The Care Quality Commission (CQC), an organisation that regulates over 40,000 health organisation in the UK, has revealed that prior to selecting an open source CMS tool via the government’s G-Cloud framework, it had also been running a traditional commercial tender process to find a vendor as its Plan A.
It was revealed last month that CQC opted to use Ixis to host and support it's Drupal site, which it procured via the government’s cloud initiative. The G-Cloud has been open for business for almost a year and allows the public sector to procure cloud products from a pre-approved list of vendors that are signed to the framework via an online portal, dubbed Cloudstore.
The G-Cloud team recently launched the third round of procurement for suppliers to sign up to the initiative, and so far has received over £4 million of public sector spend. However, there are still a number of concerns for the initiative’s success, including problems with security assurance, not having cloud incumbents Google or Amazon signed up to the agreement, and departments battling to persuade procurement to abandon their traditional approaches.
However, the CQC was one of the first organisations to buy through the framework and is now a keen advocate of its benefits.
Computerworld UK spoke to Henry Cook, programme director for business improvement and head of digital communications at CQC, who explained that even though he was keen to use Cloudstore, he wasn’t 100 percent confident of its capabilities initially.
“We procured through the first G-Cloud framework and it was a little bit in flux. Our procurement department wasn’t used to dealing with something like this, and so it was a bit touch and go if we were going to proceed through the process,” said Cook.
“We actually ran a dual process - we did our detailed requirements for a full commercial tender, which was our Plan A. However, once we were confident that we could get what we wanted through the G-Cloud, we abandoned this route.”
CQC was looking for a new open-source CMS, as its previous tool was part of a shared services agreement across a number of government departments, called ‘The Club’. However, with the abandonment of DirectGov, the main customer of ‘The Club’, every member had to find and procure their own CMS by March this year and migrate away from the previous service, which was also a Drupal product provided by Steria.
“We were happy with Drupal, its open source, it’s easy to add modules on and it fits with the government’s ICT strategy. We knew about a year ago ‘The Club’ agreement would come to an end, which fitted in nicely with the rise of the G-Cloud,” said Cook.
“We were actually waiting rather impatiently for the G-Cloud to launch.”
Cook explained that the hardest part of making G-Cloud work in the public sector is convincing departments to change their traditional approach of working with large IT suppliers.
“Yes, we definitely had a political backlash – principally from procurement. Traditionally procurement aren’t interested in my requirements, they are more interested in making sure the process is open and fair. They manage that. However, now they are dealing with a middle man (the G-Cloud team) and it’s a very different way of working,” he said.
Convincing procurement to consider the G-Cloud is a regularly cited challenge facing the initiative, where analysts and other advocates of the programme have described situations where procurement employees are making tender processes as complicated as possible to reinforce their positions. A simple procurement process is often seen as a threat to their job security.
However, Cook said that his procurement department have now ‘really bought into it’ and that is largely down to the G-Cloud team educating on the benefits of procuring through the framework.
However, he also highlighted that the public sector isn’t quite yet used to purchasing IT as a commodity.
“It becomes a bit of an issue when you break things down into commoditised parts – it’s a challenge for government departments that aren’t traditionally used to working this way. Usually with an IT project in government you think about the total job, whereas with the G-Cloud you break it down into components,” said Cook.
“Clearly not everything can come out of the box. We have some areas of the website that are bespoke Drupal, so we have had to procure some additional professional services to support us and continue that.”
Cloudstore – the online portal that lists all of the signed vendors and their associated cloud products – is also an area that Cook identifies as an element of the initiative that has scope for improvement. Again, this is something that has been highlighted before by analysts, and CQC’s experiences reaffirm the challenges the public sector has when approaching Cloudstore to search for products.
However, Cook does say that it isn’t a simple task to overcome, as the Cloudstore is trying to be a resource for a variety of different users in government e.g. CIOs, IT managers, procurement, business leads.
“It was quite difficult looking at like-for-like services, and we were lucky in that we knew what we were looking for. We struggled to find like-for-like comparisons,” he said.
“But, to be fair, it’s quite complex what they are trying to do. It’s got to meet the expectations of someone like myself who has a broad view of what they want, someone more technical, as well as general procurement people.”
He added: “It’s got that classic government website problem of trying to serve multiple audiences.”
However, despite the improvements that need to be made, Cook was keen to highlight the benefits CQC has found from becoming one of the G-Cloud’s first customers. He said that by using Ixis’ product through the G-Cloud, versus going for the incumbent supplier via the G-Cloud, CQC has made ‘significant savings’.
“There are definitely cost savings, just by being able to look at things in a commoditised way. If you do things through the traditional supplier route, there’s so many add-ons and stuff. It really allows you to break up the project and see how much you are being charged for individual areas. It’s really helpful on price,” said Cook.
“It really helps break down what government has previously struggled with, in terms of being locked into suppliers. The cost of changing suppliers has always been a big challenge for the public sector.”
He added: “The G-Cloud forces you to think about that because the length of the contract is limited to two years at a maximum.”
CQC is currently migrating their Drupal setup to the new infrastructure built by Ixis and is due to go live at the end of March, once it has completed the data migration from CQC’s business systems.
Now read: Computerworld UK’s in-depth analysis of the G-Cloud’s successes and failings to date.