What G-Cloud could learn from DOS
Bhuwan Kaushik, chief executive of Spectromax, argues a DOS-inspired G-Cloud would create a level playing field for all
With hundreds of completed projects and £1bn in sales to date, the G-Cloud has been a tremendous success, however you measure it. While variety and scale are a key to its success, catering to such a wide range of suppliers and buyers is incredibly difficult and it has proved a difficult balancing act at times. While it may well be the nature of the beast that the G-Cloud will never please absolutely everyone, I believe there are a few practical steps that would see it create a more level playing field for all.
Before looking at what the G-Cloud framework can be in the future, it’s important to review what we have now. G-Cloud 8 was needed to allow for G-Cloud 6 to finish, to ease the transition, but many believe it falls short of where it could be. Indeed, the Government is already pinning its hopes on G-Cloud 9, which will see much more substantial changes than 8. G-Cloud 9 could revise the current four lot structure of the framework and put an end to overlap between different iterations of the agreement. In monetary terms, I would expect 9 to exceed all existing records in regards to the number, size and value of deals completed on the framework.
That’s the good news, but where has/does the framework fall short? Previous iterations of the G-Cloud haven’t always reflected the complexities of government IT projects. Too often the process treats IT like a commodity rather than a service, with the sales cycle not unlike purchasing a car. Car buyers identify their requirements, choose a make and model to fulfil their needs and research the different offers and garages able to cater to them. This sounds reasonable, but most car buyers make their initial purchasing decision solely on price, rather than quality of service, which is the real differentiator. After all, there is little to no variation between cars of the same model. Similarly for IT projects, G-Cloud buyers often purchase based on price, without understanding service quality and compatibility until they have driven off in their new car (figuratively speaking). Instead, the IT buying process should be like buying a tailored suit – personal, meticulous and customised, involving two way communications from the very start.
G-Cloud 9 and future iterations of the framework could learn a lot from the Government’s new Digital Outcomes Specialist framework, of which I’m a big fan. The process is much less one-sided and far better reflects the nature of IT services. Buyers can say “this is what we want, can you do it?” and, upon outlining the specific requirements of the project, potential suppliers can contact them in response, rather than just waiting around to shortlisted (or not). This allows them to present a compelling case for their company and services, tailored specifically for the opportunity, with size/cost nolonger the biggest determining factor in who is approached for each project and who ultimately wins it. There is constant two-way communications, with an incredibly transparent bidding process. This ensures that projects don’t just go to the lowest cost provider, which may just be overselling their capabilities or underestimating/misunderstanding the delivery requirements. Nor do projectsalways go to the biggest names, whom buyers are more likely to have heard of. This is currently all too common, backed up by the fact that 50.4 percent of the first £1bn sold through the G-Cloud went to just 30 providers.
As well as smaller suppliers, the current situation is also stacked against new and inexperienced providers. Just as university graduates can struggle to find employment due to a lack of work experience, every provider needs to start somewhere. With the current G-Cloud framework, it’s all too easy for buyers to rule out providers based on experience (or lack thereof), and too difficult for new suppliers to prove they’re adequately equipped to do the job. Opportunities for suppliers to get their foot in the door and outline their suitability for a project are severely restrictive, often limited to general-purpose text descriptions of services and costs. Again, the DOS framework’s approach would negate this issue, as it allows providers to see the specific details of each project and customise theirbusiness pitch to match.
This isn’t to say that the G-Cloud isn’t a remarkable opportunity for buyers and providers alike. It is. To think back to the complex, cumbersome and lengthy buying processes that used to be ubiquitous in the public sector, we’ve progressed a great deal. It’s much less about who knows who, nor does the name and status of the provider dictate their success. However, with the rise of cloud services empowering a huge new wave of IT service providers, and more digital government projects than ever, we’re still a long way short of creating a truly level playing field.
I’m optimistic this can be achieved and the DOS framework is the clearest indication yet that the government is listening to and understands the demands of its suppliers. Only time will tell how future iterations of the G-Cloud framework will function, but we’re certainly heading in the right direction.