Public Technology: CloudStore is only the start of needed procurement reforms

I understand a collective sigh of relief was heard as the UK Government CloudStore finally came into being this month. The pent-up frustration experienced by government departments when it comes to IT procurement now has a solution, at least for cloud-based services.

A G-Cloud catalogue entry equates to pre-vetting, and in many cases therefore, the difference between procuring a service or not. Whereas in the past it was both too costly and too complex to acquire a cloud-based option, such hurdles have now been considerably reduced.

Elsewhere of course, it’s procurement business as usual. Current conversations with public sector organisations take me right back to my days as an IT manager for a large organisation, where I had to order everything in bulk to counter the overheads of procurement. An order had to be at least 500 quid, or it just wasn’t worth it.

The procurement challenge impacts not just IT but business stakeholders, in that the only conversations worth having are for the big stuff. Need an entire new IT system? Let’s talk. But if you just want a new feature enabled on an existing PBX, sorry, not worth our while.

Whatever the higher-level views around consumerisation or cloud, the fact is that IT costs are becoming increasingly fragmented. In this world where users are increasingly doing things for themselves, it should be possible to buy a tablet, or a printer, or an ‘app-for-that’ without needing to sign forms in triplicate or drive to head office. I know of one example of where staff buy their own printer paper from the local supermarket because it’s just too painful to wait.

The other knock-on is, of course, with the smaller supplier. Despite the fine efforts being driven by central government about providing more business to SMEs, the overheads inherent in the process make this very difficult. Even if the playing field is levelled, small companies simply can’t afford the lead times that government procurement processes still entail.

Equally, even knowing who to talk to can be a challenge. If you’re an IT supplier with a new, innovative solution and you want to find out whether anyone in the MOD, or HMRC, or the NHS might be interested, who should you talk to? In all honesty, even if you find an appropriate person, the chances are they’re going to be too overwhelmed with everything else to have the time.

At a macro level, several procurement efficiency initiatives are underway and frameworks being developed (such as the Public Services Network), both within and across departments, as there have been in the past. I genuinely wish them all the best, with one caveat. Any programme of change that is going to take more than two years to implement will almost inevitably be overtaken by events.

Perhaps one day, all procurement will be as straightforward as the CloudStore is intending to be. It’s still early days, and no doubt lessons to be learned (from experience for example, assuring checks and balances concerning demonstrable business ROI on purchases). But we can hope that it becomes a flagship example of how procurement can be done, if the will is there to change.

[Originally published on]

Public Technology: CloudStore is only the start of needed procurement reforms

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