The G-Cloud public sector cloud services procurement framework has been active for two and a half years.
Nearly £350m worth of sales have been made through the framework in that time, and the figure continues to grow as the public sector embraces the flexibility and potential savings available through cloud computing.
However, sales across the public sector have been uneven at best. Central government spending accounts for 80 percent of the total G-Cloud figures, but local government accounts a mere six percent.
This is surprising, given the cuts councils have had to make and the savings on IT spending that cloud computing could potentially deliver.
The government is doing much to promote G-Cloud, and a steady if not spectacular amount of council spending is carried out through the scheme.
Richard Godfrey, ICT strategy, infrastructure and programme manager at Peterborough Council, which has recently adopted a cloud-based infrastructure, told V3 that he does not believe councils are ignorant of cloud computing.
"I think it would be difficult not to be aware of G-Cloud in ICT departments if ICT managers are doing their jobs properly," he said.
"Part of any local authority ICT manager's role should be to have an understanding of new models and new ways of working, and to understand central government initiatives even if they aren't ready to adopt them."
This raises the question of whether G-Cloud is somehow unsuitable for councils or whether there are barriers preventing councils adopting cloud services.
Varied cloud procurement
The Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm), an organisation involved in maximising the effectiveness of IT delivery in public organisations, believes that criticism levelled at councils for a lack of purchases via G-Cloud is not indicative of their spending on cloud services as a whole.
"Fundamentally, G-Cloud is just one of several places to go to buy," a Socitm spokesperson told V3.
"Its use may prove to be, but is not necessarily, in direct proportion to the uptake of cloud services in the sector. Tracking cloud uptake across the whole piece needs broader measures."
The spokesperson referred to a report by Socitm that states: "Low use of G-Cloud does not correlate with low use of cloud services, and indeed many councils are using cloud services from other procurement frameworks or directly from vendors like Google."
Furthermore, despite some councils having successfully adopted cloud computing as a core part of their IT, including Windsor and Maidenhead councils, the G-Cloud framework may not be the most suitable for local government if an organisation already has its own procurement policies.
"I'm unsure as to how G-Cloud is viewed where councils have separate procurement functions," said Godfrey.
"It hasn't been the easiest of tools to navigate around, if you don't know what you are looking for."
Chris Pennell, public sector lead analyst at Ovum, told V3 that the divide between local and central government spending via G-Cloud could be attributed to service providers and vendors.
"Suppliers to central government departments have been better at understanding how to work with G-Cloud. They can then work with clients to help them tick off the ‘procure through G-Cloud' box," he said.
In response to questions from V3, a Cabinet Office spokesperson explained that it is working with organisations such as Socitm to "better understand the needs of local authorities" when it comes to cloud adoption.
"Our regional events have helped to bring more buyers together and we are working on developing more online resources to help buyers build on their knowledge of technology and procurement," the spokesperson said, indicating the government's intention to buck the trend on councils' current spending through G-Cloud.
Leaving comfort zones
Godfrey said in a previous conversation with V3 that many councils worry, often unnecessarily, about the security of cloud services against their existing on-site infrastructure.
He reiterated this point, adding: "I think there is still a lot of work central government could do to reduce the nervousness of using cloud providers around data security."
Pennell told V3 that some councils are encumbered with existing IT infrastructures and are not ready for the cloud.
"Many authorities are simply not ready or contractually able to. Those that are, also have to consider the management of the legacy estate. How will this work with the new services? How will the systems be supported? Do they have the skills themselves to do it?" he said.
The Socitm report echoes Pennell's view. "Large local authorities have significant in-house capability to provide IT infrastructure and services, a route that for some services can be more cost-effective than buying in external services, even cloud-based services," it said.
Godfrey explained that he would like to challenge councils' reluctance to abandon their existing approaches to IT, particularly in the long term.
"I've seen very few IT strategies that have a focus on [cloud] and too few that see IT as the enabling technology to transform their council. It still seems to be about transforming IT and making IT savings," he said.
"The technology should be used to make greater savings across the council even if this means ICT spend increases. The savings will far outweigh the additional costs."
A changing tide
Huddle is a provider of cloud-based collaboration services to the public sector via G-Cloud, and has an insight into the spending of councils on its services within the framework.
Alastair Mitchell, chief executive at Huddle, told V3 that he expects councils to up their spending on cloud services through G-Cloud in 2015.
"Local government and the NHS are actually the fastest growing spenders with Huddle out of the UK government, and that is all coming from G-Cloud. We think we are seeing that across other bits of G-Cloud as well," he said.
"They're a bit late to the game but you are going to see them accelerate. It's a huge growth area [for Huddle] and for the cloud and for G-Cloud."
Work for all
Given the comments from everyone who spoke to V3, it appears that increasing council spending through G-Cloud and on cloud services as a whole will need to be addressed by all involved.
The government must continue to ensure that the G-Cloud framework is suitable for local government use, assisted via research and feedback from related organisations such as Socitm.
Local councils need encouragement to look on cloud adoption as a long-term investment in efficiency and cost savings, rather than a large outlay and overhaul of existing infrastructure.
Finally, cloud service operators will need to offer services via G-Cloud that are suitable to councils as well as central government, so that local authorities do not have to turn to their own methods of procurement.
The government is planning to merge the G-Cloud and the Digital Services into a single online store known as the Digital Marketplace in early 2015, hoping that the procurement of cloud and IT services will be simpler and more appealing to the public sector.
V3 will monitor its impact throughout 2015.
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