The CloudStore – A silver lining of opportunity
On 19th February 2012, the UK government announced the new CloudStore as an accelerated way for government bodies to select and procure approved IT solutions, without all the cost and delays of full tendering processes.
This is a great opportunity for Government departments to make significant savings, deploy the best software and services quickly, and enable SMEs to participate more frequently in the projects. Whilst there are some initial teething problems with the CloudStore, the Cabinet Office is adopting an agile project management method, and appears to be listening to and learning from feedback.
What is the CloudStore?
The UK Government has embarked on a project to facilitate departments’ usage of cloud services for a range of office based functions. The way they have chosen to do this is to provide a pre-approved list of cloud vendors on one central website. The website, called CloudStore, currently catalogues over 250 vendors offering 1700 services.
The delivery method, via the cloud, should reduce lengthy procurement routes. Currently procurement often appears to remove most of what the buyer wants in favour of what it thinks it should be asking for, and then tying itself into a long and sometimes costly partnership.
As well as a money saving exercise, there are other benefits that the Government is keen to provide. It is hoped that the CloudStore will help break up the monopoly that the larger IT services firms have. The vision is that by providing a flexible pay-as-you-go solution with a minimum 12 month contract, there will be less risk in buying innovations from SMEs. Having said that, the CloudStore has also approved large IT service companies.
Some of the obvious functional limitations of the CloudStore website are plain to see, and I have noted an addition to the site since its launch of a “beta” logo.
One limitation is that it is difficult to search for services and compare them. Implementing a faceted search might help buyers quickly see potential best matches for review, as would side-by-side comparison tables. However, the website’s simplicity may also be its Achilles Heal.
Many projects GOSS Interactive delivers range from simple websites to complex channel shift projects delivering millions of pounds of savings, and this is where detailed discussions with vendors are needed. The challenge will come when there is an instance that an organisation looks for a service in the framework, that on the surface can be quickly deployed and start delivering savings, only to discover that it has far reaching implications beyond the mere fact of where the service is brought from.
Sometimes a long a protracted procurement process can be a good thing, I know counter intuitive for a supplier to say but its true, the adage “buy in haste, repent at leisure”, is well founded in this case. No one knows your business better than you and by taking a long and detailed look at what the market has to offer means you are more likely to find a best fit for your business. OK so you may be able to secure services from the cloud quickly and you may be able to cancel that service just as quickly but can your business change as fast? If you are securing a new and radically different way of delivering efficiency for your business, then that means your business will need to change the way it does things. Change does not happen over night. Organisational culture change is often the single biggest killer of any major IT programme. You need to make sure that if you are looking at a new way of doing things that your business, it processes and its people are aligned to that.
One size fits all?
Rarely, if ever, ok who am I kidding, never can you get a true cloud system that allows you to bend, tweak or fiddle with it to meet bespoke business needs. That is the point of cloud solutions, it is cheaper because it is not bespoke. Everyone gets the same with a small degree of customisation.
So you are left with a what comes first scenario; reviewing your business process to find a better, more efficient way of doing them and finding a solution, cloud based or otherwise that meets that need, or find a service that roughly maps your process and change your business, its culture and people to fit that – you decide which works better and what budget you can afford?
A cloudy outlook
Some common concerns with cloud solutions are also present with the CloudStore. For example, where is sensitive Government or personal data held? How is data protected and exposed? Do they reside with you or are they shipped into the cloud? If they are in the cloud, then what security do you then have, oh sure they may have IL3 or even IL4, but is that really going to matter when publicly sensitive data gets pushed all over the web. And it happens to the best of them. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/02/10/cia-website-hacked/)
You get much more clarity and responsibility on such issues with a single supplier.
The silver lining
However, let’s not be gloomy. We should all be supporting this move to ‘Cloud First Procurement’ for standardised IT solutions, as it is our taxes that are being used and it is our economy that is at risk if savings can not be found by government. All the issues raised here, and by others, are all solvable and credit should be given to the Government for recognising the opportunities the cloud offers; having a vision and delivering to date. At the end of the day, success will be measured by uptake. The CloudStore will only be used if it delivers genuine ease of procurement, reduces costs and allows best of breed solutions to be deployed to multiple departments. To facilitate this it needs to be like all good websites – work first time and every time, allowing the user to perform the task at hand quickly and successfully.
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