Over the last couple of weeks I have had numerous conversations with government executives and IT leaders about cloud computing, open source, shared services, software reuse. These are all different perspectives on IT sourcing, and they are often made problematic by clumsy public procurement procedures.
Let’s take cloud computing. Part of its value proposition is the easiness to acquire a service according to a specific need, in the appropriate quantity and at the appropriate time. However public procurement requires a due process that forces prospective buyers to go through a competitive tendering process that takes time and can ultimately annihilate thatparticular aspect of the cloud value proposition. To counter this, central government agencies, such as the GSA in the US or the Cabinet Office in the UK, have established cloud stores hosting service offerings from vendors who have successfully responded to a request for proposal. This allows departments to buy at ease through those stores – notwithstanding certification and accreditation, as well as any additional competitive tendering requirement depending on the quantity and nature of their purchase.
This model is quite similar to how mobile applications are sold through app stores, which can be either targeted to consumers (like Apple’s, Android’s etc) or established by an enterprise to deploy mobile applications to its employees. In fact we see a convergence of cloud and mobile app stores going forward.
But then, why should this be limited to mobile and cloud? What about commercial or open source software that still needs to be installed on premises? And what about the mythical “sharing and reuse” of software across agencies, local authorities or even countries?
The app store model is potentially valuable for any sort of IT product or service that is sufficiently industrialized and packaged in order to be consumed by a non-expert client (i.e. potentially without the intermediation of the IT organization, or without a deep expertise of the software itself). Such a concept was present in the first version of the UK IT Strategy (see blog post) under the name of G-AS (Government Application Store), and is mentioned in the Strategic Implementation Plan: however the current focus on cloud computing has obscured the broader concept of the app store.
This is yet another example that governments should not focus on cloud computing per se (after all, it is just a different acquisition and delivery model) but on how to make sure that demand and supply meet more effectively and efficiently. The app store could become the marketplace to access cloud, commercial software products, skills, as well as to finally succeed reusing and exchanging software across different government organizations.
However this broader objective may be hard to achieve if the development of government app stores remains in the hand of those who are in charge of either cloud or mobile strategies.
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The apps store model works fine for commodity items. Just download an Apple iPhone app and it works.
How much of government IT is commodity?
Look at the various on-line price lists available for cloud services and you’ll see that they are far from being commodities. The range of options and charging models is bewildering.
Reality will hit the dream and reality will win.
The political push to get the Cloud Store on line with haste has resulted in a product lacking all integrity and quality. I spent a good solid four days analysing what should be commodity services for compute and storage. It is not possible to select like for like services and be confident about associated pricing. No public sector procurement officer in it’s right mind would use this service to legally procure services.
One example I found was a supplier entry not having answers to the procurement questions but having the evaluation criteria posted for their entry.
The drive to become more agile appears to be one of quick and dirty.