Engaging the wider sector in using G-Cloud 10
We often hear suppliers say their potential prospects from the wider sector are not even using G-Cloud. Our Strategic Adviser Jos Creese writes why and how we can change it!
G-Cloud was set up by Whitehall in 2012, initially to help government departments to procure ICT faster, better and with a greater proportion of SMEs involved in government contracts.
Now in its 10th interaction, the G-Cloud framework is a mature basis for ICT adoption, and it is about time that the slow take-up outside central government is addressed.
It was always envisaged that the benefits of G-Cloud were there for the wider public sector – health, local government, police, fire services, and ultimately a wide range of charities and educational establishments. And, while there is an evident year on year increase in wider public sector spend on G-Cloud, more needs to be done to engage the sector.
What has held the sector back from using G-Cloud?
G-Cloud is there, it works, and has generated sales of nearly £2.9 billion since its inception in 2012. By the end of 2017 there were 2,856 suppliers listed on the framework, with SMEs making up the bulk of them (90%), and an estimated 48% of total sales through the framework awarded to small IT suppliers. According to figures jointly published by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and Crown Commercial Service (CCS) at the start of February 2018, more than £2.8bn of cloud services have been procured through the framework since its launch.
Yet the majority of suppliers do not actually sell anything via G-Cloud – perhaps because perceptions are set too high. G-Cloud is a vehicle for procurement, a basic shop window, not a guaranteed sales and marketing tool. Therefore, not only do public services need to make more use of G-Cloud, but suppliers also need to engage with the wider public sector better, encouraging G-Cloud 10 use. It is for suppliers to ensure a close alignment between IT solutions and the business needs of the wider public sector, not just ICT client buyers.
Certainly, public sector ICT managers being wedded to past procurement practices has not helped. Local government, for example, was well ahead of central government in the use of shared frameworks for procurement in 2012, and many of these previous frameworks were widespread and successful. But they should today sit alongside or be replaced by G-Cloud, on the grounds of choice, cost and diversity.
Central government has set a target of spending £1 in every £3 of its procurement budget with SMEs by 2022. To reach the target will require a wider use of the G-Cloud framework – not just central government. Whilst setting targets is a positive step, it must be backed up with concerted action to deliver on those targets in reality – otherwise it is purely aspirational.
For example, the wider public sector needs to hear from GDS and the CSS about the benefits of G-Cloud 10, how it can be used and reassured that it is a legally safe, legitimate, proven, low cost and effective way of procuring ICT solutions, especially when an ICT purchasing decision has been made. There also needs to be more case studies of success and forums for feedback and joint development.
Other obstacles lie in the use of cloud models at all in the public sector, and in a willingness to work with SMEs, and not just the bigger traditional IT suppliers. This may, in practice be less of an issue in local government than central government, where working with local SMEs in particular is encouraged and cloud is seen as having major benefits for smaller organisations such as district councils.
At the same time, evidence from research indicates that, despite good intentions to adopt cloud and to take advantage of smaller suppliers with niche and innovative ICT solutions, the practice is slow in reality. This is corroborated by many SMEs still reporting that doing business with the public sector is hard, risky or prohibitively expensive.
So, whilst cloud adoption is growing, councils remain cautious, and still seem be mapping out what to do. For example, which systems, data and services they can safely move to the cloud, and how their IT architecture policies, and practices need to be amended to embrace this potential whilst managing the risks.
Some of these are exactly the challenges the G-Cloud framework is trying to address:
- Making it easier to undertake due diligence and to find out about smaller suppliers, in an easier and standard way
- Speeding up the procurement process and so reducing the cost
- Providing a standard basis for IT procurement, for example in contractual terms and conditions and by increasing transparency
- Providing a pre-existing, legally legitimate and faster way of signing and securing a contractual commitment
- Getting a wider perspective on the marketplace for specific ICT solutions and services, by being all in one place.
What can we do to change things for G-Cloud 10?
G-Cloud 10 will not on its own change ICT habits and practices. Local government ICT leaders in particular need to be seen to take a lead on G-Cloud:
- Becoming advocates for its adoption, retiring or running existing methods and procurement frameworks alongside
- Understanding how G-Cloud can reduce costs and speed up procurement and promoting that internally with teams involved in IT procurement: legal, procurement, finance, IT itself and others in business teams
- Reviewing IT architectures, strategies and policies to allow wider cloud adoption that respects and understand risks, but also exploits opportunities and benefits, including using SME solutions
- Prioritising the engagement with SMEs, reviewing procurement practices and creating new easy ways that understand what SMEs need, and how they can be more closely involved in problem solving.
There is also scope for a much wider debate about IT procurement in the public sector. This could usefully involve a range of organisations, such as the CCS and GDS for government, as well as local government procurement teams, Socitm, One Team Gov, Local Gov Digital, the Local Government Association (LGA) and others.
TechUK has undertaken some great work in looking at the potential for SMEs to support the public service digital agenda, and they too should have a voice in this, reflecting the IT industry as a whole; after all, the benefits are for the public sector, individual SMEs and the wider UK economy.
For suppliers there is a need perhaps to understand the public sector better, especially the myriad of services that lie outside central government that in practice make up the bulk of the public sector.
This is where organisations such as Advice Cloud can add real value, not only in helping SMEs to use the G-Cloud intelligently as a platform, but also in understanding the best way to engage effectively with local public services.