15 July 2016

G-Cloud 9: the necessity of making changes at a procurement level

Warren Smith, the head of G-Cloud and the DOS framework, has recently committed to starting G-Cloud 9 from scratch. This is certainly a step in the right direction and his focus on engaging with local government is particularly encouraging.

However, all of us that have been involved in local government IT procurement know that there need to be wider changes if there is to be a step change in the usage of frameworks such as G-Cloud.

The original aims of G-Cloud remain sound. Indeed, it could be argued that local government can actually get more value from G-Cloud than other parts of government, both to make the purchasing process easier and for the public sector to implement the best, most innovative solutions; from companies of all sizes.

This is much easier said than done, particularly it seems with local government, which remains very much behind the curve, especially when compared to central government department levels of engagement.

Whilst we on the whole welcome a full revision of the framework, in order to increase local government buy-in there needs to be more fundamental change, not necessarily just in the nuts and bolts of how the framework runs.

I have experienced how local councils can be a fearful place. Not only do you have a line manager, a supervisor, a portfolio holder and a chief executive, you also have a number of elected members and of course an electorate--all of whom are looking to deliver the best for their own masters.

Decision making within this context can be like entering a bear pit, especially within councils with no overall control. Procurement decisions can frequently face scrutiny at multiple levels, leading to guessing, second guessing, political point scoring and directional changes.

On top of that, we have a whole sea change potential every four years or less in some cases. How really, can one truly expect to make pragmatic, strategic decisions in such an environment?

Does this give councils the confidence to look at large capital projects within the IT infrastructure, which, whilst improving services, would be a large expense, and not necessarily as visible as keeping front line services operating?

What needs to happen is a wider, cultural shift, one that facilitates decision making, both from a capital and an empowerment basis.

Should councillors, who have no pre-requisite to be business experts when they are elected, have the ability to change the playing field to the extent that they do? Of course there is a more fundamental question here, but in order to facilitate proper planning and strategies, questions do need to be debated as to how this can be made possible, or at least extents thereof.

As well as the wider changes at a procurement level there needs to be much more of a focus on ensuring that local government departments are fully up-to-speed with G-Cloud and it’s potential.

Local government has no fear of spending budget on SaaS. Some of our biggest contracts remain with local government but they are almost all exclusively done outside of the framework. There is a responsibility from Warren Smith and his team, as well as vendors, to ensure that the benefits are well communicated.

The G-Cloud framework was set up to give local government more access to smaller, more innovative companies, that can offer great solutions for a great price. The obsession remains very much with the traditional vendors, which means something is clearly broken at this level. More education and effort needs to be put in alongside the wider procurement changes to ensure that local government is fully aware of the potentially fantastic impact working across the framework can have.

But there is hope here. If Smith can truly get G-Cloud into a position where it can provide the entire public sector with access to the extraordinary level of innovation that exists within SMEs in the UK, then that has to be good for those companies, the public sector and most importantly the tax payer.

Chris Proctor is a former councillor and chief executive officer with supplier Oneserve.

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