From this year all central government departments in the UK will have to prioritise cloud services when buying IT, if a proposed policy receives parliamentary backing.
The policy is designed to help UK government hit its target of having half of all new IT spending on public cloud services by 2015. By replacing bespoke IT systems with off-the-shelf cloud services, the government estimates it could more than halve the cost of IT provision, particularly for generic services like email.
Under the public cloud first policy, first mentioned in 2011, central government departments embarking on IT projects would need to demonstrate they had considered first a public cloud service, and then a private cloud service, before settling on any other form of IT service delivery.
"The public cloud first policy is a statement that says 'When we look at new IT, this is what we must look at first'," said Denise McDonagh, director of the G-Cloud programme and head of IT for the Home Office.
"In order to move government to a more commodity way of buying, where there are significant savings to be had, the use of policy such as public cloud first is an essential tool."
Under the proposed policy the IT Reform Group, a Cabinet Office body, would check whether cloud services have been given proper consideration for IT projects before approving spending. The checks would be applied to IT projects with a total cost of ownership of more than £5m.
The proposed policy will shortly go before a parliamentary committee and, providing it is not challenged, should come into effect this year.
To encourage the take-up of cloud services, the government created the G-Cloud framework around one year ago. G-Cloud is a procurement framework that provides a pool of cloud services for public sector bodies to choose from. In the latest version of the G-Cloud framework, G-Cloud II, there are more than 3,000 services - made up of about 400 IaaS offerings, 80 PaaS offerings, 1,300 SaaS offerings and 1,300 specialist cloud services. These services are generally purchased through the CloudStore, an online catalogue, and are targeted at a wide range of public sector bodies, including local and central government, the NHS and police forces.
A total of £7.4m has been spent through on G-Cloud services to date, although McDonagh said there is far more spending in the pipeline. She was unable to put a figure on this future spend, but said the Home Office alone had spent £6m through G-Cloud this year and that has not been included in the £7.4m figure.
McDonagh was not able to comment on what proportion of new government IT spend the £7.4m represents and therefore what it represents in terms of government progress towards hitting its 2015 spending target. She said it is currently "difficult to define what new IT spend is" due to the quality of information available in government.
When asked how government can hit a target when it can't capture the metrics it's being measured against, she said government is working to improve information management.