Buying with your head above the Clouds

The G-Cloud framework was first launched in 2012 to encourage the uptake of Cloud based solutions for the public sector and simplify the procurement process. Government Business analyses its latest iteration, G-Cloud 7.

The Digital Marketplace was designed to help public sector organisations, including agencies and arm’s length bodies, to find the right people and technology for their digital projects.

As a part of the Digital Marketplace, the G-Cloud framework was launched with the aim of encouraging more public sector organisations to adopt Cloud based technologies, as well as helping some smaller companies do business with government by simplifying the procurement process.

The latest iteration of the framework, G-Cloud 7, went live on 23 November, giving the public sector access to more services and suppliers of different sizes across the UK.

G-Cloud 7 replaces the G-Cloud 6 framework. G-Cloud 6 was originally scheduled to expire at the beginning of February 2016, but has now been extended until 1 August. This means that users can continue purchasing from both the G-Cloud 6 and G-Cloud 7 frameworks, while the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) works on the next development, G-Cloud 8.

£1 billion sales
The G-Cloud framework was first launched in 2012 and by May 2013 had over 700 suppliers, 80 per cent of which where small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Sales surpassed £18 million by April of 2013, and continued to grow, hitting a total of more than £50 million by the end of the year.

Sales have snowballed since this initial growth and, as of March 2016, the total sales made through G-Cloud since its inception four years ago have surpassed the £1 billion mark. This total was helped by a significant number of sales, totalling £47 million, for the first month of 2016.

This continued use of G-Cloud suggests that the public sector is becoming increasingly involved with Cloud based services, products and consultancy and that government organisations have become accustomed to choosing the framework to procure these.

The average deal made in January 2016 was £14,329, with the largest deal made between Deloitte and the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust for £1 million of undisclosed Cloud services. This was followed by a £530,000 deal between the Ministry of Justice and Liberata, as well as a £400,000 contract between Maindec and the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust.

SME Agenda
In keeping with the original intention of supporting SMEs to do business with government and the public sector, 52 per cent of sales by value made through G-Cloud, and 62 per cent of sales by volume, have been awarded to SMEs. These figures are fairly consistent with the percentage sales for previous months, with SMEs regularly accounting for around a half of sales made using the G-Cloud framework.

While the commitment to SMEs has been a success, the idea of allowing the wider public sector to benefit from the framework has not been quite as smooth, with 76 per cent of sales by value having been made to central government customers, with the remaining 24 per cent representing purchases from the wider public sector.

This suggests that more can be done by the government to promote the G-Cloud framework, and the wider Digital Marketplace, which could help more public sector organisations save time and money by procuring goods and services from the approved suppliers.

G-Cloud 7 attracted a higher number of suppliers than any previous iteration of the Framework, with 709 new suppliers bringing the total up to 1,616. Of these 709 new suppliers, 95 per cent are SMEs, which highlights the government’s commitment to furthering its SME agenda.

The total number of suppliers currently available on the active G-Cloud framework, including both 6 and 7, is 2,566 (89 per cent of which are SMEs), which offers the public sector access to over 22,000 services.

Frameworks
Frameworks are agreements between the government and suppliers to provide approved services and products to the public sector. They aim to simplify the procurement process by allowing organisations to buy services from a set of pre-approved suppliers without the need to run a full tender or competition procurement process.

The basic terms of use are agreed following a formal Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) procurement process. OJEU is the publication in which all tenders from the public sector, which are valed above a certain financial threshold according to EU legislation, must be published and covers all organisations and projects that receive public money, including local authorities, the Ministry of Defence, NHS trusts, education establishments and central government departments. This means that every supplier included on the G-Cloud framework is compliant with EU and UK rules for public spending and is approved to do business with the public sector.

As a result, the G-Cloud framework can save the public sector time and money usually associated with individual procurement contracts by eliminating the need to run a lengthy tender process and, thus, providing a list of suitable suppliers at the click of a button.

All services within the G-Cloud framework are visible through the online catalogue as part of the Digital Marketplace, which is regularly refreshed to provide customers with up-to-date innovative commoditised Cloud based solutions.

Services
The G-Cloud Framework offers off‑the‑shelf, pay-as-you-go Cloud solutions which span four ‘Lots’: infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, software as a service, and specialist Cloud services.

Infrastructure as a service covers the provision of processing, storage, networks and other fundamental computing resources that allow the consumer to deploy software, such as operating systems and applications. This is effectively providing organisations with the capability to control their own operating systems, storage and deployed applications, without managing the underlying Cloud infrastructure.

Platform as a service operates slightly differently, in that it provides the consumer with the capability to deploy onto the Cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created using programming languages, libraries, services, and tools supported by the provider. The consumer has control over the deployed application and possible configuration settings for the application hosting environment, but does not manage or control the underlying Cloud infrastructure, which includes network, servers, operating systems and storage.

Software as service provides consumers with the capability to use the provider’s applications running on a Cloud infrastructure. These applications are generally accessible from various devices through a client interface, such as a web browser (think web-based email), or a program interface. Consumers may have limited ability to manage user‑specific application configuration settings, but the underlying Cloud infrastructure, including network, servers, operating systems, storage and most individual application capabilities, are controlled by the provider.

Lot 4, specialist Cloud service services, is designed to support the design and implementations of Cloud based services and is split into a number of sub-categories: business analysis, legacy to Cloud rationalisation, design/consultation, transition management and service management.

Business analysis is the provision to offer skills to identify and analyse organisational needs and how transferring some or all existing IT systems to Cloud based systems could increase efficiencies and savings.

