The G-Cloud has gone through a number of changes since its conception during the old Labour government and has captured the attention of IT users far beyond the walls of the public sector. Much of the industry views it as a true test of whether cloud will be the way IT is consumed in the future, because if government can make use of public cloud offerings, despite all the concerns around security and placing important data outside the organisation’s firewall, then it is likely it will penetrate even the most conservative of enterprises.
Chris Chant is the man who has been charged with ensuring that cloud works in the public sector and reached his first milestone last month with the launch of the government’s CloudStore. The CloudStore is essentially a catalogue for the public sector to browse and buy up to 1,700 different commodity cloud services, with more than 250 suppliers to choose from, over half of which are SMEs.
Chant, although very pleased with the launch of CloudStore, which was built in less than four weeks and is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure platform, is keen for people to understand the difference between the CloudStore and the G-Cloud framework that suppliers sign up to.
“There are two things that you don’t want to confuse. There is the next iteration of the CloudStore, which is just a website cataloguing the cloud services. And then there is the second iteration of the G-Cloud framework, which is what the suppliers and buyers partake in when procuring new services,” explains Chant.
“The next version of each will be coming out at a similar time, probably early April. The CloudStore is easy to fix, we can change that as we go, but the G-Cloud is a bit more challenging as this is about a complete transformation of how we do IT,” he adds.
The key difference between the first G-Cloud framework and the second is that once the new one is finalised, Chant will be able to add new suppliers every month. This was not possible for the current one, as it was set for a period of between 12 and 18 months. Chant believes the new framework will reflect the dynamic environment of cloud computing.
“The new framework isn’t about adding a whole chunk of new suppliers, it’s about recognising that commodity IT is a moving and changing thing, and we need to move with that market,” he says.
“We have not been able to do that with the way we have been doing IT for the past 10 years. We got ourselves into large, long-term contracts, which I don’t believe has given us good value for money. In fact I think it’s been very expensive.”
The CloudStore and G-Cloud framework has provided an opportunity for the government to prove that the public sector can use SMEs to provide IT services, and has received praise for ensuring that 50 per cent of the suppliers on the framework fall into this category. Chant believes that vendors in the large SI market should be worried about the threat that this poses to them securing contracts across government in the future.
“Would I be worried if I was one of the traditional SIs? I’d be terrified. There are emerging suppliers on the Store that want to work directly with the government, who in the past have had to work through SIs, but can now show how hugely different their prices are,” says Chant.
“I know people that are paying over £2,000 a month for compute services, which are now available on the CloudStore for less than £200. I don’t know much about business, but it seems to me that if I were in their position I’d be a bit concerned.”
However, Chant admits that convincing the public sector to use SMEs may be a challenge, where heads of IT have had years of experience dealing with large service providers. To tackle this challenge he has set up an education programme for those interested in procuring through the G-Cloud framework, to ensure that services get purchased.
“There are a whole bunch of people whose way of life for the past 20 years has been about dealing with major SIs. Getting them to see the value of the change is not going to be insignificant, which is why we have got a programme of activity to help organisations through that,” he says.
He adds: “BuyCamp is about engaging with the community that is interested in buying, and helping them through what’s involved and what is different."
The first BuyCamp session involved 30 public sector organisations that were interested in procuring cloud services through the CloudStore and took place on 1 March. Its success was marked by the announcement that the first public sector organisation, The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, selected an SME, Emergn, to supply it with agile education services for a transformation programme.
“These BuyCamps will happen at least once a month, and will vary each time. There will be some for those that are ready to buy, so we will help them through that. Others will involve suppliers coming in to tell public sector organisations what they are selling and demonstrate why their product is great,” says Chant.
“This is a learning process. Anybody who thinks that they know how to do this stuff is talking rubbish. If there was another country doing this well, I would have picked that up and implemented it, but it’s not the case. Everybody is learning how to do this.”
Upon the release of the CloudStore, Chant found that there were two main areas of criticism coming from sceptics. The first was that many of the services on the CloudStore site are yet to be accredited in line with CESG information assurance, which prompted cries that the G-Cloud wasn’t yet fit for purpose.
Chant has changed the government’s approach to accreditation for the CloudStore. Instead of buyers having to get a service accredited each time a solution is chosen, which can be timely and expensive, each service will only have to be accredited once, by the first buyer of that solution.
“Some observers are getting confused. All the services will get accredited to the same standards as they have been previously. However, previously we would have had to have each service accredited in a location for a particular set of circumstances,” says Chant.
“Whereas, now we are talking about the re-use of services, which means that most of the points around accreditation would remain the same, regardless of which organisation you put it in. The old way would have meant we had to accredit the same service again and again for 1,000 public sector organisations, which is a really stupid way of doing things,” he adds.
Now, when the solution has been accredited once by a pan-government accreditor, the service will get mark as accredited on the CloudStore website and the next buyer will not have to repeat that process.
“The government, as a result, doesn’t have to pay for that accreditation again. The suppliers don’t have to pay for that accreditation again. I don’t know why we did it any other way before," Chant says.
The second area of criticism was that the framework requires contracts that only last for a year or less, which some argued would drive up prices, as the term of the deal was not long enough for suppliers to create cost savings. However, Chant dismisses this as a myth being circulated by the large system integrators (SIs) who are accustomed to working under lengthy contracts.
“People in the traditional SI market said to me, Chris we are really concerned for you, because you won’t find any companies willing to provide contracts for a year or less, it’s too expensive. However, that’s clearly rubbish, as we have got 1,700 services up there,” argues Chant.
“I’m totally unconvinced that longer term contracts lead to lower costs. They absolutely don’t, they lead to higher costs, because people don’t understand the total cost of ownership."
He adds: “A great example is the nuclear industry, where nuclear fuel looks really cheap, right up until you look at the cost of decommissioning. All of a sudden you need to shut a power station down, which will cost £2 billion to do.
“This is very similar. Not knowing the cost of exit dramatically changes the total cost of ownership."
Chant brushes aside the criticism that has come his way, and is completely convinced that the CloudStore will change the way that government consumes IT services. So convinced in fact that he believes that there is no reason to mandate the use of public cloud services across government. He argues that the business case speaks for itself, and this will drive adoption.
“I’ve been a civil servant long enough to know that if somebody tells me to do something, I will find a way of not doing it. I don’t think that there is any need to mandate people on this because the situation will do the work for us,” he says.
“If you are in an organisation and you are looking to put services in place with little money available, how are you going to go off and buy something that costs a lot? That money doesn’t exist anymore. Budgets are cut all over the place. People are looking for every opportunity to do things at a lower price point,” he adds.
“Organisations have to produce a business case. Nobody spends money without a business case in the public sector. Because of this, you will need to show what all your options are, and now you will have to show what options the CloudStore offers.”