Government CloudStore: Revolution, Evolution or Window-Dressing?

Mar 12, 2014

This piece of thought leadership was written by Jonathan Mills and first appeared on Professional Outsourcing. 

Jonathan Mills - Director of Local Public Services, Capgemini Infrastructure Services

The recent G-Cloud announcement has been met with a high level of excitement throughout the IT industry. And rightly so - for the first time, it seems, both Small & Medium Enterprises and larger organisations will have equal access to lucrative government IT contracts. The Cloud is not a new concept but it has taken it's time to be understood and for its potential within the public sector to be realised. That's not to say that the concept has been fully embraced just yet, but within the corridors of Whitehall, there is a sense that it could be very important. The G-Cloud procurement process, which has given way to the CloudStore, is not perfect, but it is certainly a positive step in the right direction.

With this step, or perhaps more suitably, leap, in mind, the new process should be seen as a major success for the UK IT industry. However, we should also appreciate the new capabilities that the G-Cloud will deliver. The greatest of these is the array of service components now available to buy without the headache of a full procurement process. For example, a potential buyer could just use our IaaS services for a month for a proof of concept. It seems the CloudStore might just be the thing to cut some of that red tape that had become synonymous with government IT.

Another positive effect, and perhaps the most significant, the framework will have on the sector, is it will breathe new life into an ageing process. There existed previously a perfect excuse when faced with innovative thinking to do nothing, or do what we had done before. The ease of procurement, provisioning and automated contract management means we - industry and buyers - can now collectively do something new.

The role of big IT players within this environment has traditionally been surrounded in criticism, but their presence shouldn't be seen as a bad thing.  The consumer-oriented approach of the CloudStore means that we will have to stay on our toes.  And there's a healthy balance with around 50% of the framework providers being Small & Medium Enterprise players who are sure to welcome the ease of access to the market the framework brings.  This aspect of the revolution may be harder for the 'one-size-fits-all' merchants, but it's good news for Capgemini whose core ethos is about collaborative, vendor-agnostic, 'ecosystems' of solution providers and components.  We've always been about intimacy and innovation, but we're also known for our ability to deliver in the real world of complex, multi-player interactions.  

One of the key risks for buyers lies in the temptation to over indulge in what's on offer. The CloudStore is like the proverbial sweet shop; it's easy to buy lots of goodies, but hard to assemble them as a nutritious meal, and the hungriest consumers may need a crash diet to return to a manageable size.  Our Cloud Services Orchestration approach is all about helping clients with a standards-based process for the introduction and removal of components, integration of the business information and management of security and service levels.  Liam Maxwell (Cabinet Office director of ICT futures) uses the analogy of buying IT like stationery.  He's right for common, commoditised components.  This approach is supported by Capgemini's IaaS services which can be purchased on as little as a per day basis.  No matter who you buy paper from, you'll surely be able to write on it.  But where the components are more complex, the stationery analogy breaks down.  Clients need to achieve business outcomes, not a series of technology components, no matter how flexible.  Joining it all up is a challenge with which I predict clients will need our help.

If sluggish procurement, slow innovation and high-Capex IT development are the disease, the CloudStore is no panacea, but it does put some of the medicine within reach of the patient.  It helps reduce lock-in, to synchronise expenditure with business need and can help IT departments be agents for change rather than constraints.

The initial framework is a great start, but the "Generation 2" framework needs to push Cloud into the mainstream.  The four key ingredients of this are:

1. Contract term: Liam Maxwell suggests an era of short-term contracts. He's right that there need be no minimum contract term. However, where we differ is that the current six to nine month framework with maximum 12 month call-off contracts doesn't give customers a sufficient horizon to plan and commit production, mission-critical workloads to the Cloud. As it stands, CloudStore will be used for "test drives" of new technology and to support temporary project environments. The next generation contract must allow customers to buy for long-term use, but not be locked-in.
2. The contract Terms & Conditions need to be refined, as some of the risks and obligations are difficult even for large, financially secure institutions like Capgemini and must be very daunting, if not prohibitive, for smaller players.
3. Refining the buying processes: defining clear, easy-to-use mechanisms for purchasing and providing feedback in the CloudStore will improve uptake.
4. Ensuring services can evolve, that future technologies and offerings from the providers can easily be added to the store, that security and service levels are appropriate and that buyers are aware of these developments.
Cloud computing is far from a new business concept, but over the last two years or so, it has become an integral part of the discussion on how both the private and public sector operates. While its current incarnation is likely to evolve over time, the CloudStore is undoubtedly a huge part of what is set to be an important revolution. As a customer, it should put new possibilities at your fingertips.  As a provider it's an opportunity for those with the vision and courage to embrace it.