G-Cloud app store gives small businesses a lift

Small and medium-sized businesses across the UK will get a chance to sell IT services to the public sector alongside major companies after the government launched its CloudStore
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

The government has launched its G-Cloud application procurement site, CloudStore, giving small businesses across the UK a chance to compete with large IT companies for public-sector contracts.

CloudStore website

The government has opened the G-Cloud app store, CloudStore, where public-sector bodies can shop for IT suppliers.

CloudStore opened on Sunday, with services from 257 companies offered to public-sector organisations in a browsable, GCHQ-vetted catalogue of cloud services, ranging from rentable infrastructure, applications and platforms to consultancy.

"It's a complete break with the past," David McLeman, the managing director of UK cloud and security vendor Ancoris, told ZDNet UK on Monday. "Historically you had a cartel of large suppliers running massive government IT projects, and that dominated government IT. I think the new initiative will help the public sector."

Historically you had a cartel of large suppliers running massive government IT projects, and that dominated government IT. I think the new initiative will help the public sector.
– David McLeman, Ancoris

CloudStore marks the first stage of the £60m G-Cloud framework. Companies were invited to submit entries for CloudStore in late 2011, and the government said in January that it would be launched in late February.

"The launch of CloudStore is an important milestone in the Government's ICT strategy to deliver savings and an IT system fit for the 21st century," Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, said in a statement. "Purchasing services from CloudStore will be quicker, easier, cheaper and more transparent for the public sector and suppliers alike."

Businesses in the CloudStore vary from large multinationals like SAP, Hitachi Data Systems and Microsoft, to smaller UK companies such as Memset, Claranet, Trustmarque and Ancoris.

With CloudStore, public-sector organisations can pick and choose IT services according to their needs, while comparing prices.

"I genuinely believe it has the capacity to enormously disrupt government ICT," Kate Craig-Wood, managing director of cloud hosting company Memset, told ZDNet UK on Monday. "With my taxpayer hat on, I believe times are changing, it shouldn't just be about the technologists looking at this."

Now the CEO and CFO of a public-sector organisation that buys cloud services can ask why they are paying so much money for an IT service when it seems they can get it cheaper somewhere else, she added.

SME boost

The government says it hopes CloudStore will increase the proportion of public-sector IT services from small and medium-sized enterprises.

"The way the CloudStore is set up, the idea is to make the whole process more flexible, make the procurement process simpler, and this will have the effect of making things more straightforward for small companies," a Cabinet Office spokesman told ZDNet UK on Monday. "It's all part of that picture and CloudStore fits into that appropriately in terms of the ease of procurement."

Over 300 companies offered 1,700 services for the first stage of the G-Cloud service catalogue. These bids are now going through a process of assurance and accreditation. At the time of writing, the Cabinet Office could not tell ZDNet UK whether any company's bid had been rejected.

"[The government] were really working to provide the right level of feedback so companies like Ancoris can effectively compete and offer their services," McLeman said. "I thought it was quite radical."

To get into CloudStore, suppliers needed to submit details and pricing of the services they wished to sell. The Government then put these through an accreditation process, using CESG, the information assurance arm of GCHQ, to evaluate the technologies for data security. CloudStore will start taking new bids for a further round of suppliers in the spring, a Cabinet Office spokesman told ZDNet UK.

The time it takes to get accreditation is "the length of a piece of string, depending on the nature of the service and technical issues like that", a spokesman for the Cabinet Office told ZDNet UK on Monday. Memset and Acronis both said it took around three months for a submission to get onto CloudStore, though Memset's technology was still being qualified by CESG. 

CloudStore was built by UK Microsoft specialist Solidsoft in around four weeks and it is hosted on Microsoft's cloud service, Windows Azure.

"We hope that [CloudStore] will help us to make the big step change in the way that suppliers and buyers do business on ICT services in the public sector," Eleanor Stewart, engagement manager for the G-Cloud programme, said in a blog post.

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