Friday 28 June 2013

G-Cloud – how to win

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, made an important speech yesterday.

The speech is covered on his award-winning GOV.UK website – Minister Francis Maude described how government is moving into a "new world" of technology procurement by opening up opportunities to SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises].

Every step of his argument is contentious.

Let's leave that for another day ...

... and content ourselves here with noting that, one way and another, Mr Maude gets round to saying that "one of our most successful innovations is the delivery of the G-Cloud framework, which embraces open procedures. This is a step change in the way government buys IT. It’s quicker, cheaper, more competitive and more accessible to SMEs ... As a result, of the 700 successful suppliers on the framework – 83% are SMEs" and:
For example, the Home office saved 83% on a hosting contract by contracting with Skyscape. Skyscape is an SME providing hosting and other IT support services – and were one of the first accredited suppliers on G-Cloud. They started as a small start-up with 6 people - and now employ over 30 as a direct result of the business they get through G-Cloud.
Out of 700 candidates, Mr Maude chooses Skyscape for his example.


Skyscape was only incorporated on 3 May 2011. Just over two years ago. Many SMEs have been established for much longer and have a track record that can be properly evaluated.

How did Skyscape get accredited to G-Cloud?

With no track record, it's a mystery – as Mr Maude says, "this is a step change in the way government buys IT".

Not only were Skyscape accredited, they started winning contracts. With HMRC. And the MOD. And the Government Digital Service. And, as noted in Mr Maude's example, with the Home Office.

That's four chunky contracts that established SMEs failed to win. Instead, they went to Skyscape which, as at 31 March 2012, had sales of £44,416, which cost them £327,320, they'd spent £956,965 on administration and the balance sheet shows negative net assets of £1,240,833.

Is that what Mr Maude means when he says that G-Cloud is "quicker, cheaper, more competitive and more accessible to SMEs"?

What's the trick? How do you beat the G-Cloud competition – 699 of the world's finest – when you've only got £1,000 of share capital, all controlled by one man, when nobody's ever heard of you and you've never done anything except run up debts of £1.2 million?

You'd like to know?

You'd like to know why you lost?

Why the contract wasn't accessible to you after all, even though you have a hard-won track record of success?

Here's a guess.

Take a look at one of Skyscape's press releases. Their very first press release. You don't have to go far back, obviously. Just to 11 November 2011:

November 11, 2011
Skyscape Cloud Services appoints Commercial Director to oversee G-Cloud delivery.

Skyscape Cloud Services Limited, ‘the easy to adopt, easy to use and easy to leave’ assured Cloud Services Company, today announced that Nicky Stewart, former G-Cloud Head of ICT Strategy Delivery has joined the company as Commercial Director.

Stewart held the position of head of ICT strategy at the Cabinet Office where she was responsible for leading a team of public and private sector organisations to develop the commercial strategy for G-Cloud, data centre consolidation and the government application store.

In this newly created position Stewart will work with public sector organisations and the Skyscape Alliance to ensure that the company’s commercial strategy is aligned to their goals and desired outcomes and that future innovative commercial models are developed.

“There is an enormous opportunity for the public sector to benefit from the dramatic cost-savings, improved agility and lower carbon footprint that cloud computing offers” said Nicky Stewart. “What I have seen in Skyscape is a unique ability to deliver this in an assured, secure and UK sovereign manner; with almost unlimited capacity”.

Phil Dawson, CEO of Skyscape adds “Nicky’s appointment will ensure that Skyscape’s services continue to be truly aligned to the goals of the G-Cloud initiative, with innovative commercial models and the associated financial benefits for the UK public sector. As an industry leading team we are very much looking forward to demonstrating the tremendous benefits that an elastic, on demand IT service will bring to UK public sector”
There's your lesson.

Choose your commercial director carefully – there's not much point bidding otherwise.

Make sure she's the former G-Cloud Head of ICT Strategy Delivery, and you're away.



Updated 25.4.14

This matter has now been aired by James Silver in Wired magazine, 11 April 2014, please see Each cabinet office PC costs UK taxpayers £7,000 a year. Why?.

Apparently DMossEsq is wrong:
When this alleged conflict of interest is put to Bracken, he laughs: "I don't know who Nicky Stewart is, so I've no idea," he says. "We face a systematic problem in the civil service of having a revolving door, usually outwards back to large systems integrators. We can't just tell people in government that you can't work for suppliers. [But we can] do a lot to make sure this doesn't happen, by not handing out massive contracts and then having our best brains and people who know our services going to the places who are delivering them back to us."
Simon Hansford, CTO of Skyscape, responded to Wired: "Nicky has never held a sales role within Skyscape, or any other organisation. Nicky uses her public-sector expertise, and her knowledge of how the UK government purchases, to ensure that Skyscape develops its policies, principles and services in a way that aligns with government ICT strategy principles and meets the needs of the UK public sector. All of Skyscape's business is won through fair and open competition and Skyscape's success comes down to its disruptive business model."
So it remains a mystery how Skyscape won several prestigious central government contracts against established competition before it had even filed its first set of accounts with Companies House.

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