G-Cloud, Procurement Reform and SMEs

The following is a blog post that I originally wrote for Advice Cloud in which I discuss the strategy and ideas around G-Cloud’s inception, as well as its success to date using the newly published G-Cloud spend data.

Without a doubt, the G-Cloud framework has been a major success. Arguably, it has done more than anything else to transform the way Public Sector buys IT and digital services by creating an open and competitive market, giving innovative and quality suppliers the opportunity to work with the public sector. It has allowed the public sector to buy commodity services rather than be locked into expensive contracts. Many of these suppliers have never worked with the public sector before. The figures speak for themselves. According to the latest (August2017) published data:

  • Sales have reached a total of £2,415m;
  • 47% of total sales by value, that’s more than £1 billon, has been spent with SMEs;
  • Sales with SMEs account for 73% of the total by volume; and
  • 2,856 suppliers applied to be on the 9th iteration of the G-Cloud framework

GCloud sales

G-Cloud has come a long way since the Government Cloud Strategy was published in March 2011. The key to the success of the strategy was that Government cloud (or G-Cloud for short) was not a single, government owned, entity; it was, and still is, an ongoing and iterative programme of work that enables the use of a range of cloud services, and has changed the way the public-sector buys and operates IT. It was also part of the vision for government to adopt a cloud first policy.

The strategy was published at a time of real change in the way government bought and delivered IT services. This is how government used to do things:


Any new service delivery programme would undoubtedly be policy driven. The first thing that would be done would be to spend several months defining the requirements for the service. With a fair wind, this could take six months to complete. Then would begin the lengthy procurement process, following EU public procurement directives known as an OJEU (Official Union and the Economic Union). It’s difficult to say definitively how long this might take as it depends on a number of factors related to the complexity of the procurement and the amount of pre-market engagement (talking to potential suppliers before issuing the tender) that is carried out. Here’s a process chart I found online showing the full extent of the process:


All very simple isn’t it!

Ok so let’s be generous and say that we have carried out our requirement definition phase, completed our OJEU and let a contract 12 months after the policy announcement. Fantastic. Now let’s build the thing. How long will that take? Who knows. Might be 12 months. Might be 24 months. When GDS launched their Transformation Programme they gave themselves 400 days to transform 25 major services, making them digital by default and simpler, clearer and faster to use. So rather than give our hypothetical service two years, let’s go all out and build it in a year.

So, two years after the policy announcement the service goes live. Nobody uses it. Hardly surprising as two years ago PCs were the main way that people transacted online (bear with me this is historical) and now we all use smart devices. And the service wasn’t designed to work on a smart device as that wasn’t stated in the requirement. More money spent making it work. But still people don’t use it as no-one has bothered to ask them how they want to transact. It was only at this final stage that the product was tested and released to the public and only then that there was real feedback to find out if it works for users.

So things had to change. Now government does this:


First, a quick discovery phase is carried out to understand and map out the user journey. Then an alpha (or prototype) of the service is built and tested with users of the service. It gives the service provider the opportunity to demonstrate that the service build is technically possible. Next comes the beta phase where a working version of the service is built. This is based on the alpha prototypes and enters a pubic phase where it is being used for real. When the service goes live it is used as it’s been proven to meet user needs. But just because the service is live doesn’t mean it’s job done. Far from it. The service must be continually improved and iterated.

What has this got to do with G-Cloud and public sector procurement reform? Simply put it is at the heart of it. There is very little point coming to the end of the discovery phase and having to sit on your hands for six months while the alpha phase goes through an OJEU process. Momentum must be maintained. G-Cloud is faster and easier to use, which results in substantial process efficiencies. Buyers don’t need to carry out lengthy OJEU procurements. This reduces the time it takes to commission services by a factor of between 2 and 18. It also removes duplication of effort as departments do not need to run their own OJEU procurements time and again. In just the same way that service design and build is done using an agile methodology, so must procurement.

And a solution to this is what G-Cloud offers.

There is no need to worry about the OJEU process. That’s all been taken care of and buying through the framework is legally compliant. G-Cloud does not sidestep the competitive procurement process. It gives organisations an overview of the services available to them before they begin their own procurement. And then, by making it easier for smaller companies to win business, it is creating a more competitive marketplace for both buyers and suppliers.

