Can the Government overcome challenges to boost take-up with G-Cloud 6?
For a public service lauded for recently saving the public sector £200m in little over two years, G-Cloud gets a surprising amount of criticism.
The Government initiative was established in 2012 to save public sector money by letting SMBs bid on cloud IT contracts, and version five went live at the end of May, and has 1,132 suppliers.
That's 10% more than the total listed in version four, and many times the couple of hundred the framework launched with.
However, in the last month we've seen (and written) headlines attacking G-Cloud for being of little interest to any public body outside of Whitehall, while critics claim it lacks both search functionality and transparency.
Meanwhile the framework's users and suppliers are set for a shake-up with the advent of new security classifications from the Government, which will hand more responsibility to procurers to ensure their chosen supplier can secure their data adequately.
So how can we expect the service to change in future? And just how much is right and wrong with the public procurement initiative as it stands?
Too many cooks?
Chris Pennell, Ovum's lead analyst for the public sector, believes the Cabinet Office has done well so far, citing the number of SMBs it's managed to sign up as suppliers to the latest version.
"It's now seen as the de facto catalogue to go to for commoditised services," he says. "That shows you just how effective the Cabinet Office has been at going out and convincing suppliers that this is the route to market for cloud-based services."
But others see the number of suppliers - and their 17,000 services - as a source of potential confusion.
The Cabinet Office sent version five live with the admission that some suppliers may offer duplicate services on G-Cloud 4 and 5 - "and buyers may want to compare them" to look for savings.
However, as one G-Cloud supplier, IT security firm Skyscape, points out, there is no mechanism by which buyers can easily compare services.
Head of compliance John Godwin tells CBR: "It would be good to see how the G-Cloud website itself could capture information from suppliers and make it available in a comparable format. A consumer could select three or four different suppliers of a similar service and see how they align against each other. That would be an important feature."
Meanwhile, Pennell believes the nature of many of the suppliers has warped the nature of G-Cloud from what was originally a commodity cloud procurement service to something more focused on providing skilled technicians.
Recent figures show the highest spend comes from specialist cloud services, hitting a monthly spend peak of £24m in March, compared to second-placed SaaS services hitting a high of just £4.4m.
These 'specialist services' are basically skilled developers, demand for whom has been fuelled by Government departments embarking on long projects without the necessary expertise.
"They've spent the better part of the last decade outsourcing everything, so they're having to body shop in staff to help plug the gaps where they don't have the skills," Pennell explains.
This has led to G-Cloud stepping into the territory of another initiative, Digital Services Framework, designed to provide tech-skilled staff.
Compared to the outlay on specialist services via G-Cloud, at the end of May Digital Services had seen just £2.3m spent on nine contracts.