education and awareness, downstream opportunities, legal and regulatory constraints; and market capability. A refocused effort towards the wider but equally important aspects of the marketplace should be a top priority in the next five years in order to optimise the G-Cloud opportunity.

During 2014, there was a lot of comment in the press regarding a lack of awareness of G-Cloud, particularly in the wider public sector. I tend to take most of the commentary with a large pinch of salt. Who were the respondents? Were they the right respondents? And isn’t it amazing that any government procurement vehicle has such a profile? Name another government framework agreement that 34% of all public servants has heard of – according to a survey at last year’s Civil Service Live event.
However, the conversation about G-Cloud needs to be extended, to encompass all who are entitled to buy from it, but also to cover the more fundamental aspects of cloud computing in government. Once G-Cloud is seen as a solution to problems, and its benefits really understood, uptake will accelerate in the wider public sector.

To date, much of G-Cloud’s success has been based on the introduction of new requirements, often driven by the Digital by Default agenda. Over the life of the next government, contracts held within the wider public sector with an estimated total value of over £6bn will be coming to an end. Therefore there needs to be a continued focus on desegregating large contracts, and ensuring that all digital and ICT requirements are, where feasible, based on cloud services sourced from the open, transparent and vendor-diverse G-Cloud Marketplace. Suppliers also need much better visibility of downstream opportunities. This is particularly important for SMEs and new players who don’t have the extensive networks within the sector. In this respect, G-Cloud is much less transparent than conventional procurements, where pre-tender market engagements and prior information notices are now commonplace.
Where spend controls cannot be applied, outreach and education must accelerate, and G-Cloud terms and conditions must meet the needs of the wider public sector. For example, the G-Cloud two year contract term is often cited as a reason for not using G-Cloud.

The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 introduced a number of changes to EU procurement regulations, and implemented the Lord Young reforms, which aim to make public procurements more accessible and less onerous for SMEs. These regulations provide new opportunities for further contractual innovation, including (but by no means limited to) truly dynamic purchasing systems, clarification of what a material contract change means in practice, and giving buyers the ability to take supplier performance into account when awarding a contract.
The G-Cloud Framework terms need to evolve to meet the needs of the market as a whole, introducing more flexibility to accommodate complex legacy and future requirements, and optimising the opportunities afforded by the new public contract regulations. The introduction of the Experian score as the sole means of determining a supplier’s financial health in the G-Cloud 6 Framework is very SME unfriendly. I think the drafting needs to be revisited for G-Cloud 7.
The General Data Protection Regulation is expected to become law in 2017. As currently drafted, the regulation has both positive and negative implications for cloud providers and SMEs. I hope the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) seeks to understand the implications and use its influence, to ensure the regulation (and related standards and guidance) help and not hinder the G-Cloud Marketplace.

The ability of the G-Cloud market to meet the needs of a digital public sector, where the underpinning technology is evolving at pace, needs to be addressed in the coming five years. Currently, G-Cloud contains a very wide range of services, many of which do not comply with the G-Cloud lot definitions. The Government Digital Service is cleaning up G-Cloud, but slowly, given the sheer volume of services. Should G-Cloud be opened up to any product or service capable of commoditisation? Or should it be narrowed right down to those products and services that are 100% compliant with the G-Cloud lot definitions?
Everyone who has been involved in the development and growth of G-Cloud must be enormously proud of what it has achieved. G-Cloud clearly demonstrates the possibilities when government is prepared to be radical and innovative. I hope that the framework has delivered enough in its first five years for the Government Digital Service to consider G-Cloud sufficiently mature to look at the longer term evolution of the framework and also prompt a profound will to extend the broad principles of G-Cloud into government procurement policy across all procurement categories, wherever feasible to do so.

Nicky Stewart is commercial director at Skyscape Cloud Services

Colin Marrs

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