G-Cloud saves money for the taxpayer through both direct savings and wider efficiencies. An independent review showed that average efficiency savings of 50% could be made through using G-Cloud. These savings came from:

  • buying products and services at lower prices;
  • lowering the barriers to work with more SMEs;
  • a quicker buying process: reducing costs for the buyer; and
  • being agile: buying what you need, when you need it

Opening procurement in the way that G-Cloud has not only helps SMEs win secure long-term work, it also provides the government with access to innovation, often at a lower cost. It can boost local economies. The work some SMEs have gained through G-Cloud has doubled their workforce, and others have grown beyond being classified as SMEs.

Could you be one of those suppliers?


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


… 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:

On Her Majesty’s Public Service Episode 4: GDS, Revolution not Evolution


I am sure that everyone who worked at GDS when it was in its infancy will have their own stories to tell of how it was founded and got to where it is today. One thing I am sure that not many people will know about is that very early on, when Chris Chant was the interim Digital Director, we came up with the name Government Digital Service. The debate we had at the time was whether it should be called the Government Digital Service or the Digital Government Service. So, it could have been known as DGS!

This is an abbreviated version of my story and the role I played in setting up “the best start-up in Europe we can’t invest in”.

My role as Chief Operating Officer for Directgov, morphed into the COO role at GDS. In summary, I led the smooth transition of Directgov and several disparate organisations to become the Government Digital Service and managed the large-scale business change programme this entailed. I also managed the relocation of the new organisation to suitable accommodation with an IT system that gave people the tools they needed to do their jobs. I built the organisation from a Whitehall start-up of around 70 people to a sustainable organisation of around 500 people and a secure operating budget in three years.

In 2010, shortly after the coalition government came into power, Directgov completed its orbit around departments having moved from the Cabinet Office to the Central Office for Information then on to DWP before arriving back at the Cabinet Office in July of that year.  Around the same time, Martha Lane Fox’s role had expanded to UK Digital Champion and she was asked to advise how online public service delivery could help to provide better and more efficient services, as well as getting more people online. Her report, Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution set out four key recommendations to achieve that and the Government Digital Service was born from the ashes of Directgov and the Cabinet Office Digital Delivery and Digital Engagement teams.

When setting up GDS, there were three immediate priorities that had be resolved:

  • Location
  • People
  • Budget


GDS needed to be far enough away from Whitehall so that it could be seen to be operating somewhat outside of the Whitehall machine, but close enough to Whitehall to be part of it. As luck would have it, the 6th floor of Aviation House in Holborn was available and so began the challenge of having the team relocated in a working environment that was fit for purpose and with an IT system that would give people the tools they needed to do their jobs.

The working environment itself was the easy part. OFSTED has moved out of the 6th floor in Aviation House so it was already furnished and only needed the walls being whiteboarded or painted. The IT system represented more of a challenge as we needed to meet the needs firstly of the digital teams who required open internet access and, secondly, those who needed more secure network access to protect sensitive data. A two-tier solution was implemented. One which was virtually completely open, although with essential encryption. The other was provided through a secure solution to ensure sensitive data was protected. This was achieved in six weeks – no mean feat working within government.

Eyebrows were raised when we started using MacBooks, but the business case showed these delivered a 40% efficiency saving over the then current IT system. And this didn’t include the fast log-in that the MacBooks provided compared to 5 minutes or longer using the official laptop.


Around the time GDS was being setup, the Cabinet Office had gone through a voluntary exit programme through which we had lost some good people. It’s also probably fair to say that morale could have been better. It was, therefore, critical that the new GDS organisation structure was put in place as quickly as possible and people reassured. Firstly, so that people would feel secure in their jobs and, secondly, so that GDS could get on with delivering its mission. This was done over a three-month period, which included the design of the organisation, TU consultation and running an expression of interest exercise so that people could apply for roles in the new structure. I also launched a recruitment campaign, working with some great people on the Cabinet Office HR team to challenge and overcome barriers to ensure that we recruited world class talent. As a result, GDS went from 70 people to around 500 in three years.

