UK digital government director Chris Chant said last week that the government’s cloud computing strategy, known as the G-Cloud framework, will address concerns outlined last month by the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC).
Chant was speaking at the Government ICT Summit in Westminster, where he told delegates that the G-Cloud model will reshape public ICT provision and therefore help address criticisms levelled by the PASC.
The government released a tender detailing plans for its £60m G-Cloud Framework in October last year and a Government Cloud Strategy followed, in which it said that the UK will adopt a “public cloud first approach” to procurement with a view to saving as much as £340m between now and 2015.
Chant said that the G-Cloud framework will directly address three main problems with public sector ICT provision that were outlined in the PASC report. The report, released last month, said that the government should gain independent external advice on benchmarking suppliers, replace legacy systems with long-term solutions and address skills gaps.
Chant said the current format for benchmarking large suppliers will be changed with the introduction of G-Cloud and that the amount of money spent will be clearer to the public.
G-Cloud contracts with suppliers are being signed at 10 per cent of the price that other departments currently pay, he said, adding that 280 suppliers are signed up to the first G-Cloud framework, offering a total of 1,700 services.
But while it is good news that suppliers are interested in taking part in the G-Cloud initiative, those suppliers all need to be assessed.
"The Cabinet Office has run a fair, transparent, and inclusive call for the G-Cloud and this has resulted in 1,739 expressions of interest from different companies, but the problem is that the government has to now perform due diligence on all of these companies,” Ovum analyst Joe Dignan told Computing.
Another concern is that the suppliers who have expressed an interest in providing services are not necessarily the appropriate suppliers. This is because the high-profile nature of the G-Cloud might deter some suppliers from bidding.
"The government is to perform due diligence on all the companies. None of the ‘pure play’ companies has taken an interest in the G-Cloud because it is not worth their reputational risk,” said Dignan.
"Another reason that ‘pure play’ companies are discouraged from taking an interest is that they are not going to want to tailor products for the government’s needs whereas other suppliers will,” he added.
Chant acknowledged the skills issue highlighted by the PASC and said that the G-Cloud will see a “campaign of process redesign”. In other words, the provision of cloud-based services will require new skill sets to support different ways of working.
He added that education on its own is not sufficient. “The government should foster the emergence of learning communities to aid the skills gaps,” he said.
But the downside of this new approach to working is that the government will be less interested in retaining current staff and there will be fewer IT staff jobs, according to Dignan.
"The skills gaps will be addressed by raising the required skill level to those who can operate in the G-Cloud,” he said. “But the government will be less concerned about retaining staff and this will mean a diminishment in IT staff numbers."
Chant’s remarks at the Government ICT Summit are the latest in a back-and-forth war of words between the government and the PASC concerning the government’s progress with its ICT strategy and Strategic Implementation Plan.
The PASC first criticised the government’s progress on the strategy in its ‘Government and IT = “A recipe for rip-offs”: time for a new approach’ report released in July last year.