Chris Chant (pictured) delivered a speech at the launch of G-Cloud in November 2011 where he attacked government IT for being expensive, slow, inflexible and unusable.

At Think Cloud for Government conference last week, he reviewed what’s changed - and what’s stayed the same. Here is his speech in full.

So much has changed since 2011, so much has been done. We now speak openly about the need for change and what is wrong.

We have done some great stuff. Stuff to be really proud of, stuff for users – I’ve heard even the departmental lawyers have been talking about user centricity.

Government is commissioning work from SMEs, the process is faster, cheaper and more relevant - people who need and use services are buying them rather than the “experts” in procurement.

Costs are dramatically down. The Government Digital Service’s (GDS) NAO-reviewed costings show 50 percent savings and in some examples as much as 90 percent. We even managed 40 percent savings with an end user device project in the Cabinet Office - delight doesn’t come easy there.

The mood has changed. Government was not happy three years ago. Now, from the “mood music”, buyers seem much more positive about the quality of services they are buying from SMEs.

GDS is embedded in central government and appreciated, even by politicians.

Lots of SMEs are now selling direct to Government, delivering to government, innovating for Government - faster, cheaper, more reliably.

We created a marketplace [G-Cloud] and it has traded nearly half a billion pounds. It could be described as one of the best internet companies in the UK today.

We have inspired the creation of new companies, see growth in SMEs and as a result more employment at a time when it was needed most.

And most importantly, money is being spread across the country and not concentrated into a few suppliers in the south west. 

We have effectively gone from around eight suppliers to hundreds in a very short space of time.

But we should not rest on our laurels now. We have a long way to go still.

'It's unacceptable'

It’s unacceptable that some organisations in central government seem to be ignoring Francis Maude’s cloud first mandate.

Surely it is the Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) responsibility to support this cloud first policy. Because if it is, we are seeing little or no evidence of it. Have you tried finding G-Cloud or mention of it through the CCS website?

It’s unacceptable that organisations are still letting contracts way over the two-year G-Cloud limit, when it has been proven that regular competition trumps term commitment for best total value.

As an SME, that locks us out and leads us to believe that change is not here to stay. 

Recently a local authority let a 10 year contract to a large SI [systems integrator].

In fact one of the suppliers to that contract approached us to help them create value through a more agile and iterative approach. The first thing I asked is: would they be prepared to reduce their contract by eight years?

It’s unacceptable that organisations are still buying before they have designed what they need to do.

This costs us real money in time and resource. If you are unsure or not ready and just want some options, tell us that than rather lead us down the route of a procurement that will probably get pulled.

In fact it’s unacceptable that procurement folk are still doing the specifications and buying.

It’s unacceptable that we don’t have data on IT spend in the public sector.

It’s unacceptable that we are still only rarely truly working out loud.

It’s unacceptable that the CCS old world influence is still seen in new G-Cloud releases and new frameworks like the dysfunctional Digital Services framework

Frankly that organisation has not been itself disaggregated and rebuilt and led in a manner fit for wha'ts needed by users now. You remain in the way, step aside.

It’s unacceptable that some folk still think you can outsource risk.

It’s unacceptable that the public sector still asks suppliers to “smooth” payment profiles, creating lock-in and a change-control bonanza.

It’s unacceptable that some commercial and procurement teams are still wasting almost half a year on technology OJEU procurements.

It’s unacceptable that processes are being invented to make it necessary to have procurement teams even for straight forward catalogue purchases.

It’s unacceptable that some are still working with suppliers in contracts that don’t allow experimentation and iteration around user needs.

It’s unacceptable that there is still not some sort of pipeline of what the public sector needs, opening up opportunities to the wider market. CCS publish what they are doing, but every organisation should be working out loud on this.

It’s unacceptable that some CCS let pan government frameworks still have hurdles that unnecessarily exclude small innovative suppliers and are let so infrequently that suppliers are locked out for long periods.

It’s unacceptable that there is not a way for buyers and buyers and suppliers and suppliers to openly collaborate “out loud" on the “art of the possible".

It’s unacceptable that the public sector is still paying many different lawyers to continually re-invent the wheel for technology purchases.

It’s unacceptable that we are not seeing development of reusable components of a government platform beyond the excellent but lonely components designed and delivered by GDS.

It’s unacceptable that we have broken minister Francis Maude’s promises to pay SMEs promptly.

The target is five days. Being paid in 50 days would sometimes be an improvement and 30 days would be perfect. Not being paid in 30 days is unacceptable.

It’s unacceptable that the public sector leadership, especially in central government, haven’t recognised this is about a change in public service, not just IT, and is still seen turning to old school organisations to lead their leadership change activity.

It’s unacceptable that we have nowhere near enough new style technology leadership supporting the change sought by new CDOs.

It’s unacceptable that we have insufficient technology change happening out loud in public sector organisations - bravery is rare despite the work by the likes of Rocco Labellarte, Tonino Ciuffini and Denise McDonagh.

And most importantly we are not propagating this message widely across government. Still too many local authorities, trusts, police departments, schools, universities are in the dark about G-Cloud and the digital agenda. 

We must support and encourage GDS to do the right thing: go broadly across the whole of government and go loud.

It’s unacceptable that we let CCS mess up the Digital Services framework. This is evidenced by the poor take up and low spend. Why is this not with GDS?

It’s unacceptable that we have allowed GDS to lose the binary cultural argument with CCS about frameworks. Rather than routing around it and making suppliers do the same, some brutal honesty is needed internally. It's not like GDS to duck a crunchy discussion.

It’s unacceptable that we are not transforming fast enough, saving enough, focusing on users enough. We know this can be dramatically improved by using SMEs – JFDI [just f***ing do it].

Chris led the creation of the G-Cloud framework and helped set up the Government Digital Service after a decades-long career in the civil service, including a stint as CIO at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

He recently retired but occasionally works with consultancy Rainmaker Solutions, along with a number of former G-Cloud staff.

Image credit: GovCamp2013/Janet E Davis