The new government cloud (G-Cloud) framework looks set to establish itself as a major component of the open, competitive platform envisaged in the coalition government’s IT strategy.
In place of the approach once peddled by some existing large suppliers — designed merely to stick a label marked ‘cloud’ over their existing data centres — G-Cloud has matured into something much more radical and much more disruptive to the cosy oligopoly of large suppliers.
Initial costings from potential G-Cloud providers indicate savings of 50 per cent or more for many commodity service lines such as office productivity and collaboration.
These dramatic new price points will add significant momentum to moving government services into the public cloud, while exerting substantial downward pressure on existing prices and contracts.
Such positive progress is welcome evidence that the era of a few large suppliers providing bespoke IT services into government at premium rates is coming to an end.
The levels of innovation and cost reduction needed in the UK’s public sector will only be delivered through a wholesale shift away from large, top-down and proprietary systems and services built and maintained within large outsourcing contracts.
In their place is being cultivated an open marketplace of suppliers incentivised and encouraged to innovate using standard, commodity platforms and underpinned by competitive pricing built around standard service lines that meet user, rather than vendor, needs.
Alongside these practical reforms, questions are being asked about the relationship between IT and public services.
These no longer start from the narrow perspective of: “Is this a good IT proposal?”, but from a far more fundamental viewpoint: “Is this agency or department or bureaucracy needed in an age of digital by default?”
The disintermediation, redesign and operational efficiencies that IT has long enabled elsewhere are now beginning to permeate the culture of the public sector.
What is taking place in Whitehall is not primarily about technology but about a fundamental and long-term cultural shift.
Successful reform on this scale is likely to prove a challenging task, as reintroducing a genuinely level playing field and restoring an open market is anathema to suppliers long accustomed to business generously defaulting in their favour.
The task now is to ensure that new services such as G-Cloud are rapidly adopted, accelerating the pace at which providing better public services for less can be achieved.