Cloud First at last - at least across central government. That's the long-awaited announcement from the Cabinet Office today as minister Francis Maude backs a mandate to ensure that Cloud is the first port of call for the public sector.
In future, when procuring new or existing services, public sector organisations must consider and fully evaluate potential Cloud solutions first – before they consider any other option.
The policy is mandated to central government and "strongly recommended" to the wider public sector.
But departments ultimately remain free to choose an alternative to the Cloud but will have to demonstrate that a non-Cloud approach will offer better value for money.
"G-Cloud brings a step change in the way government buys IT. It's quicker, cheaper and more competitive, open to a wider range of companies, including a majority of SMEs, and offers more choice and innovation," said Maude.
"Many government departments already use G-Cloud, but IT costs are still too high. One way we can reduce them is to accelerate the adoption of Cloud across the public sector to maximise its benefits.
"The Cloud First policy will embed the skills a modern civil service needs to meet the demands of 21st-century digital government and help us get ahead in the global race."
Optimising Cloud services across government
The formal commitment to Cloud First is a significant success for G-Cloud Programme Director Denise McDonagh who has been calling for such an approach for a long time - despite some opposition from other voices in Whitehall - as a way of optmising adoption of Cloud services across government.
"Sales from G-Cloud are rising steadily, with cumulative spend now over £18 million – two-thirds of it with SMEs," she said. "This is still small relative to overall government IT spend, and the transition to widespread purchasing of IT services as a commodity won't happen overnight.
"The adoption of a Cloud First policy will give added impetus for Whitehall and the wider public sector to move in this direction – complementing our ongoing work to encourage Cloud adoption and to help buyers adapt to this way of purchasing IT, which is already showing results.
Expanded G-Cloud framework
"Off-the-shelf products from the Cloud can be up to 30% of the cost of bespoke solutions. Today's launch of an expanded G-Cloud framework, with more companies offering an even greater range of products and services, will only enhance the cost and innovation benefits of a more competitive marketplace."
One firm that has done very well from the G-Cloud Programme is UK provider Huddle, whose CEO Alastair Mitchell welcomed the Cloud First mandate. "Mandating central government to look at innovative Cloud technology first could not come a moment too soon,' he said. "Yes, spend through the CloudStore may have hit £18.2 million, with record March sales, but this is still a tiny fraction of the £18 billion that UK government is thought to spend on ICT.
"To bring about the step change required in government IT, this Cloud First policy, mirroring that of Obama's administration in the US, should force departments to look at ICT in a new light. Pushing the Cloud from the top down will help ensure that we don't get left behind when it comes to widespread Cloud adoption in government."
But he added there is still more to do. "What I would like to see in the future is this mandate expanded to cover all public sector organisations," he urged. "The benefits the Cloud brings – agility, increased efficiency and scalability, mobile support, cross-firewall collaboration etc. – are now too obvious to be ignored. With huge targets for cost reduction, government can no longer afford to sweep Cloud aside."