On Her Majesty’s Public Service Episode 5: G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace…

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… or, helping those transforming public services by making it simpler, easier and faster for them to buy what they need whilst, at the same time, opening up the public sector market to new and innovative suppliers.

My responsibilities as Chief Operating Officer at GDS included heading up the procurement team. It was, therefore, only natural that I took on responsibility for the G-Cloud programme shortly after it transferred into GDS. At the time, I thought “how much can taking on a government procurement framework add to my workload?”  Little did I know!

It’s very easy looking at the Digital Marketplace to see G-Cloud as only a government procurement framework that allows the public sector to buy cloud services. Yes, it is that. But it is also considerably more. It was originally a much larger programme that was included on the Government Major Project Portfolio and a central part of the Government’s ICT Strategy. Its vision was for “government to robustly adopt a public cloud first policy...” and to deliver data centre, network, software and asset consolidation as well as the shift towards cloud computing.

At the time I took over responsibility for G-Cloud, the framework was in its infancy, with sales having reached £33m. It was clear from the outset that to deliver the G-Cloud programme and to take it to the next level was not a part-time job. It was a challenge I gladly accepted and handed over the COO role to become the Digital Commercial Programme Director.

My first task was to bring together a fantastic team to work with on developing the strategy and vision for how the Digital Marketplace would be taken forward. I took a deliberate decision not to talk publicly about the strategy or the future vision for the Digital Marketplace until I had fully worked through what it was. I did come in for some stick from the media for doing this. Some of it was a constructive challenge, some of it was way off the mark that I was pleased to be able to prove wrong. Take this piece for example:

Over the past month, several reports have suggested that the G-Cloud framework is slowly being abandoned, that the vision behind it has been brushed aside, and that all that remains is a marketing gimmick for the government to point to when SMEs ask what Whitehall is doing to open up opportunities for them.

Tony Singleton had his job title changed to include the term, becoming director G-Cloud and Digital Commercial Programme at the GDS in June 2014.

All I would say in response is that if a “publicity gimmick” can deliver what the Digital Marketplace delivered, then bring it on! And it was me who changed my job title to reflect my wider role. I didn’t have it changed.

The Digital Marketplace had a critical part to play in enabling government to meet its target of spending 25% of its procurement budget with small and medium-sized businesses. The G-Cloud framework was already ahead of the game as it was designed to make it easier for new and innovative suppliers to work with the public sector. All of the usual government contract clauses that added nothing to the framework were stripped out. This was not done in a cavalier fashion, but working hand in glove with the Crown Commercial Service and the Government Legal Service to ensure that a) the framework was legally compliant and; b) the public sector retained the necessary legal protection it needed. Doing this meant that SMEs who did not have the luxury of large in-house legal and procurement teams could understand the contracts they were being asked to sign up to. It was also essential that suppliers could easily bid to be on the framework as part of the tendering process and that buyers could find what they needed. This was originally done through the Cloudstore which was later replaced by the Digital Marketplace.

There has been some debate as to the whether the 25% target was actually met. I’ll leave it to others to debate that. The one thing that there can be no doubt about is that the G-Cloud programme played a very important part in leading the way in opening up the UK public sector market to give SMEs the opportunity to work with the public sector.

And so, the Digital Marketplace was designed to be the online platform that all public sector organisations could use to find and buy cloud-based services. It was also to be home to other frameworks that the public sector could use to buy what it needed to deliver great public services: cloud hosting, software and support; physical data centre space for legacy systems; digital specialists; digital outcomes; and user research participants and labs.

The Digital Marketplace strategy I produced said that:

In transforming services, the public sector must be ‘open, agile, and iterative’. However, historically, public sector procurement has been difficult, slow and wasteful, and cited as one of the main risks to the successful delivery of digital services. This is compounded by lengthy EU procurement processes which make agile service delivery very difficult. G-Cloud led the way in revolutionising the way the public sector buys cloud commodity services. The Digital Marketplace will build on this by providing a fast and agile route to market, becoming a platform to help deliver the transformation of digital services across the public sector.

And, working as a multi-disciplinary team with the Crown Commercial Service and the Government Legal Service we certainly did that. The results speak for themselves:

  • Reduced the barriers for entry and opened up the UK public sector market, giving over 2,500 new and innovate suppliers the opportunity to work with the public sector for the first time. 88% of these were small and medium size businesses (SMEs).
  • Over a two-year period, increased the value of sales through the G-Cloud framework from £33m to over £1bn and increased the twelve-month average spend from £2.6m to £42.7m. Increased the number of public sector organisations buying through G-Cloud 278 to 1,013.
  • Delivered and iterated the Digital Marketplace platform, within time and below budget, ensuring that it met the Digital by Default Service Standard and was legally compliant.
  • Ensured the public sector could buy, design, build and deliver digital services by being able to procure specialist resources to deliver agile software development by leading the multi-disciplinary team that designed and delivered the Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework.

I have been writing a retrospective of my life as a civil servant. Other episodes:

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