The IT press here in the UK have heralded the remarkable launch of the government's G-Cloud Cloudstore. The timing was certainly impressive: In just four short weeks this online services directory and procurement application went from contract to launch.
Yet I remain a bit puzzled as to why the service has gone live at all, since it's clearly far from complete, usable, or reliable. The fact that it took four weeks to build what is essentially a simple web app is all well and good (even though it repeatedly delivered error pages in my test). But the real value that in this sort of application should derive from quality of the information it delivers. Currently the quality of that information is dismal.
From what I can gather 250 firms submitted information on a total of 1500 services they could deliver to the public sector, and all of them have gotten duly listed on the site.
That was the first red flag, and indeed further investigation reveals that as of now not one of those services has been tested or certified in any way at all; the claims have just been taken as verbatim. Even so, Cloudstore allows you to circumvent thorough tendering processes through the Official Journal of the European Community (OJEC), yet cannnot guarantee whatsoever the quality or fit of the services it promotes.
- Services offered that run on products that do not meet Government standards
- A dominance of the usual major IT suppliers, claiming to offer almost anything (regardless of actual expertise)
- Many well known and experienced government IT suppliers missing
- Currently no details on what future accreditation will actually mean or demand of a supplier or service
This last point in particular concerns me deeply. Surely it seems fair to assume that "accredited" services and suppliers will have had their organization vetted, that they are viable and solvent, that they have experienced and reliable products and support, and that they meet technical standards. Buyers will also want a solid understanding of these criteria and how they were met. Surely this is the basic due diligence that any buyer has to undertake? Yet I found no indication here of what accredited status will mean, how it will be administered, and how it will be checked and maintained.
I had high hopes for this system. Perhaps it was just a really bad idea to launch it now, long before the real work has been done. To my mind this store should not have gone live until all the services and suppliers had been thoroughly vetted and assessed. Expert reviews of the remaining suppliers and further research of the market to ensure that a wide array of viable options is actually represented (rather than just those that have volunteered themselves) also seems necessary.
Until that time, this has little more value than a search on Google or Craigslist, and comes with potentially more risk of those, since it intends to help you shortcut necessary selection steps.
I'm all for speeding up and removing unnecessary bureaucracy from the procurement process, which is actually a one focus area of our business; but to repeat, the web application itself is not the important thing here. You can label it "cloud" and get more buzz, but at the end of the day it's the quality and veracity of the information delivered that matters most. That information is nowhere near ready for consumption right now.