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26 July 2018

G-Cloud 10 expands opportunities for SMEs

Written by Shane Richmond (Guest)

Shane Richmond is a freelance technology writer and former Technology Editor of The Daily Telegraph. You can follow him at @shanerichmond

G-Cloud 10 launched at the beginning of July, once again giving suppliers the chance to reach local authorities, government bodies and research institutes with their services. The G-Cloud initiative was announced in 2011 and launched in 2012, as part of a plan to open up government and public sector IT to small and medium enterprise (SME) suppliers, and move local and national government in the UK to a ‘cloud first’ approach and cut costs for IT procurement.

It provides framework agreements so that public sector bodies can buy services from suppliers without running a time-consuming procurement process, and a Digital Marketplace that public sector organisations can use to search for suppliers who can meet their needs.

Suppliers have to apply to be part of the marketplace and each new iteration of G-Cloud allows them to add new features or alter pricing. New iterations typically launch every nine months or so, though G-Cloud 10 comes over a year after G-Cloud 9. It adds GDPR clauses and cyber security to the framework.

When G-Cloud first launched, it did so with a little over 700 companies, 80 percent of which were SMEs. G-Cloud 10 includes 3,505 suppliers, across three categories: cloud hosting, cloud software and cloud support. Just under 300 firms are accredited across all three and there are 658 new suppliers for this iteration. The Government Digital Service says that 90 percent of G-Cloud suppliers are SMEs.

Government technology in the UK is an £18bn annual market and cumulative sales through G-Cloud were just £3.13bn up to March 2018. That means that G-Cloud has accounted for, very roughly, less than three per cent of government spending over the six years that it’s been operating. It’s clear that G-Cloud has not yet revolutionised government IT procurement, long associated with late, expensive and unwieldy projects delivered by the big tech and consultancy firms.

It’s also moving slower than intended. The government aims to launch new iterations of the framework every six-to-nine months but, as mentioned above, G-Cloud 10 comes more than a year after G-Cloud 9 and that only seems to have happened because of pressure from suppliers. The government had initially warned that G-Cloud 10 might not launch until May 2019. That would have committed suppliers to service and pricing levels for far longer than they are happy with.

Chris Farthing, managing director of Advice Cloud, a procurement consultancy, said: _“The economic conditions mean that you may need to change your prices.” _He added: “I think it’s massively important and I would like to see the return of the six-month refresh, just because of the way the market is constantly changing.”

Others have criticised some suppliers for going “off-framework” and doing deals that don’t abide by the rules set for others. The Crown Commercial Service should police this but doesn’t have a large staff to work with. It can also be hard for buyers to find what they want because the marketplace delivers long lists of search results that can be hard to sift through.

Advice Cloud reported in 2016 that 80 percent of SaaS vendors on G-Cloud had no sales at all. Simply being listed on the Digital Marketplace is not enough.

Those who want to get the most out of G-Cloud can help by ensuring that they are compliant. That means making sure they are listed in the correct category and that they have correct pricing and T&Cs. After that, the rules of search engine optimisation apply, just as they do on the web. Getting found in the Digital Marketplace means having the relevant keywords in your listing and describing yourself in the language that your customers would use.

Despite the pioneering approach of G-Cloud – Claire Edwards, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, describes it as “a model other countries should follow" – those buying the services still have the same struggles with legacy systems and services that are not joined-up. Suppliers have to put in the work to understand their needs and build relationships with them, just as they do with their other customers.

The government’s plan is to move beyond ‘cloud first’ into a ‘cloud native’ environment, which should offer more encouragement for suppliers. G-Cloud has the potential to profoundly change the way that public sector IT operates.

Notwithstanding the concerns, G-Cloud is clearly opening routes to public sector contracts for SMEs that would not have been able to access them previously. The playing field isn’t level, but the government has at least ensured that SMEs get to play on it some of the time.

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