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Death of the G-Cloud was greatly exaggerated - but there's a lot of catching up to do

Delays to the mega-project could hurt planned savings...
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor on

Delays to the mega-project could hurt planned savings...

Early in 2010 the government unveiled the G-Cloud - its grand plan to slash £1bn from the public sector's annual IT spend by using cloud technologies to haul its tech infrastructure into the 21st century.

Soon after the initial fanfare, however, the G-Cloud was called in for review by the newly elected coalition government.

Westminster

Government has fallen behind schedule on creating a central government app storePhoto: Shutterstock

Despite the review, the core parts of the G-Cloud programme - the creation of a centralised government application store to allow public bodies to find applications, and plans to reduce the number of datacentres used by government - still appear to be intact.

Martin Bellamy, who sits on the government G-Cloud delivery board, told a Westminster e-Forum event in London on Tuesday: "Anyone who thought the G-Cloud had gone a bit quiet, or that it's died - well, no it's not, it's alive and kicking."

"With a change of government it is inevitable that IT policy will be reviewed, and indeed it is a good thing because IT policy needs to be aligned to the overall government's business objectives," Bellamy told silicon.com.

And while the government has revealed it will set out a new timetable for realising the programme next month, there are concerns that delays to the programme caused by the rethink have held back the potential savings the project could bring.

Delays to the government app store

Work on implementing a government app store - a core part of the G-Cloud programme - was supposed to be completed before the end of 2010, but work on its creation has yet to start.

The app store aims to drive down government IT costs by cutting the more than 10,000 software packages and services currently being used by public sector bodies. Rather than each body running and hosting their own apps, the organisations will be able to choose from a pool of shared, cloud-based applications and services on offer.

Because public sector bodies use large numbers of similar applications - for example payroll, human resources management and enterprise resource planning - the potential savings from delivering such shared systems via the cloud, rather than building and supporting hundreds of separate versions, have been estimated to be £500m each year by government.

Former government CIO John Suffolk warned the longer the government puts off developing the government app store, the harder it will be to...

...introduce more competition for government IT contracts.

The government has pledged to make it easier for small and medium-sized companies to win government IT contracts, with the aim of breaking the stranglehold of the 18 large tech vendors who carry out 80 per cent of government IT work.

Suffolk warned that SMEs will struggle to compete with the larger vendors without having the government application store as a platform for delivering their services to the public sector.

"It's easy to talk about using more SMEs, but SMEs don't have the marketing dollars to make buyers aware of their products," Suffolk told silicon.com.

"The app store was there to give the SMEs the ability to publish their products in an application store - so at least they have the same visibility as the big guys who have all the marketing dollars.

"Government needs to push the boundaries to open up the SME market, and the only way they're going to do that is to give the SMEs the ability to publish what they have."

Along with the app store, there are a number of other elements of the G-Cloud strategy whose implementation looks set to be later than originally planned.

Cloud trials

Alongside plans to create the application store, the government is working to identify which public and private cloud services could be shared between government bodies – although this work too appears to be months behind the timetable set out in the original G-Cloud implementation plan.

A number of central and local government authorities are deploying private and public cloud services with a view to testing their suitability for rolling them out further across the public sector.

According to Bellamy, various authorities are acting as test beds for cloud services, from the Home Office, which is deploying a private cloud platform with Savvis, to Warwickshire County Council, which is rolling out Google Mail and Docs to 4,000 staff.

There will also be a presumption of "cloud first" when public sector bodies are buying software and IT services in future, meaning that "if there is a cloud service out there that you can use, you will do so", Bellamy said.

Software asset register

The government has also recently started work on creating a register of software and services used by government, a G-Cloud project that was originally...

...scheduled to be completed in 2009.

The asset register will list the services and software applications that already exist in the public sector which can be reused by other public bodies, as well as identifying existing cloud services that could be offered through the government application store.

Datacentre consolidation

Another core G-cloud project was the plan to reduce IT running costs by closing down the bulk of the 220 datacentres used by Whitehall, which would be made possible by government departments sharing cloud-based systems and efficiency gains via virtualisation.

Government datacentres

Public bodies are examining ways of reducing their datacentre footprintPhoto: Shutterstock

Under the original G-Cloud implementation strategy, the government was supposed to have begun rationalising these datacentres last year and be underway with the process in 2011.

The government appears to still be committed to reducing the size of its datacentre estate. Public bodies are examining ways of reducing their datacentre footprint every time an IT services contract comes up for renewal.

But the G-Cloud's Bellamy did not detail how many datacentres are being decommissioned in central government, and the government's latest IT strategy made no mention of an earlier pledge to reduce the number of datacentres serving the public sector to no more than 12 by 2020, instead saying that the government will reduce the cost of running its datacentres by 35 per cent within five years.

Former government CIO John Suffolk questioned whether Whitehall is acting quickly enough to rationalise its datacentres if it wants to make cuts to its IT bill in time for the next election.

"I don't sense there's a lot of active work going on in terms of active datacentre rationalisation. They need to rationalise that down to a common infrastructure because if they don't they are not going to get the savings they are looking for," he said.

"My worry is that it's all analysis and thinking, it's not doing - and when government have committed to save £83bn over the life of this parliament, one wonders whether there's going to be any real savings from the infrastructure coming from IT."

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