‘We are a British company with only British datacentres – and a commitment to pay our taxes’
UKCloud has joined the major cloud players in signing a public-sector wide agreement. The firm’s CEO Simon Hansford tells PublicTechnology why it’s important for government to have choice.
In 2019 the government seemed to reach something of a seven-year itch in its relationship with cloud computing.
The first G-Cloud framework and the accompanying CloudStore – now expanded and rebranded as the Digital Marketplace – launched in 2012. This was the same year that GOV.UK began operations, and the first full year of the Government Digital Service.
After some early success for G-Cloud, the government implemented the 'Cloud First' policy in 2013. The directive, which is mandatory for central government and strongly recommended for the wider public sector, asks that buyers “fully evaluate potential [public] cloud solutions first before considering any other option”.
But, by early last summer, the government seemed ready to re-evaluate its relationship with cloud computing.
The Crown Commercial Service announced that it planned to replace the cloud-first mantra and was working with GDS to create “more appropriate guidance” for the years ahead.
The procurement agency said that, having “worked though the digital transformation journey with many central government departments and wider public sector organisations, it has become apparent that one size does not fit all”.
“Organisations should make sure they understand what the journey to ‘cloud’ is and means for them in terms of costs, risks, skills and timescales,” it added. “We are seeing more and more customers land on a hybrid solution and therefore ‘cloud first’ may not be right for everyone.”
Number of suppliers on G-Cloud 11. Just four will be on the large-scale cloud-hosting framework
UKCloud turnover in FY19, compared with AWS sales of $35bn
Year 'Cloud First' policy was introduced; after some consideration it was retained last year
Service offered free to public sector customers by UKCloud
CCS and GDS began working on the One Government Cloud Strategy (OGCS), which brought together technologists and commercial experts “to show the cloud industry and departments that we are working cross-government in a coordinated way”.
Public sector and technology industry representatives took part in a number of workshops last year – one result of which was that, after some soul-searching, cloud first was declared “here to stay”.
“It’s not being revised, reissued or renamed,” GDS said in November. “Instead, we’re looking at ways to better meet users' needs around cloud, predominantly by providing more detailed guidance and support.”
A Cloud Guide, jointly published GDS and CCS, was duly published in March 2020, setting out advice for departments on how to deploy cloud to best effect.
The OGCS programme has also resulted in public sector-wide memoranda of understanding being signed with Google and Microsoft. The agreements provide for preferential pricing for government customers, as well as greater collaboration with the vendors and early access to technology. A similar arrangement is expected to be signed with Amazon Web Services in the coming weeks.
The three public cloud giants are also set to be featured on a new framework designed to cover larger-scale hosting environments than might not typically be best addressed by G-Cloud.
Also forming part of that framework will be Farnborough-based SME UKCloud, which signed its own MoU last month. The company, which, according to its most recent accounts, employs nearly 200 people and turns over about £40m each year, stands out when set against the three global giants against which it will be competing for government business.
UKCloud chief executive Simon Hansford tells PublicTechnology that is important for public sector customers to be offered a range of options.
“In most departments we believe there should be a mix of providers,” he says. “We all have different strengths and some weaknesses, too. We believe there are three major reasons why people are going to use us: choice; sovereignty; and expert advice.”
The choice comes the firm’s ability to “support a range of platforms”, allowing departments with an array of different applications and technologies – for example Microsoft, VMware, and Oracle – to keep them in the environment to which they are best suited.
The “proprietary technology stacks” of its competitors, meanwhile, leave customers in danger of vendor lock-in, Hansford says.
“The second area is sovereignty – we are a British company with only British datacentres; unlike our competitors. We also have local expertise, free of charge, and we do not hide behind a portal.”
In addition to these benefits, the commercial incentives being offered by UKCloud under the MoU include “double-digit discounts” on its tier-two cloud platforms, money off storage costs, and three free months of disaster recovery.
“And a commitment to pay taxes,” Hansford says.
Values for money
Such fundamental commitments should, he adds, be standardised across the MoUs with cloud providers – with the agreements made public, to as great an extent as possible, to allow for scrutiny.
“The MoU has a framework that should be consistent across all cloud providers. Whether it is or not is not totally clear – because they are all private,” Hansford says. “We were arguing that there are things that should be mandatory and common – such as [customers being able to] pay in UK pounds sterling, and that companies should pay their fair share of tax in the UK. We do not know if these things were removed [from other agreements], but we think they were.”
For its part, UKCloud wishes to make “social value a key part of our business”, the CEO claims.
"We were arguing that there are things that should be mandatory and common – such as customers paying in UK pounds sterling, and companies paying their fair share of tax in the UK"
“We think it is not only about paying our taxes but creating jobs, wealth and capability in the UK,” he says. “We have over 20 students working in the business – undergraduates working their industrial year – and we also have 10 apprentices. We have over 350 partners, who range from the big SIs to one-man bands and small ISVs that are writing applications to support government. We use the partner programme to promote social value and promote British businesses.”
Hansford adds: “We were the first [cloud hosting] company in the world to be carbon neutral and every month our customers receive a carbon-neutral certificate. We are going to expand that to actually be carbon negative.”
According to the UKCloud chief, the significance of the firm being grouped with the public cloud titans is not just that the public sector can now enjoy choice – but that a local SME provider has been given the chance to compete.
He says: “For us to step up and have a level playing field is very important.”
PublicTechnology editor Sam Trendall picks out the big issues that might shape the year ahead. Apart from that one.
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