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Government Readies Shorter G-Cloud Contracts

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The Government will offer G-Cloud supplier shorter contracts whilst pushing open standards

The Government is proposing a much shorter contract with ICT suppliers as it prepares to announce its shortlisted suppliers for the G-Cloud framework, according to Liam Maxwell, director of ICT Futures at the Cabinet Office.

The concept of a nationalised government cloud has been touted as a way to enable sharing and reuse of business apps, services and components across the public sector, in an effort cut costs.

Contract Periods

During his keynote speech at the Cloud Expo Europe conference in London earlier this week, Maxwell said that the G-Cloud will usher in an era of public ICT contracts that are measured in months, rather than years, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Traditionally, Government IT procurement contracts used to be measured in years, sometimes as long as five, seven or even ten years, but now the government is hoping to shorten contracts to 12 months instead.

“I don’t think we’ll be seeing many contracts in the cloud services are that are beyond 12 months,” he was quoted by the Guardian as saying the Cloud Expo conference in London. “That’s a massive step change.” Maxwell also said that he fully expects IT systems to become commodity items and predicted that core services will be purchased in the same way as common office supplies.

“In two or three years’ time what we now call IT, the delivery of those disaggregated services like hosting, networking, end user devices, support, all of those, will become core commodity services and will be bought ‘like stationery’,” Maxwell was quoted as saying.

Open Standards

Maxwell, regarded as an open source advocate, prior to his joining the government last June, also said that the Government is looking at introducing rigorous open standards governing software and interoperability.

“We want to be Stalinist about open standards,” Maxwell reportedly said. He took something of a swipe at the previous Labour government and its poor IT track record when he said that previous governments had been agnostic about standards, which coupled with a centralisation of suppliers, had left it “fantastically locked-in” in the past.

The Cabinet Office will apparently in the next couple of weeks create a consultation on open standards, in an effort to gather opinion on what the Government’s open standard should comprise and how it can be used effectively.

Long Time Coming

It has taken a while to get to this point with the G-Cloud framework. Last summer there had been concern that the G-Cloud project had been abandoned and it was dismissed as ‘unnecessary’ by David Wilde, CIO for Westminster City Council earlier in 2011.

But by the Autumn it soon became clear that the project was very much alive and well, and on 18 October the government published the G-Cloud framework tender process, saying that the duration of the framework would be only six to nine months.

Yet despite this short time frame, interest remains high as it has received at least 532 expressions of interest to its invitation to tender. In December, the Cabinet Office extended the deadline for G-Cloud framework by almost three weeks to 19 December 2011, to give more suppliers the chance to apply.

The G-Cloud framework is worth up to £60 million and aims to provide government departments with ‘pay as you go’ IT systems. Because there are less stringent  financial history reporting requirements, and a more open procedure with a simple spreadsheet with yes or no answers to mandatory questions rather that a lengthy pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ), its appeal among SMEs is especially high.

The framework apparently asks suppliers what they can offer the government rather than dictating a complicated specification that stifles innovation, while services are provided on the supplier’s standard terms with a government overlay instead of demanding a unique crown contract.

This type of thinking is very much in line with the EU’s thoughts, as it is strongly pushing the open eGovernment services concept.