Thursday, 13 February 2014

G-Cloud – Animal Farm

Tony Singleton is the Chief Operating Officer of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and, since GDS took over on 1 June 2013, he is also the G-Cloud Programme Director. This morning he published Taking G-Cloud forward on the G-Cloud blog:
G-Cloud has the potential to reach an estimated 30,000 buyers across the public sector. Yet research carried out by the 6 Degree Group suggests that nearly 90 percent of local authorities have not heard of G-Cloud.
30,000 prospective customers. There's supposed to be a "cloud first" policy. 27,000 customers haven't even heard of G-Cloud. That's a problem.

Take a look at the sales figures for G-Cloud:

December 2013 CSV data: G-Cloud-Total-Spend-13-12-13
(Will we see the same surge in March 2014 as we did in 2013
when people desperately try to use up their budget before the year-end?)

"There are over 13,000 services available via the CloudStore, provided by 1186 suppliers", Mr Singleton tells us, and G-Cloud sales to date stand at £77,788,989.55. That is deemed to be a disappointing figure and the rest of his missive is about how to improve performance.

His message has been trailed by a couple of publications, see Exclusive: Government removes 100 irrelevant services from G-Cloud and G-Cloud purge 100 services. It transpires that Mr Singleton is responding to an open letter orchestrated by Nicky Stewart, the commercial director of Skyscape.

We have already come across Ms Stewart and Skyscape. Before joining Skyscape she was the G-Cloud Head of ICT Strategy Delivery. She is not pleased with G-Cloud's performance since she left. And in her open letter to GDS and the Government Procurement Service she suggests some major changes.

The customer is always wrong
"We are passionate advocates of G-Cloud, and firmly believe in its principles of open competition within a diverse and transparent market", she says, and then complains two paragraphs later that:
The level of understanding around how to buy from the CloudStore remains variable. We see a wide range of practices and attitudes, and in frequent cases the G-Cloud buying guide does not appear to be followed. We all share a common interest in safeguarding the future of the framework, and thereby the emerging G-Cloud market. As opportunities through the framework become larger (and more valuable to suppliers), there is an increased risk of challenge from those suppliers who are losing revenues to G-Cloud. A successful challenge could potentially damage the integrity of the initiative, and all that it promises to deliver to the UK public sector. We recommend that a system be put in place to enable suppliers to report variances from the G-Cloud buying guide to the G-Cloud team and CCS to enable any common issues to be addressed ...
Her passionate advocacy of "open competition" stops short of welcoming competition to G-Cloud and she wants to stamp out any failure by the customers to adhere to the standard practice laid down in the G-Cloud buying guide.

Standardisation is also her solution to the messy business of customers impertinently asking for their own terms and conditions of business:
The G-Cloud framework is standardised and designed to remove complexity. In best case scenarios contracts can be completed within hours. Nonetheless, contractual standardisation generates challenges: for the buyer whose default is their own terms and conditions; and for suppliers whose own terms and conditions are at the bottom of a contractual hierarchy ... There is a clear need to engage with buyers to establish what the G-Cloud Framework terms need to cover, and incorporate into the standard terms to the extent possible. This – coupled with renewed emphasis on the G-Cloud buying guide on the extent that additional clauses can be used – will lead to improved adoption and safer contracting for all ...
Customers must be made to understand that their petty local requirements cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the greater good. They need to be re-educated: "better central guidance and education is needed as to what constitutes a material change to service".

Half the point of G-Cloud as recommended by Chris Chant was to have short contracts that don't lock customers into their suppliers. Ms Stewart turns that on its head: "The two year call-off term is often cited by buyers as a reason for not using G-Cloud, as it would force them into a frequent procurement cycle".

Short contracts are annoying for suppliers, too, and according to Ms Stewart: "given that a 'termination for no cause' clause now exists within the framework, we recommend that GPS increase the maximum contract term to three years. We believe this would encourage the immediate take up of cloud services, allowing buyers to get maximum benefit from the market, without locking them into any given supplier or technology".

She also thinks that customers are being too fussy about security: "Clear guidance is needed very soon: this will benefit the buyer, who may opt for an unnecessarily high (and costly) security wrap, and also the suppliers who have either invested or are investing heavily in PGA accreditation".

Not only does her market annoy her by insisting on individual terms and conditions and by walking away from contracts early and by wasting time trying to ensure that their systems are secure, they further annoy Ms Stewart by not always telling her when they have money to spend:
There is little, if any, transparency of forthcoming opportunity to the supplier, which can in turn lead to negative speculation about how long-lists and shortlists are compiled. We recommend that transparency principles are applied to all areas of G-Cloud transacting:
  • That an opportunity pipeline is published so that suppliers can see who is planning to buy and when (Contracts Finder would be the logical channel);
  • That suppliers are informed if they have been long-listed – and that reasons for failing to make the shortlist are communicated to the supplier. Suppliers can then improve their products and pricing which will in turn benefit the market as a whole.
"The CloudStore is, in our collective view, reforming public sector ICT procurement", she says. G-Cloud's short contracts with small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were meant to be the alternative to long lock-ins with an oligopoly of big Systems Integrators (SIs). But, as the self-appointed spokesman for the collective, Ms Stewart clearly doesn't approve.

With apologies to George Orwell: "The customers outside looked from SME to SI, and from SI to SME, and from SME to SI again; but already it was impossible to say which was which".

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Updated 14.2.14

The signatories to Ms Stewart's open letter are:
Simon Hansford, CTO, Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd
Richard Steel, General Manager UK, Azeus UK Ltd
Roger Bickerstaff, Partner, Bird and Bird
Tim Bennett, Managing Director, Datatank Ltd
Richard Clarke, Head of Public Sector EMEA, Huddle
Elizabeth Vega, CEO, Informed Solutions Ltd
Marek Baldy, Business Development Director, Konetic
Mark Cooper, IS&GS Civil UK Managing Director, Lockheed Martin UK Ltd
Karen Carlton, Head of Sales and Marketing, MDS Technologies Ltd
Mark Webber, Partner, Osborne Clarke
Sam Simpson, Commercial and Delivery Director, Roc Technologies
Peter Hornsby, COO, SFW Ltd
Martin Rice, CEO, The Agile Consultancy
Scot Paton, COO, Vysionics ITS Ltd
Andrew Curtois, Senior IT Category Manager, Westminster City Council

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