Believe it or not, it has been exactly 2 years since we first heard about the UK Government’s G-Cloud initiative. Now, with the launch of G-Cloud II (the second iteration of the G-Cloud framework) on the 26th of October 2012, we thought it would be timely to reflect on our experiences with the G-Cloud and why we think this is a programme worth supporting.
G-Cloud - Threat or Opportunity?
So what are some of the benefits we were promised?:
- The creation of a Government CloudStore for pre-accredited cloud services
- Simpler, quicker public sector procurement
- An opportunity to reduce the cost of sale for everyone involved
- Adoption of short-term contracts and pay-per-use services
- Improved sales transparency, competition and value for money
- Increased levels of business for SMEs (Small & Medium Enterprises)
- Public sector cost savings
To be honest, when we first heard about the G-Cloud programme in 2010 this all sounded too good to be true!
To put our situation into context, INOVEM (the company behind Kahootz) is a UK SME that has been supplying online (cloud) collaboration and consultation software to the public sector for almost 10 years. You may be forgiven for not having heard of INOVEM as in the majority of cases our software is hidden behind our clients’ web brands. We, like all other ICT suppliers to the public sector, have sold the majority of our services via traditional procurement methods which involve answering lengthy ITT (Invitation to Tender) documents and attending one or more on-site meetings. We all know how painful, costly and time-consuming that can be, especially if you don’t win the business.
Over the last decade, INOVEM software has developed a universal reputation for being easy to use, robust, secure and well supported. The low cost of ownership is also appreciated by our many public sector clients. With little, if any, upfront investment our cloud collaboration software has always been licensed on a pay-per-use basis using flexible short-term contracts. The problem with this procurement route however, is that user license growth across client accounts becomes curtailed as departmental, organisational and EU procurement spending thresholds are reached. This meant that once the technology had shown it could deliver, our clients could not benefit from wider adoption and lower per user costs. There had to be a better way!
In 2010, 95% of our customer base was in the UK public sector. So the G-Cloud, if adopted as the preferred procurement route, would certainly become a threat to new business - doing nothing was never an option. With increased pressures on public sector spending and a reduction in both capital ICT and consultancy budgets, the aspirations behind the G-Cloud seem irresistible. It’s no surprise therefore that we decided to get behind this exciting initiative, even though there were many unknowns for all parties involved.
Fortunately for us, the aspirations of the G-Cloud procurement framework are well suited for cloud collaboration vendors. However, although our software has always been quick and easy to deploy we have had to invest in several areas to help us maximise the opportunity the Government CloudStore offers:
- Framework submission – when it comes to government framework agreements, the G-Cloud ITT was fairly straight-forward to respond to. To submit the required pre-qualification information only once, for multiple buying organisations, makes sense as it is extremely cost effective for us.
- Transparent pricing and service description – although we have always treated our clients equitably, our price list was not in the public domain. It is clear that transparency, via the CloudStore, encourages increased competition as competitors also know your price point. Assessing the market we know we offer great value for money, so this was not an issue for us. It will be for others, especially when it comes to publishing the cost of expansion to larger user numbers.
- Self-service on-boarding – unlike some one-size-fits-all applications our collaboration software is extremely adaptable, allowing end-users to quickly purpose it to support a range of team-working and community involvement activities. Once the importance of a flexible approach to workspace layout and content is appreciated, users feel empowered to innovate and adapt the use of our software to the way they work. Assuming we may not actually meet a G-Cloud prospect in person, we needed to find a way to communicate this differentiator through a library of sample workspace templates and client examples.
- Free software trials – this has to be one of the best ways to de-risk a procurement project and is actively encouraged by the G-Cloud programme. To ensure we made a buyer’s short-list, we needed to make it easier for evaluation teams to have access to our cloud collaboration software. This was relatively simple to do and we started getting sign-ups within days. Even though we have been told our software is easy to use we are focussing even more on the user experience. We have only one chance to make a first impression.
- Service branding & marketing – with over 3,000 products and services on the CloudStore it was evident that prospective buyers need to know who we are, and what we can offer. We can no longer afford to be hidden away behind the scenes, which is why the self-service offering of our cloud collaboration software is now being promoted as Kahootz. If first impressions are anything to go by, everyone seems to like it – do you? Now that we are selling in the Cloud, we have also had to invest more in online B2B marketing techniques such as social media, blogging, helpful online guides and FAQs.
- Pay-per-use billing – given the ease of buying from the Cloud we hope to have many thousands of new users. It made sense therefore to invest in an integrated e-payment system that was flexible enough to allow clients to order exactly what they need and easily upgrade license parameters during the term of a contract. As part of our commitment to price transparency we will soon be introducing an online quotation facility so that it is easy to calculate the potential ‘cost of success’.
- Pan-government security accreditation – this is the single biggest investment we have made. In the past 10 years, the security of our software has been independently tested to the satisfaction of a number of government departments, local authorities and health trusts. To achieve pan-government IL2 accreditation we have been working closely with the G-Cloud team, our sponsor at CESG (the UK Government's National Technical Authority for Information Assurance) and our ISO 27001 consultants to further document, test and fine tune our security arrangements. Although the initial process is almost complete the investment in protecting the interests of our clients will be on-going, month by month, year by year.
- New hosting platform – unlike the way we used to sell, Kahootz opens up new global opportunities and therefore hardware scalability needed to be virtualised. We also needed a hosting service that had G-Cloud IL2 security accreditation, which is why in May of this year we switched to Memset after sourcing a short-list of IaaS providers from the CloudStore itself. We were able to seamlessly migrate all our existing users and their data. The only thing they noticed was an increase in performance!
As you can see from the work items above, an investment in the G-Cloud programme has the potential to change your business and will therefore require commitment from everyone in your company.
So was it worth it?
It’s true to say we had our doubts as past experiences with business from government procurement frameworks was not positive. However, we are sceptical no more. Even though it is relatively new, the G-Cloud is already generating new business for us and the investment we made in making our software more accessible is starting to pay off. We made our first G-Cloud sale to an NHS Commissioning Support Unit in May and others have followed from the NHS, Central Government Departments and Local Authorities. In fact, we will be reporting 5 orders alone this month!
The CloudStore has also produced a company milestone. For the first time we have been able to sell to a public sector organisation without responding to a lengthy ITT or travelling to do an on-site product demonstration. What makes this even more remarkable is that the local authority, previously unknown to us, short-listed our service from the CloudStore then trialled our software against competitors and signed contracts within 4 days! This drastically reduces the cost of procurement for everyone involved which allows us to make our cloud-based licensing extremely attractive.
Yes, the G-Cloud initiative creates increased competition, but we can only see an up-side. The early sales successes we have had with Kahootz has re-energised the team at INOVEM about the opportunities ahead. We are now even more focused on what it takes to offer a useful and highly regarded cloud collaboration service.
The G-Cloud journey has only just started. By working together we can already see that the 7 benefits promised above are actually coming true.
Perhaps now is the time for you to get into Kahootz with the G-Cloud!