The Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) decision to put off making major changes to the G-Cloud procurement framework, by rolling back plans to delay the launch of its 10th iteration, could be to its detriment, it is claimed.
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The government procurement chiefs at CCS confirmed on 6 March 2018 that it will be inviting bids from prospective suppliers looking to join G-Cloud 10 from next month, with CCS offering June 2018 as a potential go-live date for the next version of the framework.
CCS initially told suppliers, back in November 2017, it was taking up the option to extend the life of G-Cloud 9 by up to 12 months, potentially pushing back the go-live date for its successor to 21 May 2019, at the latest.
This would give it time to introduce some user-centric “functionality improvements” in G-Cloud 10 that would be difficult to achieve if it launched in May 2018, as expected.
“It is precisely because of the success of the G-Cloud approach we are taking this action – we want to grow this, make it even more flexible, and open the approach up to more services,” said CCS at the time.
While CCS stopped short of revealing too much about how it plans to achieve this, calls from suppliers for the Digital Marketplace to adopt a dynamic purchasing system have persisted for several years now.
There have also been demands for changes that would ease some of the administrative burden SMEs face when applying to have their services included on the framework, for example, or when logging details of the business they have secured through it with CCS.
A wider pool of suppliers
One of the founding principles of G-Cloud was to open up government IT contracts to a wider pool of suppliers, with particularly emphasis on ensuring SMEs got much more of a look-in.
According to the most up-to-date G-Cloud spending figures, 48% of total sales by value from launch have gone to SME IT suppliers, up to 31 December 2017. Just over a year ago, that percentage stood at 56%.
This is, perhaps, another reason why SME-focused improvements should be on the CCS’s G-Cloud to-do list, but – with G-Cloud 10 now on course to launch just one month later than billed, it is unclear if the next iteration will see much change ushered in at all.
In a statement to Computer Weekly, on this point, CCS confirmed it had decided against trying to make too many changes to the framework at once.
“We have decided to re-let the framework first and then deliver enhancements over the course of its lifetime, rather than deliver enhancements and then re-let,” a CCS spokesperson said, in a statement to Computer Weekly.
The statement goes on to suggest market feedback had a role to play in the decision, as news of the delay provoked a mixed response from suppliers and industry analysts, with some claiming it would hamper public sector innovation.
Particularly as new G-Cloud products and services can only be added to the framework every time a new version of it launches, prompting concerns a year-long delay could preclude public sector organisations from accessing the latest and greatest in cloud technologies.
“We’ve also listened to feedback from customers who want to be able to access the latest services, and suppliers, who want to be able to offer them,” the CCS spokesperson added..
Rob Anderson, principal analyst for central government at market watcher GlobalData, outlined his broad support for the delay at the time, claiming the proffered changes could pave the way for more public sector organisations to engage with G-Cloud.
In a follow-up call with Computer Weekly, Anderson said the CCS may come to regret its decision, as it could contribute towards user and supplier gripes about how the framework operates escalating.
“[CCS] has brought it forward because people are saying they need [a G-Cloud refresh] quicker, and without creating those new facilities, and I think it will end up being to its detriment,” he said.
“It’s just going to be more of the same, and ultimately they’re backing the issue they’re going to have further down the line.”
Major change afoot
There is evidence to suggest that major change in G-Cloud could be afoot, given GDS published a tender on 6 March 2018 seeking design and implementation support for some “digital, data and technology procurement and contracting reforms” that will be used across government.
“That suggests GDS is seeking help from the market to either redesign the Digital Outcomes and Services Framework, or G-Cloud, or the like, and it is a 12-month thing,” said Anderson.
“The GDS part of the government has clearly decided it has not got the time to do this [work] internally, and need help to bring this in, and that has played a part in CCS saying we may as well get the new version out as is. And it shows up the cracks in the delivery internally.”
What all this toing and froing over when the G-Cloud 10 launch date will be all serves to highlight what government procurement chiefs must do to stop suppliers and IT buyers losing faith in the framework.
“I’m a great fan of the Digital Marketplace and what it’s done to improve government procurement, but there needs to be a greater clarity of vision, and not this constant run of ‘oh, we’re doing this’ and then ‘no we’re not,” said Anderson.
“There needs to be a consistent way forward, because otherwise people are going to lose confidence that this is the way forward, and then everyone loses out.
“Suppliers will lose a quick and easy way to buy what they want, and CCS are targeted on growing these frameworks, so they’re going to be the ones that lose out the most,” he concluded.