G-Cloud 11 is here, so how are you going to use it?

Hello and Welcome to this G-Cloud 11 interview. My name is Vrush from the product marketing team and I’m joined today by commercial director Nicky Stewart, who’s going to be sharing her thoughts on the G-Cloud framework, now that G-Cloud 11 has opened for business. This forms part of a series of exclusive G-Cloud material. So, look out for more blogs and webinars to be released this week on G-Cloud 11.

G-Cloud 11 is here, how are we going to use it?

So, G-Cloud’s come a long, long way hasn’t it, the first iteration was in 2012 with about 230 suppliers. We are now 7 years down the line. We now have thousands of suppliers, thousands of services and slightly less than 5 billion pounds worth of spend has gone through the framework in the last 7 years so it’s a huge massive thing.

Absolutely yeah, and if we take a little step back then, before G-Cloud came into play. In your opinion what were the barriers to procuring cloud in the public sector before the G-Cloud framework?

There were many and various. The first thing was that that people literally didn’t know how they could buy it, because cloud was so new and public sector buyers had to make sure that everything they do is in compliance with the regulations – OJEU compliance.

There simply weren’t frameworks available that had cloud services available to them in a compliant way. The main cloud providers at the time, were not really interested in what was a very, very small demand from the UK public sector at the time. So, you weren’t really seeing OJEU tenders going out from buyers saying, “we want some cloud” and cloud providers responding to them, so there wasn’t really a way of doing it. In fact, what tended to happen was, bits and pieces of cloud would be spun up across departments often using a government purchasing card or payment card and it was done in a very spotty way.

In addition, the other barriers to moving to the cloud were the state of the legacy contracts at the time – legacy contracts are typically characterized by being very large, very complicated, generally long-term and extremely difficult and expensive to exit from. We’re seeing changes in that, obviously, but you know going back 7, 8 or 9 years government was effectively locked down into its legacy.

Cloud was an unknown as well, so going back to pre G-Cloud days, there were all kinds of unknowns and concerns around for example; data jurisdiction, data location? What were the security implications of cloud? Government simply wasn’t used to exporting all its data and giving it to a third party turned to hold with a “we don’t actually know who your neighbours were going to be?” so cloud was actually quite challenging for government. Although, there were some visionaries at the time who absolutely recognized the huge benefits that cloud could bring, both in terms of low cost, value for money and agility.

You talked a lot there around the difficulties of procuring cloud services? What options or vehicles were available to organizations pre G-Cloud? If any?

Well effectively none really, other than going and doing this sort of sort of “shadow IT thing” which definitely was happening, there’s no doubt about that. They could have gone out and done an OJEU tender for cloud if they wanted to, but that didn’t really happen at all. I think at the time if were going back about 8 years, one framework at the time, which existed where technically you might have been able to buy some cloud through it, but it wasn’t particularly well known and it wasn’t tested so there really wasn’t an option and G-Cloud in some shape or form had to happen to enable government to do this transition to cloud.

How does the G-Cloud framework enable – both from supplier perspective trying to sell their cloud services and from a buyer perspective looking to buy sovereign cloud services?

G-Cloud changed the game, from a supplier perspective what it did was it opened up the market massively, and it did that in a number of ways. First, it had a very low barrier to entry, so there were some qualification criteria that a supplier had to meet, to show that they were fit to do business with government. But, what the Crown Commercial Services or, Government Procurement Services, as they were at the time didn’t do, was to say “we are going to limit this lot to having only 5 or 10 suppliers, which is what is typical with the majority of framework agreements, so it meant effectively that if a provider felt they had a service, that that that was marketable in that market, in that very nascent market that they had a foot in the door so that’s the first thing.

Second thing was that G-Cloud was I think, pretty much unprecedented in the level of transparency that it gave buyers around services. The buyer could go onto the digital marketplace, they could look at the supplier’s products and services, the prices were published as well as the service features and characteristics. This is information, which typically would be “oh that’s commercial in confidence, we can’t possibly tell you that, give us a proposal and we’ll respond with the price” so it was a game changer from that perspective also.

The buying process under G-Cloud when it’s done properly is quite straightforward and simple provided that the excellent guidance from CCS is followed. It’s question of making sure that you’ve got an approved business case so you can actually go buy it. But also going in determining what your criteria are going to be and searching and creating long lists & short lists, then further qualifications generally needed so it’s possible to buy cloud services relatively quickly. If you think that your average OJEU takes as a minimum 30 days, G-Cloud can be and has been done by some buyers in days and even more quickly!

So that’s kind of unprecedented, especially in public sector procurement, having that kind of level of agility and speed of getting IT services so that really has been a game changer from the G-Cloud Framework’s perspective.

