Wednesday 3 October 2012

Skyscape, Whitehall have no excuse, the contracts must be unwound

... irresponsible, unwise, imprudent, disgraceful ...
indefensible ...
misfeasance in public office ...

5 questions were posed to the G-Cloud team and the Government Digital Service (GDS). These questions concern Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd.

Skyscape is a new company with just £1,000 of paid up share capital and just one director, who also happens to be the only shareholder.

[Skyscape has subsequently changed its name to UKCloud: "London – August 1, 2016 – Skyscape Cloud Services Limited, the easy to adopt, easy to use and easy to leave assured cloud services company, has today renamed and relaunched as UKCloud Ltd (, to reinforce the company’s exclusive focus on supporting the UK public sector in the digital transformation of services".]

You can't get much smaller than Skyscape and yet the company's wares are listed on the G-Cloud on-line shop, CloudStore. You can't get much smaller, and yet GDS have contracted with Skyscape to host GOV.UK, the new central government website. And HMRC have contracted with this one-man company to store the data currently held at local HMRC offices.

All the normal rules are broken by these baffling decisions. National assets are being entrusted to the care of what looks like a tiny, new company. Thus the five questions.

GDS have posted the questions in full on their blog but not answered them yet.

The G-Cloud team have posted an edited version of the questions on their blog and Eleanor Stewart has kindly answered three of them.

Her first answer contains an important lesson for central and local government. They cannot assume just because a company is listed on CloudStore that it is up to the job, it's up to them to satisfy themselves as to the company's strengths:
... as with everything on the G-Cloud framework the customer can determine whether they are happy with any associated risk at the point of selection
Her third answer provides another lesson. Cloud computing is commonly touted as offering all the flexibility that old-fashioned IT lacks. Ms Stewart makes it clear that there are limits to this flexibility:
Your description is a very reduced version of how some quite complex technology works ... technically correct but missing out any subtlety about the processes involved in each action. Cloud Services do indeed allow the movement of data between servers more easily than other technologies ... it can be diverted and moved anywhere within the grid (or cloud), safely and securely as long as the integrity of the data, it’s security and the processes involved are maintained.
Cloud computing is beginning to look a little less magic than is sometimes suggested by its advocates. No surprise there, we could all have guessed that but what we want to know in this case is what GDS are doing hosting GOV.UK on the servers of a tiny new company and what HMRC are up to relying on Skyscape for the safe storage of local offices' data and reliable acces to it.

Ms Stewart's second answer disappoints. We are none the wiser after reading it than before:
To purchase from G-Cloud GDS and HMRC have gone through a detailed selection process looking their requirements and the options available to them and have concluded that the Skyscape services will best met their needs and that of UK citizens.
The unbusinesslike decisions of the G-Cloud team to list Skyscape on CloudStore and of GDS and HMRC to contract with the company continue to look irresponsible, unwise, imprudent, disgraceful and indefensible. They look like misfeasance in public office.

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