Empty words

Written by Colin Marrs on 14 July 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

G-Cloud is a disaster, and the Government’s seems to have little interest in supporting its aims, says Alex Rabbetts.

What a disaster! Those lucky people that remember the launch of the government's G-Cloud initiative may well remember representatives of G-Cloud making huge statements about the government's spending on IT and how they had mandated that all new services would be procured via G-Cloud and all existing services would be migrated to G-Cloud if at all possible.

They said that the wanted the majority of government spending on IT services to be placed with SMEs and that they wanted to realise the cost benefits of not using the major systems integrators.

Many SMEs invested significant sums of money getting themselves geared up for, and registered on, G-Cloud.

Only to be told a year later that they needed to go through the whole process again for G-Cloud 2, followed by G-Cloud 3, G-Cloud 4, G-Cloud 5 and now G-Cloud 6!

Amazingly, some SMEs stuck with the G-Cloud story and continued to go through the registration process, to invest in ensuring that they were able to deliver G-Cloud services, even though the spend on G-Cloud was a mere fraction of what had been suggested at its launch.

So, the GCloud disaster has rumbled on and on. But wait! A new service has recently been launched by Companies House. True, it is in beta, (https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk), and true, it is offered via the  www.gov.uk portal!

But what is most incredible of all is where it is hosted - not with some struggling SME that has invested so much time and effort into G-Cloud, not with a UK company that is providing highly secure, quality services to an immensely important Government service. Unbelievably, the service is hosted by Amazon Web Services!!

Yes, it is true. Over 170 million digital records on companies and directors including financial accounts, company filings and details on directors and secretaries throughout the life of the company are being stored on an American company's servers.

That would be the same American company that, regardless of where the data is held, will be subject to the USA Freedom Act, (replacement for the USA Patriot Act), giving American authorities almost unfettered access to the data stored there.

The same company that has historically paid virtually no tax in the UK because it was using legal loopholes to avoid it. The same company that had sales last year in excess of $88bn!

G-Cloud is a disaster. It has been a disaster from the beginning.

It was an ill thought through initiative that has failed on many levels.

But this latest debacle just adds insult to injury for those SME companies that invested so much time, money and effort into making their services available via the G-Cloud, only to find that instead of using them to provide these important services, the Government has chosen one of the largest foreign companies, over which they have little or no control, to host incredibly important UK company data.

Great job! This really demonstrates just how committed the UK Government is to supporting British businesses and SMEs in particular!

By Alex Rabbetts is chief executive of data centre consultancy MigSolv

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There are many ... (not verified)

Submitted on 14 July, 2015 - 09:32
This article is a disaster. "Many SMEs invested significant sums of money getting themselves...on G-cloud"... Really? It takes a couple of days to get on G-cloud from scratch, as long as you already have the service. It's less time than it takes to respond to any other government tender. And you can re-use your information from one version of G-cloud to another. More than £300M in sales has gone to SMEs from G-cloud. I wish Govt IT had more disasters like that. And as for AWS non-issue. A govt service providing effectively 'open data' should just be hosted on the cheapest, most reliable infrastructure, irrespective of location. It gives US authorities access to the data via the Freedom Act... or they could just go to the website and get the data anyway (as we all can, that's the point of the site). ... If a UK company provides a better cheaper service than AWS, guess what - Companies House can just move the hosting there and buy it from.... g-cloud. Perhaps the real issue is that with G-cloud Infrastructure as a Service offerings, both govt and SMEs have less need for the data centre consultancies the author works for...

Alex Rabbetts (not verified)

