Government's digital G-Cloud marketplace is on cloud 9
IR35 is going to shake up public sector IT buying, and so having a more intuitive, functional and relevant G-Cloud is a very positive step towards mitigating the potential pain
Back in the day, in response to a much earlier incarnation of G-Cloud, I think 2 or 3, one public sector IT buyer friend of mine commented, "It's more cloud cuckoo land than cloud 9!"
Touching base with him this week and I get a sense that the latest version may finally deliver that feeling of euphoria he was after when, rather appropriately, G-Cloud 9 is launched in May.
Indeed, it is crucially important that the digital marketplace for the public sector is at its most efficient. Changes to IR35 also known as the intermediaries' legislation will shake up IT service delivery and in anticipation, public sector buyers are increasingly turning to the G-Cloud to source IT people and solutions.
Previously, some searches may not have been quite as productive as users might have hoped.
The latest blog post from Government Digital Service Product Manager, Laura Flannery, inspires optimism and in response to research carried out during discovery and alpha phases of the reboot, G-Cloud 9 looks set to please both buyers and suppliers ... a little more at least.
One of the main improvements will address a concern that seemed to fairly high on a lot of lists. A "catch 22" scenario had evolved as providers said they struggled to describe their services without knowing which search terms buyers were using and buyers found that some search terms yielded confusingly irrelevant results. The upshot was a cat and mouse game where suppliers were trying to guess how buyers might describe the service they were seeking and buyers were, in turn, trying to guess what terminology vendors might be using.
Descriptions and categorisation of products and services on G-Cloud wouldn't always mirror the way users talk or think about them. By expanding the list of categories a more common language should emerge that suits both buyers and suppliers and this should help with the short listing of potential service providers.
Furthermore, suppliers should be able to provide more details about their services to help distinguish them from their competitors. Several buyers have told me of instances where they have shortlisted suitable providers through G-Cloud only to find that they were not perfect matches when they checked 'manually' wasting valuable time and resources. The questions G-Cloud 9 asks will now be more aligned with the reality of the technology or services being described meaning suppliers should be able to create listings that will make initial searching, decision making and ultimately selection much easier for buyers.
Previous G-Cloud iterations have attracted some criticism around difficulties faced when editing descriptions of services. As the tech landscape changes in a heartbeat so too tech firms have to flex, adapt and evolve to meet changing needs. This has never been factored into the functionality of G-Cloud before now but looks to have been addressed with G-Cloud 9 and suppliers will be able to make their own online edits resulting in faster updates and a more relevant search process.
Another key consideration that came up during the discovery process was a desire for a means by which buyers could easily and effectively create an audit trail using G-Cloud. I have seen myself users taking screenshots and then manually inputting data into a spreadsheet. Sources tell me that this is being addressed but whether it is ready for the launch of G-Cloud 9 remains to be seen.
Almost certain not to have been addressed this time is the complaint from some buyers and suppliers about maximum length of contracts available through G-Cloud. By limiting agreement periods to a maximum of two years, in theory, contracts are subject to regular competition which should mean best value for the public sector purse. This is fine but the lifecycle of IT Projects doesn't always fit within a two-year timeframe and the best relationships between buyers and vendors are often developed over many years not twenty-four months. However, some observers who have raised this as a concern in the past are less vocal this time, especially those hiring services from smaller outfits to whom offering a longer contract could potentially be construed as disguised employment attracting the attention of HMRC. On this point, I believe the better service descriptions and less rigid categorisation offered by G-Cloud 9 should align it more with the actual IT and Project Management as a Service market giving buyers the best of both worlds.
Changes to IR35 are going to shake up public sector IT buying, to what extent none of us really know but having a more intuitive, functional and relevant G-Cloud is a very positive step towards mitigating the potential pain.
I, for one, am hanging on Laura Flannery's (and her team's) every word and wish them every success with G-Cloud 9.