Yeah, it has and I think if you look at it more widely as well, what G-Cloud enabled was new market entrant SMEs, not only to get a toehold in the market, but actually what these new market entrants and SMEs were doing were actually offering a vast range of innovative and real value for money services, which had not been available to buyers before. Or if they had, they had been through prime contractors who were obviously putting margin on them and wrapping their services up in the legacy contracts. So, this was completely different and there were a couple of ground rules which suppliers, or some suppliers I think, found quite difficult to take on board, such as the concept of ‘we can walk away from this, this is a commodity so we can terminate this contract for no cause if we want to’ and that makes sense, if you’re buying a commodity and you’re just paying for what you use when you need it if you stopped consuming you’ve effectively stopped the contract. That makes sense as cloud hinges upon that pay as you go kind of principle. Yeah, absolutely the other concept was you don’t raise your prices, so the price that you submit when you make your G-Cloud submission is, the price – end of. You’re not going to get into negotiation with the customer about the prices and if you do drop your price, you have to make it available to everybody.

That’s really good practice and we’re actually seeing that now reflected in other frameworks that CCS and so on are tendering as the norm now.

Typically government ICT before the G-Cloud frameworks were probably wrapped up in a few service integrators (SI) and providers, but now through the G-Cloud framework we’re actually expanding that through so more SMEs are coming forward on that framework.

What does the G-Cloud framework mean for UKCloud Nicky?

G-Cloud has been tremendously important for UKCloud. UKCloud was founded in 2011 and specifically in response to governments emerging cloud requirement. One of the first things that UKCloud did in 2011, was respond to the first original G-Cloud tender, which at the time was a very different process from the rather slick and easy process that we have now on the Digital Marketplace. It was in-fact, always described as the ‘spreadsheet from hell’ as it was.

We got on that framework and that enabled us to do business with government and it gave us an opportunity that we might never have had otherwise, unless we were prepared to go into a supply chain with an SI in a more conventional arrangement. What we then had to do along with a number of other suppliers, was to make sure that we got the necessary accreditations to show that our services were secure and met governments security standards, that we had the relevant ISO certifications, and by doing all of that, and actually let’s not beat around the bush, making an investment in that, it gave us first mover advantage. As the government started to move towards cloud and that was led by a small number of large government departments, we were lucky enough to win some significant business and obviously, once you start doing business with government and getting a reputation the business grows and what we were also able to do was to bring partners alongside us onto G-Cloud. Partners would be using our platform to back their solutions on and that started with the original G-Cloud, I think we brought through two or three partners and now we’re over 200 partners aren’t we. Indeed, so it’s been really good for us and actually you know, if it wasn’t for G-Cloud, we wouldn’t have the kind of footprint and reputation that we’ve got in this market and we probably wouldn’t be a company that is turning over 10s of millions and actually we’ve created well over 200 jobs and we are running an apprentice program and an undergraduate program, so therefore we are also contributing to the UK’s skill and talent pool for digital.

So, hugely impactful for us as a business. I think from my perspective from certainly a product perspective I think it’s fair to say that we continue to innovate each G-Cloud iteration and add more services. I mean, this time around at G-Cloud 11 we’re introducing more capabilities for customers and some of the new services that are coming through include new tooling to help with monitoring and management of applications. Lookout for more blogs from our CTO Leighton James who will be talking more about our products and services that were making available for G11 and also he discuss the evolution of our product portfolio across the G-Cloud iterations. So, lookout for that later this week.

But Nicky you talked a little bit earlier on about our partners and how we’ve grown our partner ecosystem. How do we work with partners on the G-Cloud Framework in a bit more detail?

Well, we work very closely with our partners for G-Cloud and we have a range of partners that take us through on G-Cloud, ranging from well-established suppliers to government, many of whom are very large organisations through to new partners who may have absolutely no experience of government, let alone experience of G-Cloud. In that latter case, we can share our knowledge and expertise and help them make sure that they’re making the best possible submissions and not making any mistakes, which might exclude them from the G-Cloud framework. With larger partners, we provide essentially the infrastructure, a known stable pricing so that they can go and you know devise services and solutions which are going to meet the needs of the public sector and we will work together to publicise those products and services and G-Cloud itself.

I think that need for transparency over products and services, and pricing especially, has been borne out of the G-Cloud framework.

Absolutely, We’ve always tried to apply the commercial principles that underpin G-Cloud to the way that we work generally, be that with our direct customers in the public sector or our partner community so the price that you see on the digital marketplace is the price. So for G-Cloud 11, that is the price of our services and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a husband and wife ISV or a global company. You can have absolute certainty that that we’re being transparent and even-handed about the way that we price our products.

And what that means for public sector organisations is that means that they can better manage their budgets and because obviously in a time of kind of uncertainty that probably helps them out in terms of managing their budgets and IT spend.

Finally, how can the G-Cloud marketplace be used by buyers this time round?

Well, I think buyers will find for G-Cloud 11 that there are even more suppliers and even more services than there were for G-Cloud 10. There hasn’t been a huge amount of difference, really, in the processes that sit around G-Cloud so those buyers who are familiar with G-Cloud aren’t going to find sort of radical differences when they go in.