Submitted on 15 July, 2015 - 09:55
An interesting view from an anonymous source! When G-Cloud was launched, SMEs were 'invited' to attend kick-off meetings where Government representatives stood up and told attendees that the Government spends in excess of £5 billion per year on ICT, (According to the OECD this is actually $10 billion dollars and the latest published figures from the National Audit Office are for the year 2011-2012 which declare £6.9 billion on Central Government ICT). They said that their stated aim was to place 'the majority' of this spend with SMEs through the G-Cloud initiative. Assuming that the anonymous comment above is accurate at a spend of more than £300m, the Government will have spent £20.7 billion on ICT since G-Cloud launched in 2012 and £300 million represents less than 1.5% of this spend! I stand by my statement. The author or the comment clearly doesn't value their own time as they believe that 2 days of work is at zero cost to them. I wonder what their business might be? As for the comment regarding AWS. Is the author really suggesting that there is no UK company capable of providing a hosted environment for these 170 million documents at a reasonable cost? Is AWS the cheapest, most reliable infrastructure? Placing UK documents with an off-shore environment makes a complete mockery of the G-Cloud initiative, irrespective of whether they might be freely available or not. G-Cloud is about UK companies, it was allegedly about spreading the Government spend across more UK organisations, it was allegedly there to support UK SMEs, it was never cited as being a way in which the UK Government could 'off-shore' data to a company that seeks to use legal loopholes to pay as little tax as possible to the UK Government! As for the remark about data centre consultancies, this rather shows the author of the comment as being somewhat ignorant. As a data centre consultancy there is no need, (that is zero in case of there being any doubt), for any services to be provided to G-Cloud and it is therefore of no benefit to MigSolv in any way. It does not, however, prevent us from making an informed and impassioned look at whether G-Cloud is fit for purpose and whether the Government has fulfilled its promises through the initiative. The fact that the Government is spending less than 1.5% of its budget on G-Cloud is indicative of the empty words and promises that were originally made.

There are many ... (not verified)

Submitted on 16 July, 2015 - 09:08
Hi Alex, I agree on some points. More could and should be spent through G-cloud. Too much of what is bought goes through lot 4. Local government procurement officers seem to have issues with it. Govt buyers are nervous of short-term contracts and commodity services. From the sounds of the early kick-off meetings (I wasn't there), it seems that the aims of G-cloud were misrepresented to attendees. There was no government policy about the majority of spend going to SMEs. Although compared to other government frameworks G-cloud is nearest to achieving that by some distance with 50% by value going to SMEs. That's why calling it a disaster seems to be basically clickbait rather than based on evidence. We should be calling for more G-cloud, not less. Comparing G-cloud spend against the £6.9Bn of central govt IT spend is an easy hit, but misses the point - most of that spend was tied up in long term contracts. We should expect that to improve over time. I think most businesses would be pretty happy to go from 0 to £300M in the space of a few years. But I agree, there's no reason not to be more ambitious. There was no 'G-cloud for UK companies' policy - it's governed by EU procurement procedures so there's no way it could be. I'm sure there are UK companies who can compete with Amazon, and there may or may not be a valid question about the selection process for choosing Amazon (neither of us know). But they are available to buy through G-cloud and there's no reason for UK govt to overpay for commodity services. (Regarding the tax position there's an interesting point, and maybe Govt business cases could legally include a 'missing corporation tax' premium when assessing tenders based on overall cost to the taxpayer... but still I would argue that Amazon is more than 20% cheaper than most providers on G-cloud). G-cloud may be of zero benefit to MigSolv, but it didn't stop you from putting services on there under lot 4 (so I guess you shared my ignorance at one point). : https://www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk/service/5-g5-1601-002 For the record I work for an SME offering SaaS on G-cloud (we don't compete with Amazon). We have no orders via G-cloud but being on it has helped us get other public sector orders directly rather than having to go through an SI. If I can spend a couple of days to be on a framework reaching 29000 public institutions that is a better use of my time than spending a week responding to a traditional tender from a single government body answering a lot of irrelevant questions before they select the encumbent SI to continue. G-cloud is far from perfect, but it's not a disaster. You should direct your ire at the rest of goverment procurement.

Peter Rowlins, ... (not verified)

Submitted on 17 August, 2015 - 15:24
Really odd and strange article that I have just read and re-read. G-Cloud is the best thing to have come out of government procurement in certainly the last ten years, and I am afraid I have no agreement with the author that it is a disaster. As with all things new it takes time to build momentum and G Cloud is so fundamentally different to other procurement mechanisms, it is the potential users of G Cloud who are the problem, not G Cloud itself. G Cloud isn't perfect, but it is the most open, transparent and easy procurement route now available to all potential public sector suppliers large and small. To call that a disaster is to not have any idea what other routes are available - simply, there aren't any that match the easy and simplicity of G Cloud. Let's expand the use and scope of G Cloud, not say it is a disaster when 95% of the newly enfranchised businesses regard it as a massive opportunity that is there to be used and exploited to suppliers' and customers' real benefit.

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