Imagine a world where the public and private sectors work harmoniously, boosting the economy with innovation and giving taxpayers more for their money. Imagine a platform for finding and contacting new businesses with new ideas, that will engage with and surprise an organisation while meeting its specific needs.
The G-Cloud framework represents the fundamentals of this brave new world. Now about to enter its fifth iteration, G-Cloud is widely acknowledged for bringing ICT services to the public sector. Designed to give local authorities and councils a flexible means of accessing accredited providers to procure cloud services, G-Cloud's CloudStore makes it easier to find small and innovative cloud providers, ultimately reshaping how public services are provided.
However, G-Cloud is not living up to the promise. Research conducted for Six Degrees Group found that only 38 out of nearly 300 UK councils and local authorities have been involved in procurement using registered G-Cloud suppliers. In fact, the vast majority of UK councils and local authorities (87 per cent) are currently not purchasing any IT services through CloudStore.
Since the emergence of the platform in 2012, former G-Cloud programme director, Denise McDonagh, has defended the service, calling for a culture shift within the public sector to embrace all that G-Cloud can offer. The sad truth is, it hasn't happened. Our research found that 76 per cent of local authorities and councils had no knowledge of what the G-Cloud framework could be used for.
Many local authorities don't even know what G-Cloud is – a lot of them think it's a product. In fact, only 70 councils could identify specific jobs or contracts they would use G-Cloud for. For those within the public sector that do make it onto the website, CloudStore can be a confusing place, as the site contains over 13,000 services.
The level of understanding around how to buy from the CloudStore also remains mixed, to say the least. When public sector organisations do turn to CloudStore hoping to find 'off-the-shelf' solutions, they are instead often overwhelmed with a wide selection of smaller building blocks that would need to be selected by IT experts. There is an assumption that G-Cloud providers and solutions have been vetted and classified as safe and secure. This is not the case.
With this in mind, it's fair to conclude that central government could do a better job of educating local authorities and councils on the benefits of buying services through the G-Cloud framework. To date, G-Cloud has cost the government over £4.5 million to develop.
Cloud services have the potential to revolutionise the public sector but G-Cloud isn't helping local authorities and councils to gain access to the leading edge cloud providers they need. Demand doesn't necessarily create itself. It's up to the central government to take the lead in getting G-Cloud noticed and understood. Central government needs to make G-Cloud essential to public sector organisations looking to procure ICT services.
Uptake has been slow since the launch of the scheme, with the most recent figures showing a total of just £78 million spent through the framework (in two years, only slightly over 0.5 per cent of approximately £6.5bn UK ICT expenditure). The danger is that if those behind G-Cloud don't educate the public sector, government procurement for ICT services will continue to be handled by the same old faces, delivering the same poor outcomes for the taxpayer. Councils and local authorities that could benefit from all of the expenditure savings, innovations, agility and security of cloud computing will continue to miss out.
SMEs on the G-Cloud framework are a key driver for the UK's economic growth and the central government needs to work harder to get them seen, heard and used. Clear guidance is required on using the framework to ensure the best security and compliance levels are met by suppliers with the most innovative, cost-effective solutions.
Campbell Williams is the group strategy and marketing director at 6DG