The Future for G-Cloud - a personal perspective
By Tony Singleton OBE - Strategic Advisor at Advice Cloud
Pretty much every article you read about G-Cloud begins with something about what a success it's been. And this one is no different. Sales using the G-Cloud framework have gone from zero to £2.4bn in five years, with 47% of those sales going to SMEs. That's over £1.1bn worth of business that SMEs may not have got from the public sector.
Many SMEs have capitalised on the opportunities that G-Cloud has opened to them. Many of our clients here at Advice Cloud have been benefitting from the framework. One example is Brandwatch, our longest standing client, who have become proud G-Cloud veterans, successfully selling to government since the 5th iteration.
It is essential that the growth in business that the public sector is doing with SMEs continues. The opportunity to work with new and innovative suppliers offers the public sector untold benefits.
So, what's next for G-Cloud?
In a recent interview, Digital Marketplace Director Warren Smith, talked about wanting to see an expansion of what has been achieved so far, including SME representation. I take this to mean increasing the number of SMEs on government frameworks. The focus on creating contracts that smaller firms can bid for is to be welcomed. It is the simplification of contracts that will continue to open up the public-sector market for potential new suppliers.
The funding that the Digital Marketplace has received from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office fund for tackling corruption in emerging countries is a great innovation. In the article, Warren talks about how this programme will allow the UK government to benefit by having three partners to work with on developing the Digital Marketplace. I would have liked to have read more about the vision for how this funding could be utilised and the future direction for G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace.
All in one place
The Crown Commercial Service (CCS) Cloud and Digital Team have rebadged themselves as ‘Gov Digital Future’. They continue to be responsible for a number of frameworks which very neatly fit into what was the Digital Marketplace mission of ‘Helping those transforming public services by making it simpler, clearer and faster for them to buy what they need’.
Although several of the frameworks that the team are responsible for are available on the Digital Marketplace, I would like to see more frameworks made available so that it lives up to its vision for the public sector to have one place to go to buy what is needed to build world-class digital services. This would include cyber security services and QA and testing. And then why not go one step further and include network services as well as tech services and products?
Meeting User Need
Five years on, the G-Cloud framework has gone through several iterations to ensure that it continues to meet user needs. One of the reasons I often heard about why G-Cloud was not being used, particularly in the wider public sector, was the two-year contract length limit. Although it was possible to recontract with the same supplier, buyers did not want to go through the hassle of doing so and service owners were concerned about the risk and disruption that moving to a new supplier would have if they couldn't continue to use the incumbent supplier. This need has been addressed as it is now possible to agree two two-year extensions giving a potential contract length of four years.
Going forward, I would be very interested to see regular summaries of the user research that was being carried out and then how the outcome of the user research was being met. The research must cover the frameworks themselves, both with respect to buyers and suppliers, as well as the Digital Marketplace platform.
Keeping it simple
New digital and IT related frameworks must meet the GDS design principles so that they are simpler, clearer and easier to use. This would mean that, as well as bringing these frameworks all into one place, the frameworks themselves should be fundamentally overhauled to ensure that they are SME friendly and meet the GDS design principles and so be simpler, clearer and faster to use.
One of the innovative and ground-breaking things about G-Cloud was the way in which the vast number of clauses that make up the normal lengthy tome that is a government contract were stripped out. This meant, for the first time, that SMEs could understand the contracts they were entering into and could sell to government using their own T&Cs. Coupled with this, it needs to be made easy for suppliers to apply, or bid, to be on the framework. This isn’t hard to do. It’s just a matter of building on the lessons learned from G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace and applying those lessons across other frameworks and the way in which they are tendered for.
In this way, CCS and GDS will continue to encourage a competitive market and stimulate a responsive, evolving market that contains:
- the right range of products and services
- the right people to provide products and services
- the right price and value against products and services
To continue to iterate and improve G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace will require proper funding and resourcing. The innovative approach that GDS are taking to secure funding from the FCO would help offset platform development costs by allowing some of the additional functionality to be developed by overseas partners.
Leaving this to one side, there is a very compelling case to properly fund and resource the future development of the Digital Marketplace and the frameworks made available on it. It has been proven that it:
- saves money for the taxpayer by continuing to drive costs out, efficiency in and expose departments to the type of private sector innovation they should be investing in
- provides access for innovative suppliers and continue to support and encourage growth in the SME marketplace;
- benefits local economies through the wider use of SMEs
About the Author: Tony Singleton OBE is a Strategic Advisor at Advice Cloud, a public sector procurement consultancy. He has over 35 years of senior experience in government. As the former G-Cloud and digital commercial programme director at GDS, he was the driving force behind the government’s Digital Marketplace. He was also twice been named one of the top 50 most influential people in UK IT.