But how can they use it? It’s a great place tocome and buy your cloud servicesand cloud support services. Butit’s also a great place to goand have a look and say, well,what’s available on the market to startgrowing your understanding. So even if you know the public sector isn’t yet ready tobuy cloud. the digital marketplace is areally valuable source ofinformation so you can startunderstanding what’s availablein the market, roughly how muchit’s going to cost, what the kind of models are and who’sthe suppliers that are providing it.

It probably is worth just touching base on how the digital marketplace is set out in terms of the different lot structures and how buyers can actually filter their searches?

So, G-Cloud on the digital marketplace is broken into three lots.

Lot 1, which is essentially Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Lot 2 which is Software as a Service (SaaS) and lot 3, is G-Cloud support and cyber services. Now, most buyers are going to know what they want before they go into the digital marketplace, assuming they are actually going to buy something and they should develop a list of search criteria, which will help them narrow that search down. You know, no buyer wants to be swamped with 300 things that they’ve got to look at because they’ll never make a decision so they have to be quite concise and precise about what it is they’re going to be looking for and there’s some really good guidance from CCS on how to do this.

Essentially, they should be creating a long list. Suppliers currently have to provide a predefined set of basic information about their services, which is essentially what is surgical. On top of that, they have the option to upload a Service Definition, which provides more information about the service and we strongly recommend to a partner that they do that. It might maybe at this point that buyers will start going the Service Definitions to have a look. They will also be looking at pricing, so the pricing guide is mandatory and obviously the more information you can put it in the better and easier it is for the buyer. CCS do not like things like “apply for pricing” or putting a basic unit price and a “get in touch with so and so for more information”. So, they’ll be looking at that and evaluating pricing because even though the services in the digital marketplace are generally much better value for money than, perhaps under the legacy arrangements. Buyers still have a huge amount of downward pressure on budgets and they are there to demonstrate that they’re buying can achieve value for money as much as anything else.

Another thing that they will be looking at are supplier’s terms and conditions so that’s something which is slightly different about the G-Cloud framework than most frameworks, where the terms and conditions are pre-defined by the buyer and that’s it – If you don’t like them, don’t bid.

With G-Cloud, you upload your own terms and conditions which sit alongside the government’s standard terms and conditions and together they make a set, so they’ll be looking at your terms and conditions. So, it doesn’t make sense for example, to upload a separate terms and conditions which are in violent conflict with the government’s standard terms, because the government’s standard terms will always take precedence in any case. But it does make sense, that if there are constraints or obligations on the buyer on using your service that you make sure they are set out in those terms and conditions because they won’t be set out in the government’s standard t&c’s. Those three things are what buyers will be looking for.
What buyers shouldn’t be doing is issuing RFP’s because G-Cloud is really operating like a catalogue but obviously they will when it gets to short list stage. Most of them will want to qualify, ask questions, dig a little deeper to make sure that what they are buying is fit for purpose.

Yes, that’s great advice there Nicky and actually we’ve been on the G-Cloud framework since G-Cloud 1. So, over the years and through G-Cloud iterations have you seen the framework evolve? Are there things that could be better on the framework for example?

So the framework has evolved a lot over 7 years. Things like for example, contract term when G-Cloud was first tendered, contract terms were very short, maximum I think one year for the first G-Cloud that moved to two years. Due to customer demand as much as anything else, you can now have up to four-year contracts. Which, you know certainly for things like hosting is really invaluable for customers who may be for example, embarking on a complex program where they’re going to have to go through the development stage, the test stage and it could be 2 years before they’re prepared to go live and then you’re out of contract. So that’s been a really positive development, and the digital marketplace itself has become pretty slick, I have to say, you probably know more about this than me Vrush, because you’re one of the guys who actually develops the submissions. But I see it on the feedback I get from likes of you and your colleagues that it’s a lot easier.

Yeah, it is a lot smoother and easier to actually submit services and make updates to documentation if you need too, because things aren’t always perfect and you might spot things that you need to fix later on, as long as they’re not pricing things, obviously, we can’t change those, but if there any kind of mistakes on and any of your documentation you can also update those now through the digital marketplace website So that’s a good thing, and I think that was feedback that was put through to CCS.

CCS talk to their customers and they talk to their supply base and they are making improvements year on year with it, so that runs through the whole gamut of things. The terms and conditions are never static for example, they always have to evolve that might be to take into account changes in regulation or developments in CCS standard contracts that they want to reflect through.

The document set that suppliers have to provide, that’s changed over the years, and that’s become less mandatory, but I think most significant thing has been that CCS have now developed a set of processes that sit underneath G-Cloud. So when you want to tweak your Service Definitions or improve your service or lower your prices and all of these things that used to be a bit clunky and a bit of a nightmare, but they’ve got a really slick process, which recognises that although services can’t be materially altered once they’ve been submitted they can’t be set in aspic either, there’s always going to be some evolution of them and that can be taken into account now.

I think I think that pretty much wraps things up, the G-Cloud framework is now in its 11th iteration and we will be seeing more suppliers and more services being put on there, so if anybody has any questions around G-Cloud, how to procure visit ukcloud.com/how-to-buy/ or email info@ukcloud.com