In 2010, the incoming Coalition set very high targets for not just public sector ICT procurement reform, but the number of new contenders it wanted to see in the supply chain as alternatives to the big suppliers - the notorious 'oligopoly'.
Five years on, most observers see definite progress - but sluggish initial take up of G-Cloud through what was at first called the CloudStore and what is seen as drift in leadership as a result of the May 2015 General Election and the associated departure of energised G-Cloud convert Francis Maude, the sceptics are gathering on the sidelines to suggest the UK public sector's conversion to 'cloud first' - a policy now two and a half years old - may be more about rhetoric than reality.
So with all eyes on the next iteration of all this - G-Cloud 7, with services off that latest version of the UK government's cloud-delivered ICT goods and services framework set to be open as of 23 November - questions continue to be raised about what the Government Digital Service wishes we'd all start calling The Digital Marketplace.
24n.biz decided to test the reality of all this by going out to the market and talking to the new blood GDS wants to see coming in. The result is our new editorial stream, The Digital Marketplace Contenders - a slot where we hear from real companies about their real experiences trying to get into that SME-friendly cloud-delivered supply chain people like Maude told us was coming.
So let's meet our first such Contender - Booking Live, a 10-person tech firm based in Bristol that only set up shop in 2007. Booking Live produces an online booking system and which operates in no less than six distinct markets, including local government and the NHS. The company has had successful engagements at Hampshire County Council and Herefordshire County Council, and says it's also worked for NHS Croydon Clinical Skills, David Lloyd Leisure, Guildford Council and Nottinghamshire County Council.
So why go on the G-Cloud? Let's hear from its Head of Marketing Caitlin Roxburgh to find out the view from the coal face.
Thanks for agreeing to talk to us here on 24n.biz, Caitlin. So what made you guys decide to look into G-Cloud?
We had started to work for a large central governmental body which encouraged us to start looking at getting formally engaged with the G-Cloud. We'd also started to find that an increasing number of our NHS and local authority clients and prospects were starting to say they couldn't really work with us unless we were on the framework, too.
How had you got these other public sector customers, then?
Mostly from direct contact or organic growth - through referrals, basically. But we knew that we needed to change our approach if we were serious about getting bigger in the public sector market.
I see. So when did you decide to apply?
We actually had wanted to get on to G-Cloud 6, but we missed the boat. Actually, we knew that was unrealistic at the time due to our then lack of resource - we were all pretty stretched with project work and we soon found out that we needed to dedicate a lot of effort into collating all the information the process required. Which is fair enough, it's a government framework, but we just didn't have capacity for it back then.
Aha, ok. So what changed between 6 and 7?
Like I said, we knew we needed to get on it so we put a lot more effort and company time into the application cycle.
And how did you find that application cycle?
To be honest with you, pretty straightforward. We found a lot of information online to help us and we used the G-Cloud blog a lot - we like the amount of help it offers via its blogs very useful, and also the way if you sign up for emails it keeps you up to date so you don't have to keep on checking for new posts. We also went to a great supplier roadshow local to us that answered a lot of questions, as it had information on both the application procedure but also had a successful applicant supplier speaking, too. We still had a lot of work to do - there's a lot of data to collect! But those resources definitely helped!
OK, good to hear. Looking back now, what might have helped a bit more, if anything?
Well, yes, two things. One is deadlines and visibility. It really helps a small company like ours if we know when things are happening, as it helps focus you if you know we have to pull things together by such and such a date. That didn't happen for G-Cloud 7, and though we were told it would be August it all needed to be done by the start of September. Not a big gap, but our feedback to GDS is definitely that clearer deadlines help people like us.
Also, branding. It's confusing it sometimes being called G-Cloud and sometimes the Marketplace. We got a bit confused, to be honest, as to what was what at any given time - are they different terms for the same thing or not? Minor in a way, but that seems a bit needless to us, that lack of clarity.
Right. So where are you now with all this, despite those niggles?
We got our application in on time and are pretty confident we're going to be OK, touch wood - should hear around November 9.
Good luck, obviously! Can you sum up again why you think all this hard work was worth it, assuming you do?
We do - actually, we know we had to do it. We need to be on the framework to get the work we want in the sector, to stand a chance of selection, so it's commercially very important for us. Secondly, doing all this gives us, we think, real competitive advantage and demonstrates real commitment to this important market. There is definitely work to be done here, but it's work that offers value, and we do appreciate the help that GDS offers to make that as straightforward as possible.
Great. Any final advice or feedback for the people behind all this?
Clarity, really: that's what companies like us want - clarity on terminology and deadlines. But we would definitely recommend it to other smaller firms, if they want to get into local government and public sector work.
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