G-Cloud has been the subject of much analysis and criticism since its inception in 2012. It is an easy target. Persuading large chunks of the public sector to give up the way they have undertaken IT procurement for years was always going to be a long game, and there have been a number of problems along the way.
That said, we believe that there remains huge potential for vendors, the channel, and end users to get something valuable from the framework; to make the purchasing process easier and for the public sector to implement the best, most innovative solutions, from companies of all sizes.
This is much easier said than done, particularly it seems with local government, which remains very much behind the curve compared with central government department levels of engagement. To increase local government buy-in there needs to be fundamental change, not necessarily in the nuts and bolts of how the framework runs, or who runs it, but at a base level of local government procurement.
I come at this from a fairly unique angle. As a former councillor for Southampton City Council, I have straddled both sides of the fence and witnessed some of the issues that continue to hold back local government involvement in initiatives such as G-Cloud.
If we look at some of the recently released figures we can see that of the 433 local government authorities in the UK, only 42 per cent have utilised G-Cloud.
Of those 183 local councils that have purchased via G-Cloud, their contribution accounts for just five per cent of the total £1bn; amounting to £50m. Of this £50m, £25m comes from the top five councils, with Bristol City Council accounting for £11.4m.
Obviously, the budgets and spending powers of local and central government are fundamentally different; however, local governments are also the ones that stand to gain the most from an efficient procurement process.
The danger of not solving the issue at the core, or at least acknowledging it, is that more money is spent developing frameworks and platforms that once again miss because they fundamentally fail to address the point.
Local councils can be a fearful place. Not only do you have a line manager, a supervisor, a portfolio holder and a chief executive, you also have a number of elected members, and of course, an electorate. All of whom are looking to deliver the best for their own masters.
Decision making within this context can be like entering a bear pit, especially within councils with no overall control. Procurement decisions can frequently face scrutiny at multiple levels, leading to guessing, second guessing, political point scoring and directional changes.
On top of that, we have the potential for a sea change every four years – or less, in some cases. How can one truly expect to make pragmatic, strategic decisions in such an environment?
Does this give councils the confidence to look at large-capital projects within the IT infrastructure which, while improving services, would be a large expense and not necessarily as visible as keeping front-line services operating?
We need a wider, cultural shift; one that facilitates decision making, both from a capital and an empowerment basis.
Should councillors, who have no pre-requisite to be business experts, have the ability to change the playing field to the extent that they do? There is of course a more fundamental question here, but in order to facilitate proper planning and strategies, questions need to be debated as to how this can be made possible, or at least extents thereof.
Alongside this there needs to be an emphasis on educating the market as to the benefits (while reassuring them of the positives of working with smaller companies), and it is here that the channel can make an impact.
The role that the channel plays means that it is perfectly placed to engage with local government, helping to take away some of the barriers to adoption that from a vendor perspective we just couldn't reach. This, alongside the wider changes that need to happen at a procurement level, could free up procurement and IT departments to make a step towards G-Cloud that they are unwilling to make at the moment.
Channel players that are willing to take on this role would have an advantage as they gain a foothold in a market that has huge potential if opened up. There are 433 local government authorities in this country, all with specific needs from their IT systems. The channel would have a huge role in helping them step from traditional procurement routes to embracing G-Cloud and benefitting from working with the great talent and innovative solutions that lie outside the current oligopoly of major players that dominate the market.
Chris Proctor is a former councillor and chief executive officer of IT supplier Oneserve.
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