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Cheaper, faster, and in the cloud

Source: Public Sector Executive Mar/Apr 12

Adam Hewitt reports on the efforts to ensure that local public services, as well as central Government, can benefit from the new G-Cloud framework.

Following the successful launch of the CloudStore and the Government’s G-Cloud framework, IT organisations are looking to how it can be used most effectively by local public services, rather than just central government.

The CloudStore, launched in February, has been called the ‘appstore’ for the Government’s framework for cloud-based ICT services, including offerings from around 300 suppliers and thousands of individual services. The framework covers the processes of buying, managing and using cloud services, and certainly heralds a change to the way government operates with its suppliers and internally.

Alex Lal, senior consultant at ICT consultancy Hudson & Yorke, said: “Although still in its infancy, the CloudStore has attracted an encouraging range of products and services and is a welcome attempt to address the need for public sector organisations to provision resources more quickly, cheaply and dynamically.

“The CloudStore is clearly an exciting and positive step forward for public sector procurement, although the true measure of success will still be in delivering value to public sector organisations and the taxpayer, rather than simply implementing the cheapest or most readily available solutions.

“Public sector organisations will also need to focus on ensuring their strategic sourcing, vendor management and service delivery functions are flexible enough to operate cloud-based services in parallel with their existing managed, hosted or onsite infrastructure and services.”

Chris Chant, Cabinet Office programme director for G-Cloud – who had to apologise on February 29 when the Cloudstore became briefly unavailable because of an error with Windows Azure involving the leap year date – is keen to ensure that local government and local public services can enjoy the potential benefits. He is speaking about the Government’s plans for the future development of the CloudStore at Socitm’s spring conference on April 25 in London.

Socitm – the society for local public service IT managers – welcomed the launch of CloudStore. Its past president, Jos Creese, said: “We need easier procurement, more choice and flexible ‘cloud’ services which make government more agile in term of business practices and in the adoption of new technologies. That is why this development holds so much potential.”

Creese is also the chair of the Local CIO Council (LCIOC), which provides a local perspective on national ICT strategy and policy. LCIOC member Tonino Ciuffini, head of information assets at Warwickshire County Council and a Cabinet Office Foundation Partner Lead, said: “This development will allow joint assurance and accreditation of services, with public sector organisations able to share their usage and experiences to guide and encourage easier adoption by other organisations. It will enable joint service management approaches via the framework which will reduce cost and increase the clout that buying organisations have with individual suppliers.”

Others, such as computing firm Bull, have been more sceptical, saying the G-Cloud depends on skillsets, understanding and working cultures that are not embedded in the public sector at the moment. Others have highlighted the importance of benchmarking – which the Commons Public Administration Select Committee has said is vital to cutting the cost of public sector IT. Research by Mercato ITelligence across 1,000 public and private sector organisations found that 81% are not securing the IT margin they expected and some were paying up to 474% margin for certain items.

The IT companies who have been accepted as approved suppliers have praised the initiative. Simon Etherington, UK general manager of Objective, for example, said: “With 5 years’ experience as host of one of the UK’s largest Government engagement and collaboration public clouds, we have seen firsthand the benefits it can offer in terms of a unified workspace that delivers better public sector outcomes at a lower total cost.”

The Stafford-based 848 Group welcomed the way the G-Cloud platform opens up the marketplace to SMEs, which it said would “signal the end of long-term, inflexible contracts with tardy, global system integrators”. Anwen Robinson, managing director of UNIT4 Business Software Ltd, said: “The fact that the CloudStore is up and running so quickly is a clear indication that things are truly changing.”

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