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By | OUT-LAW.COM 29th May 2014 11:56

Watchdog puts UK gov IT on RED alert. Yes, that's a bad thing

G-Cloud shopping catalogue gets amber/red status ... Colour us shocked

The UK government's "G-Cloud" project is one of more than 20 IT-related government-run projects that have been given a "red" or "amber/red" status by the Major Projects Authority (MPA), a watchdog that oversees government projects.

"It is important to note that a red or amber/red rating does not mean a project will be or should be cancelled, and the delivery confidence of many projects rated red and amber/red increases significantly as solutions are identified to challenges," the MPA's recently published annual report (24-page/1.72MB PDF) said.

"Though some projects will likely pass through stages of red or amber/red on the path to successful delivery, there will also be instances where a red rating signifies that a project is unachievable within reasonable timescales and to a reasonable budget without urgent remedial action. Red and red/amber ratings signal to ministers and officials that action is required and suitable mitigating measures put in place," it said.

The G-Cloud programme, which has been labelled "amber/red" by the MPA, allows public sector bodies to gain access to cloud-based IT services being offered by a selected list of pre-approved suppliers during a set period. The fifth version of the G-Cloud framework was launched last week.

Stuck in traffic?

The MPA rates the risk of a project not living up to its promises using a five-point traffic light system: green, green/amber, amber, amber/red, and red – as explained here, under "Delivery Confidence Assessments".

An amber/red status means "successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible".

The red label is more damning: "Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable. There are major issues on project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable. The project may need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed."

In its 2011 cloud computing strategy, the UK government identified a number of objectives for the G-Cloud programme, from offering a platform for public sector IT buyers to procure commoditised services more easily, to encouraging innovation and improved supplier performances.

The strategy said that the availability of "off the shelf" IT solutions would allow public sector bodies to "use what they need when they need it" and avoid duplication of services that cannot be shared. It said the G-Cloud programme would also cut the time public sector organisations spent in procuring IT services and avoid those bodies becoming 'locked in' to long term contracts with suppliers. The procurement process would also be fairer and simpler for suppliers to engage with, it said.

The strategy also said that the costs of IT services used by the public sector could be lowered as a result of the G-Cloud system and that competition would be enhanced because SMEs would be given a chance to compete with larger suppliers for government IT contracts.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The MPA did not specify reasons for the 'amber/red' rating provided for the G-Cloud programme in its ratings report [.xlsx] . The report did, however, contain comments attributed to the Cabinet Office on its work towards achieving the programme's aims.

The Cabinet Office said that three concerns around the G-Cloud programme that had been identified in the summer of 2013 had been "addressed". Those concerns were that the G-Cloud programme "was not funded ... was under-resourced ... [and that] there was not an agreed benefits realisation methodology". The concerns were raised during the time that the G-Cloud programme was evolving from a project run by the Cabinet Office to one run on a 'business as usual' basis by the Government Digital Service.

The Cabinet Office also said that the G-Cloud programme has successfully supported the government's 'cloud first' policy for central departmental IT procurement and helped boost sales to SMEs. It said the programme is on track to record annual sales of £200 million and that there is a plan in place to increase "the monthly sales figure [which is currently averaging at £16m] further". It also reported on resourcing and funding matters and confirmed that a review of the benefits of the G-Cloud programme had revealed that procurements through the framework were costing departments just half of what they were previously spending on similar services.

The next stage of the G-Cloud programme is to replace the existing online marketplace through which IT services can be selected, the CloudStore, with a new "digital marketplace". The Cabinet Office said the new marketplace will be "easier for both buyers and sellers to use" and that £2.283m has been budgeted to be spent on its development in the next financial year. ®

Copyright © 2014, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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