Ways of working

One of the biggest changes that the existing team had to overcome was cultural. This included what was pretty much unknown in government at the time: agile working, minimum viable products and, last but not least, bunting. I remember when the small team that were to work on the alpha version of GOV.UK arrived in Hercules House and were joined by some of the existing members of the Directgov team. The first thing that went up was the ‘beard wall’ (sadly no photographs remain) followed by the Kanban wall and the introduction of the regular daily stand-ups which are now a way of life in most teams, digital or otherwise. To get around the constraints of using the official IT system, which was then completely locked down, the team used MiFi devices. My job was to either break through the blockers or secure the necessary approvals to ensure that the team could work effectively and deliver alpha.gov. The look on the Delivery Manager’s face when I talked him through the approvals process was something that still makes me smile. And then the look of relief when I told him he didn’t need to worry about that as it was my job to do so. In the event, the prototype was developed in 12 weeks with the MVP delivered by an in-house team working in an open, agile way, placing user needs at the core of design process. The rest is, as they say, history.

The proudest moment for me, and highlight of my career, was when in I was awarded the OBE in 2014 for services to the provision and improvement of digital public services.

The whole of the GDS story and my part in it is far too long for me tell in this article. If you would like to read a detailed diary of GDS, then have a read of the story GDS have produced on their blog. One thing that is missing from the blog however is when two senior members of the team, who shall remain nameless, were asked to return a desk they had ‘borrowed’ from another floor after being seen on CCTV carrying it up the stairs!


On Her Majesty’s Public Service Episode 3: Public services all in one place.


In 2001, I joined the Office of the e-Envoy, part of the Cabinet Office.  I was responsible for ensuring government departments produced high quality e-government strategies (the forerunner of today’s digital strategies) and met the target of “e-enabling” all services by 2005.  This was in the very early days of online service delivery and, in many cases, was met by simply making PDFs available.  Not perfect, but it was a start!

I moved to the team responsible for Directgov just before the website launched in 2004.  Directgov was the government’s first digital service that provided a single point of access to public sector information and services.  It was also a world first, replacing the UKonline portal which had been built around life events.  Directgov’s information architecture was, in comparison, designed around people and topics based on a franchise model.  The idea was that, in the same way in which you might walk into a large department store and everything looks and feels the same, it is, in fact, run by individual franchises.  In the case of Directgov, the site and its look and feel are the department store and the content areas, the franchises.  In fact, at one time, it was proposed to sub-title Directgov, the online government store.

Directgov grew from 300,000 visits a month in 2004 to around 20 million hits a month, of which over 8 million were unique users, in 2009.

In March 2006, I moved from being Deputy Programme Director to Chief Operating Officer.  Although I took on new responsibilities for setting the business strategy, financial control of the organisation’s budget and running the commercial team, I kept responsibility for managing the project and business change portfolio, including a programme to transition all citizen facing content from central government websites onto Directgov.

This programme was part of the Transformational Government strategy, “Service transformation: a better service for citizens and businesses, a better deal for the taxpayer”.  The report proposed that all citizen facing content from other government websites was migrated onto Directgov and those other websites closed.  It was estimated that the programme, combined with improvements across all government websites and the shared use of infrastructure, delivered approximately £400 million of savings over three years,

The programme was a very large cross-government digital change programme that was successfully delivered on time.  As a result of government using Directgov and the equivalent site for business, Businesslink.gov, as its primary e-channels, gave users a coordinated way to access services at their convenience.  This may seem common place today but this was in an era when one-stop shops were about as joined-up as service delivery got.  And these were normally only open Monday – Friday between 9 am and 5 pm.   One interesting piece of research we carried out looked at user needs for services being available outside of office hours, for example night-shift workers, so that online delivery of those services could be prioritised.


On Her Majesty’s Public Service. Episode 2: Modernising Public Services and my introduction to user needs


Continuing my story of 35+ years as a civil servant, I moved from the MoD to the Cabinet Office in 1998, joining the Modernising Public Services Group (MPSG) which was responsible for improving the quality and responsiveness of public services.  It was here that I discovered my passion for transforming public services.

The work of the MPSG was set out in the chapters of the Modernising Government White Paper dealing with ‘responsive and quality public services’.  What really struck a chord with me was the statement in the White Paper that “we will deliver public services to meet the needs of citizens, not the convenience of service providers“.  Nearly 10 years on it is, quite rightly, hard to go anywhere in government without hearing the same phrase, although ‘users’ is preferred to ‘citizens’.

I headed up the Consultation Policy Team, where I was responsible for an initiative known as the People’s Panel; implementing a new consumer focus for public services; establishing a cross-government network of Consumer Champions; and producing the Government’s first Consultation Code of Practice.

