This article is part of a monthly blog series from Chris Chant, who was responsible for setting the strategy for the use of cloud computing across the public sector. Here he responds to a recent story from the BBC on councils’ use of G-Cloud that he believes was misleading.
There are some great technology journalists and bloggers, some great technology sites and there have been some insightful articles written about G-Cloud in the short time it’s been around.
Unfortunately though, the bad outstrip the good by an order of magnitude. Many articles demonstrate a lack of basic research and understanding. Surprisingly, after the recent furore over news quality, the BBC article ‘Councils ‘wasting millions’ ignoring government IT cloud’ fits firmly into this category.
G-Cloud as we know it today was primarily conceived for central Government — I know, I designed it. At the time many politicians, special advisors and officials alike thought the programme should ignore the wider public sector. Many of the same thought we should not be doing it at all.
However, making it available to the wider public sector would require little extra effort and in return could save a lot of resources. Indeed, the significant — and critical — role played in the design phase by local authorities in particular confirmed this.
Local authorities and the wider public sector have been doing far better at delivering lower-cost user-centric IT services than central Government for as long as I can remember. I have said so publicly on many occasions. But the way that he article makes the distinction between the two is crass at best.
Socitm shared my dismay. They published a response to both the BBC article and a similar piece in Computer Weekly which said that the criticism of councils for wasting money by ignoring G-Cloud was “based on a poor understanding of how councils procure and deploy IT”.
Socitm challenged the conclusions that IT company Bull drew from their research based on 27 FOI requests submitted to English county councils: low use of G-Cloud does not correlate with low use of cloud services and many councils are using cloud services from other procurement frameworks or procured directly from vendors like Google. They also mention that the single year ‘snapshot’ they created does not capture significant one-off spending via G-Cloud.
The situation is far more complex than this article even begins to address. Taking full, appropriate advantage of the seismic change in technology is equally complex. It will take new skills, which are in short supply, and even big ‘in-house’ IT teams most likely won’t have all the skills needed.
But it can be done and there are folks out there like Tonino Ciuffini at Warwickshire County Council and Windsor and Maidenhead’s Rocco Labellarte doing it already. Central Government, public sector professional bodies like Socitm and G-Cloud suppliers need to work together to facilitate this change.
Government procurement and the way it implements technology is not important just because of the obvious cost implication but, perhaps more importantly, for the way it can benefit citizens, business and UK IT itself.
I can think of only one benefit that this article brings and that is that people are talking about public sector IT more. I hope that this will lead to greater sharing of success stories and change strategies.
Chris Chant works with niche consultancy Rainmaker. Previously he served in a number of roles in central government including Ex-Executive Director of the G-Cloud Programme; Interim Executive Director of Government Digital Service (GDS); and Executive Director of Direct Gov and Digital Engagement in the Cabinet Office. He was responsible for the implementation of the Martha Lane-Fox report ‘Revolution not Evolution’ and also launched the Alpha version of the new Gov.UK website.
This is a reproduction of an article Chris Chant contributed to the Local Digital Campaign.