G-Cloud iv is upon us - and there are significant changes. The absorption into the Government Procurement Service (GPS) will boost resources, and an improved invitation to tender process has clearer instructions on how to access suppliers.
The use of two tender submission processes will help streamline the exchange of services. G-Cloud has achieved real success in meeting its primary objective of helping government bodies to access IT services from SMBs. However, beneath the shiny veneer, issues remain.
G-Cloud spend, including G i, G ii and G iii, totalled £44.7m by the end of August; there is still work to be done to reach £120m by 2014-15 as promised by Denise McDonagh. Of the 832 suppliers 83 per cent are SMBs, but only 55.3 per cent of total sales by value and 63.4 per cent by number were awarded to SMBs.
Established large suppliers are still taking almost half the pot.
Of course, public sector organisations are notoriously risk averse, preferring to select known and trusted suppliers. This can be expensive and stifle innovation, which is why the government mandated a 'cloud first' policy in May.
G-Cloud seeks to provide the reassurance and access necessary to connect with vetted SMB suppliers, but the open marketplace concept at the heart of the Cloudstore initiative has been compromised.
Some of the largest suppliers are using SMB partners as little more than shopfronts to deliver services.
Moreover, those same suppliers can afford to sell low with loss-leading services to get their foot in the door.
The protracted tender process has also been a sticking point for SMBs. Hopefully, the changes incorporated in
G iv will address this as there are two key improvements under the Agile development framework to ensure supplier compliance.
First, the GPS eSourcing suite will handle responses to mandatory questions that form part of procurement regulations, and then we will see the Government Digital Service (GDS) submission portal used for the mandatory upload of documents to the Cloudstore.
These are certainly steps in the right direction, given the long procurement processes of the past.
Suppliers of services will be able to offer accredited services to the Public Sector Network (PSN) community via the ‘network of networks' model. But many SMBs are locked out of the PSN, while their larger counterparts already have access via its precursor, the Government Secure Intranet (GSI). To gain access, one must jump through a great many hoops.
Those selling PSN-available services and those seeking formal accreditation must negotiate a complex range of processes, codes and accreditation requirements; in short, a transition or PSN on-boarding process that will place further demands on resources, unless the SMB seeks assistance from a third party.
The government's ambitious but laudable aim is for 25 per cent of contracts to go to the SMB sector by 2015. Achieving this will require further advances.
Delivery mechanisms must become more transparent; government will need to look at the quality of controls around the delivery of awarded contracts - as well as pricing - to prevent large suppliers pricing SMBs out of the market, and SMBs will need assistance to overcome procurement obstacles and to get on the PSN.
G-Cloud has flattened the landscape for IT services delivery to government. Any organisation willing to go through the application processes and comply with the requirements now has a chance of winning contracts. But the scales are still tilted one way, so G-Cloud must continue to evolve with SMBs helping one another, particularly when it comes to negotiating the PSN.
Louise Dunne is managing director of Auriga
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