Mark SayManaging EditorWednesday 11 February 2015

G Cloud founder slams Crown Commercial Service

Chris Chant joins criticisms of management of government IT procurement frameworks

Chris ChantThe founder of the government's cloud services procurement framework has said it has had limited success in changing IT procurement and that too many shortcomings remain.

Chris Chant, who was Cabinet Office executive director for G Cloud when it was launched in 2011, made the claims as a number of suppliers aired grievances about the Digital Services Framework (DSF) and called for further reforms.

Chant, who is now a director of technology consultancy Rainmaker Solutions, told the THINK Cloud for Government 2015 event: "There are still too many examples of bad practice, too much adherence to the influence of the systems integrations and not enough adoption of agile, iterative and efficient services available through frameworks such as G Cloud. So much has changed, so much has been done, but we still need to speak openly about the need for change and what is still wrong."

Among the bad examples he cited were organisations letting contracts over the two-year G Cloud limit, and buying before they have designed what they need to do.

He said there should be more platforms for open collaboration between buyers and suppliers, that the design of a service should come before procurement and be led by users, and that the DSF should be under the Government Digital Service (GDS) rather than the Crown Commercial Service (CCS).

"It is unacceptable that we let CCS mess up the Digital Services Framework," he said. "This is evidenced by its poor take-up and low spend. Why is this not with GDS?"

Chant described the CCS as "dysfunctional" and criticised it for allowing hurdles that keep small suppliers out of frameworks, and letting the framework so infrequently that suppliers can be locked out for long periods.

His complaints echoed those from others in the IT industry that the CCS has diluted the benefits of the G Cloud by removing agile services, making DSF - the framework to support agile development - the only one on which they are available.

Harry Metcalfe of DWX claimed in a blog that it is a failed framework. "DSF divides developers, designers, user researchers and delivery managers into different lots," he said. "The vast majority of good companies supplying these services will have people in all of those roles, and generally, those people will work together as a team on many projects.

"But that's not the way DSF works. On DSF, you might win one lot in a project and no others. Developers, but no designers. It's a way to buy people, not projects. The framework is essentially a mechanism for body-shopping, which is just not workable for most suppliers."

A similar criticism came from Andy Budd of Clearleft, who wrote this removes the value of teams' experience, and there are further weaknesses in forcing them to do all the work at a client's office, and in the reverse auction process.

"Essentially it seems like GDS are weeding out the most experienced staff in favour of low cost resources they can use to pad out their teams, reducing the country's amazing design and development agencies to little more than recruiting firms," he said.

Steph Gray of Helpful Tech described the DSF as "a largely pointless experience and a considerable waste of time and email".

Chant's Rainmaker colleague, Jan Joubert, also claimed there is still bad practice and inefficiency and IT procurement, and a need to spread the use of G Cloud beyond its existing base in central government.

The Cabinet Office responded to the complaints with a claim that the DSF is "levelling the playing field" for government contracts and that SMEs account for 84% of the suppliers on the framework.

"We know more needs to be done to ensure that the needs of those who are building digital public services are met," spokesperson said. "We will further reduce the barriers for suppliers to provide highly capable individuals and teams to work with them.

"We welcome feedback, and we're constantly iterating and improving the service to ensure we offer suppliers the best experience possible."

There is also disagreement over the claim that suppliers do not have to work onsite with a client for the duration of the contract, although the Government Service Design Manual emphasises the importance of short meetings throughout a day.

The Cabinet Office is about to start work with the CCS on identifying possible changes in its approach to ensuring that digital services meet user needs.

Pictured: Chris Chant | photo courtesy of Rainmaker Solutions Ltd.