The thinking behind the People’s Panel was that, if public services were to serve people better, then the Government needed to know more about what people want.  So, in keeping with the ethos of meeting the needs of users rather than imposing solutions, the aim of the Panel was to tell government what people really thought about their public services and the service provider’s attempts to make them better.

The People’s Panel was a 5,000-strong nationally representative group and a world first.  It was used for both quantitative and qualitative research.  It was also open and transparent with all the results being published.  Some of the subjects looked at included research about local democracy, complaints handling and transport.  It was also used to help inform the Modernising Government White Paper where we asked a number of people about their experiences at certain life episodes such as bereavement or when they needed care, to find out what the public perception was about how responsive and joined up public services were when people needed them most.

Research on its own, although laudable, wasn’t going to change anything.  The results were, therefore, used to inform policy-making.   The Panel helped prompt the setting up of action teams to look at life episodes from the users’ point of view.  DWP (then the DSS) used the Panel to help determine how they should take forward their own modernisation programme.  And DEFRA (then MAFF) carried out qualitative research into an information booklet on GM foods.


On Her Majesty’s Public Service. Episode 1: Where it all began 

civil-serviceOn the 31 July, I will be leaving the office for the last time as a civil servant (but not the world of work). After a successful career spanning more than 35 years, I thought that it would be cathartic to carry out something akin to a retrospective. So, over the next few days, as I countdown to new challenges, I will be writing several articles looking back over my career before talking about what I am planning next. I promise to keep them mercifully short and I hope you enjoy reading them.

One of the things I am often asked is “how could you have stayed in one job for so long?” But, as I am sure any career civil servant will tell you, it isn’t like that at all. The civil service gave me the opportunity to have many very different and varied jobs.

I started my working life at the Ministry of Defence, in one of their then many office buildings in the Holborn area. All have now gone, most having moved to Bristol as part of the Procurement Executive, a bespoke trading entity, and arm’s length body, that became Defence Equipment and Support. Whilst there I held a number of different finance and procurement roles that included projects such as the Nimrod Airborne Early Warning radar, the radar system for the Tornado aircraft and maintence and overhaul contracts for Rolls-Royce aero engines. I also did my time in a Private Office as well as internal management consultancy. I had the fantastic opportunity to fly in a number of RAF aircraft and a private tour of the Lancaster and Spitfire of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

One of the roles that I enjoyed most in the MoD was working in the Office of Management and Budget. The team I worked with were responsible for the annual round of Long Term Costings which set out the department’s ten-year spending plans. Having had enough of battling ever-changing spreadhseets, I set about developing an application that was used to aggregate the costings and keep track of proposals to reduce the ten-year cost estimates back to a financial baseline as well as allow the impact of savings measures to be costed, assessed and prioritised. This was my first step into coding which, until then, had been little more than an outside interest. The application was written in a programming language called Clipper, an xBase compiler. It turned out to be a great success and was adopted across each of the individual service areas. At the time a, shall we say, full blown system that was being developed by a major government supplier was ditched in favour of my application.  The reason? The other system did not meet the needs of the user, mine did!

Over 35 years of public sector experience 

After a successful career of over 35 years, I am saying goodbye to the civil service. But I am not ready to put my feet up just yet. Although I do not have any firm plans, the time is right for me to venture forth and look for a new challenge. A challenge that will allow me to continue helping the public sector turn ideas into reality. I am not closing any doors and will be considering all options open to me.

The public sector in general and central government, in particular, come in for a lot of criticism. Some of it is justified, some of it is not. Yes, it can be slow to deliver change. But it’s not easy to transform overnight any organisation the size of central government, particularly with its complex governance structures. Looking back over the past 35 years, there has, without a doubt, been incredible change which has gathered, and still is gathering pace. Today, that pace of change is being driven and supported by technology. I have witnessed first-hand, and been a part of, what has been a very real revolution in the way government works and the way public services are delivered. And yet the rate of change lacks the pace and dynamics that are needed today. There is so much more that needs be to be done. And I hope to continue to be part of that in some way.

I consider myself incredibly lucky. It has been very exciting for most of the time and being honest, dreadfully dull at others. I can think of no other employer from whom I would have been able to gain the experience that I have and achieve everything that I have been able to achieve; from the operational world of finance, procurement and business strategy, to running a major government project that transformed the way the public-sector buys what it needs to deliver world class public services, to leading the programme that, as the Guardian put it, delivered the “best start-up in Europe you can’t buy shares in”.

So, here’s looking forward to the next chapter.