THINK Cloud Vendors Event – UK Government’s IT Procurement and the G-Cloud

I was at the THINK Cloud Vendors event yesterday, a good concept in that it was focused on helping firms who are participants or want to be participants in the UK government G-Cloud (Digital Marketplace), which allows buyers to choose from an on-line catalogues containing suppliers of digital related services and software. There were around 70 delegates on the 39th floor of 1 Canada Square, the tallest building in Canary Wharf, and on a beautiful winter's morning, that meant we had a view over London to rival that from the Shard (I took a couple of photographs, which weirdly came out looking like slightly impressionistic paintings!) london view painting


Anyway ... Tony Singleton, Director G-Cloud and Digital Commercial Programme at Government Digital Service kicked things off, with his statement that there will be "no more big IT programmes" in government. Anyone told DWP Minister Ian Duncan-Smith (Universal Credit) that?

Singleton then said something rather odd - that "we now need to commission not procure IT". Is this the magic "commissioning" word being used in yet another sense? I didn’t get a chance to ask him personally what on earth he meant. He seemed to be talking about short-term contracts rather than the traditional long-term mega IT contracts often used, as if that was what defined “to commission”. But the worrying thing is that again, "procurement" seems to be used almost as a pejorative term in the public sector. You feel sorry for CIPS really having changed their name to incorporate that word. Anyway, perhaps we can find out just what he means.

The event was naturally a bit of a cheer-leading festival for the G-Cloud programme. But it did seem to be genuinely useful for the suppliers and potentials suppliers there. As Crown Commercial Service are in the middle of the latest contract-letting phase, there were some limitations on what could be discussed, but I didn’t feel that got in the way of some helpful information being disseminated and some good discussion.

And we can certainly be positive about G-Cloud, if we’re feeling in a good mood. There won’t be many tears shed for past examples such as the £12 Billion (yes, £12 Billion) Cap Gemini Aspire contract with HMRC (revenue and customs) if that is replaced by smaller, more nimble and better value contracts and suppliers.

Government rightly wants to avoid lock-in, so aims to dis-aggregate requirements and contracts, and G-Cloud has also reduced the barriers to entry for suppliers. There are now 1400 suppliers listed, most of them SMEs, which is great. And the regular refreshes of the list means new suppliers can quickly gain access, unlike many of the historical government frameworks which were set in stone for 3 years or more.

The transparency and visibility of pricing is another plus (most of the time anyway). Various speakers felt this was leading to significant cost savings for users, although I’m not sure I buy all of Chris Chant’s claims about 90% savings! (And Chris, you can’t just replicate that in every spend category - the nature of most products and services we buy simply does not allow a 90% improvement, however much re-engineering you do).

Tony richardsAs well as observing Tony Richards' amazing facial hair (see picture), another positive yesterday was meeting Sarah Hurrell, Commercial Director, Technology, for Crown Commercial Service. She came over well in her session, and seemed both commercial and sensible. She emphasised the rules around using G-Cloud, and I was pleased to see she played a straight bat in terms of EU regulations. Initially, some people seemed to be suggesting that you could just pick a supplier from the catalogue and award business; CCS now seem to be getting the right balance in their advice between speed, convenience, competition and propriety.

So everything is rosy? Well, you wouldn’t really expect us to be totally positive, would you? There are still some issues with G-Cloud, and actually some of those were emphasised by presentations yesterday. So we’ll be back in part 2 – maybe tomorrow, maybe next Monday – with some of our concerns.

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