G-Cloud, Government Strategy for Digital Britain

SMARTER, CHEAPER, GREENER is the underpinning strategy of ICT provision in the modern public sector. A significant strand of Lord Carter’s ‘Digital Britain‘ report relates to the provision of G-Cloud (government’s virtual public services network) and G-AS (an application store to facilitate business application re-use), pillars of ‘future state’ Cloud Computing enabled public sector services.

English: Cloud Computing
Cloud Computing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The vision is bold and set against a backdrop of widespread fiscal temperance. There is an urgency to leverage G-Cloud’s benefits, which is predicted as a key enabler in a £3.2bn per annum efficiency saving as outlined by the Operational Efficiency Programme.

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Prudence demands a robust business case and risk managed implementation. Re-use, agility, increased competition and market levelling, innovation in commercial models and contractual vehicles, procurement simplification (and others) are quantifiable and important facets.

G-Cloud and Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing is aggressively enabling new opportunity in commoditisation and rationalisation of ICT supply, providing shared services via public or private implementations, by means of a utility model.

Cloud Computing is naturally geared towards economies of scale in operations, procurement and management, and supports on-demand and flexible utilisation-based consumption models.

Cloud services in government will centralise purchasing power, facilitate improved leverage of software licensing (and increase the use of Open Source software), reduce procurement complexity and timescales, streamline ICT provision and excitingly provide new engagement potential for small- and mid-size suppliers (an aspect much more ascendant in the public sector in the US). Cloud Computing further enables innovative delivery models such as transaction-based charging.

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Key Challenges

Key challenges centre on governance, security, scalability, resilience, vendor selection (and lock in avoidance), business change within government, migration to future state operation and ultimately public confidence.

The enormity of shift must not be underestimated. People, process and technology are impacted whilst concurrently requiring uninterrupted provision of public services and core internal business functions.

Transformation planning needs to account for a multitude of existing service contracts; an impetuous to align ongoing procurement to the G-Cloud and G-AS vision is therefore pressing (recognised in government’s CIO Council/Intellect strategy report advocating a ‘double lock’ mechanism on significant ICT spending).

Perceived threat to incumbent provider revenue will require careful relationship management, and sophistication of implementation planning to mitigate a potential investment ‘trough’. Astute Systems Integrators will grasp the ‘step change’ in the commoditisation of the Enterprise Systems market and adjust strategy accordingly.

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G-Cloud and Economies of Scale

Shared infrastructure and on-demand capacity sourcing will drive cost reduction through economies of scale and associated efficiencies (ultimately focusing pan-governmental alignment of ICT provision). This has an inherent benefit in terms of Green IT. Uptake will (and must) span not only central government, but also regional and local authorities and in other sectors across entities such as primary care trusts. Systems security and secure handling of personal information will be high on the public agenda.

‘Cloud Computing outages’ have occasionally blighted public implementations and will be unacceptable. Government will play a central role in driving maturity of the Cloud Computing space. Interoperability standards, best practices, design patterns and, importantly, security principles all require close private sector engagement.

Initial implementation will undoubtedly focus on back office functions and rationalisation of ‘simple’ commodities (such as line of business applications).

G-AS plans to deliver a prototype in the first half of 2010 and G-Cloud aims to be ‘operational’ by the end of the year. We have entered an exciting, revolutionary and somewhat disruptive transitional epoch.

Article first appeared in Public Service Review, June 2010.

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