Legacy to Cloud rationalisation is where suppliers offer the skills to identify which parts of a legacy system or infrastructure could be migrated onto a Cloud based system. This kind of service is usually reserved for organisations that have identified potential efficiencies in moving to the Cloud, but requires some additional support in how to design and implement this transition.

The provision to offer Cloud based system designs inclusive of iterative design, development and ongoing maintenance of existing Cloud services falls under the design/consultation sub-category of Lot 4. These designs can include the specification of what a solutions could or should look like, and consumers can then purchase that solution ‘off the shelf’ via other Lots or designed by teams and development sourced from other frameworks.

Once a customer has a system design in place, they can then call on suppliers to handle the transition management, in which they manage the actual transfer of services onto the Cloud based system, including the on boarding and off boarding of data, the migration of existing services between data centres and end user training.

Customers can also use the G-Cloud to find a supplier that offers continuous service management of their Cloud solutions. This will likely include service integration, management of multiple Cloud solutions and the integration of Cloud and non-Cloud services. Additionally, cyber security consultancy is also available on the framework, but this service varies considerably between suppliers based on their area of expertise, meaning that consumers should carefully consider if a supplier matches their specific needs.
Services excluded from the G-Cloud framework include co-location services, non-Cloud related services, products or consultancy, bespoke digital project build services and hardware.

Using the Digital Market Place
Customers can easily search for all services available under the G-Cloud framework on the Digital Marketplace, available through the government’s website.

The Digital Market Place is split into three categories: G-Cloud, Crown Hosting Data Centres and Digital services. Prospective buyers can begin searching for approved suppliers on the G-Cloud framework by selecting ‘Find Cloud technology and support’.

Customers can then choose to search the entire list of approved suppliers through keywords in the search box, or refine their search by selecting one of the four Lots on the framework.
Once the user has entered a search term, they can further refine the result categories, as well as specifying if a trial option is available and the minimum contract duration. The Digital Marketplace also allows for the use of intelligent search terms, such as included double quotation marks (“...”) around a phrase to ensure only results which feature that phrase in its entirety will be returned.

The online catalogue ensures that all service information is available up front to enable customers to evaluate services based upon the best fit and/or price.

On the supplier service overview page, each supplier provides a short blurb about their company as well as an at a glance bullet point breakdown of the key features and benefits of their product or service and direct contact details.

Further detailed information on pricing, service definition and terms and conditions are downloadable on the right hand side of the page, providing consumers with all the information they need to compare different suppliers on the framework.

When selecting a supplier, buyers must evaluate and identify which service best meets their requirements to enable them to direct award. If a customer deviates from this process through mini competition, RFP,RFQ,RFI, negotiating or issuing an ITT, they will actively breach the terms of the framework.

The CCS sternly warns that non‑compliant buying will negatively impact the legality and reputation of the framework and put the buyer at risk.

Buying Process
The G-Cloud buyers guide outlines a six step process that all prospective buyers should follow when using the framework.

The first step is ‘Prepare’, which advises customers to understand exactly what it is they are looking to buy. The CCS advises partnership working between procurement and technical professionals to ensure a compliant buying process is adhered to while also ensuring the capabilities required are accurately evaluated.

Buyers should consider: what funds are available for the purchase; exactly what is required of the service; what criteria the choice will be based upon; and whether G-Cloud is the correct framework for their needs.

The next step is ‘Search and long list’. This step involves formulating a long list of services so as not to exclude any potential suppliers and find the service which best suits the buyers need. This is achieved in the first instance by running multiple searches using different semantics and terminologies, which should return a comprehensive list of services filtered from the Digital Marketplace.

Buyers should keep an auditable trail of this search criteria to demonstrate why a specific service was selected and mitigate any risk of challenge.
Step three involves reducing the long list into a short list, which the CCS recommends should be done by refining the search using the categories listed on the Digital Marketplace. Buyers are then advised to contact each supplier on the shortlist to confirm they can deliver the service within the needed timescale.

The fourth step is ‘Evaluation and Selection’, which entails the buyer fully evaluating the comprehensive documentation for each supplier and service available on the Digital Marketplace. Shortlisted suppliers can be evaluated by direct award on lowest price or the CCS recommended most economically advantageous tender (MEAT).

According to the CCS, MEAT is the most efficient way to compare services, which is broken down into four criteria: whole life cost, which covers cost effectiveness, price and running costs; technical merit and functional fit, which considers coverage, network capacity and performance as specified in relevant service levels; after sales service management, including services such as help desks and account management; and non-functional characteristics. Again, findings should be kept in an auditable format in order to identify the best fit service.

Once a buyer has properly evaluated which service provision best meets their needs, they are then in a position to enter into a direct award, step five. Buyers must complete the appropriate ‘Call-Off Agreement’ for the specific framework to proceed with the award. Customers must use the correct Call-Off agreement relating to the specific framework, i.e. G-Cloud 6 or G-Cloud 7, which is clearly illustrated on the suppliers service overview page. The Call-Off Agreement must then be signed by both parties before the Call-Off can commence, with the maximum duration set at 24 months.

Finally, buyers must complete a ‘G-Cloud Customer Benefits Record’ form every time they enter into a Call-Off Agreement. The form is designed to ensure that the CCS monitor the performance of the G-Cloud framework, helping it to ensure that maximum value is extracted from every commercial relationship while improving the quality of service and delivery.

Technology is now an everyday part of modern life and the government has a continued focus in delivering better connected technology across its departments and the wider public sector. This, paired with the consistent growth in sales from the G-Cloud, and the wider Digital Marketplace, suggests that the number of services and suppliers is only likely to increase, offering public sector buyers even greater choice in selecting digital services without the need for a lengthy tender process.

Further Information
www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk

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