GEMS: building alliance

Simon Hansford | MOD DCO | GEMSThe Ministry of Defence GEMS scheme initially launched in 1996 as a means of promoting staff initiative and improving efficiency throughout the Department and the Armed Forces. The online digital staff engagement and innovation system was tailored to allow MOD and Armed Forces personnel to engage and make suggestions based on their experience as to how the MOD can transform and evolve. Last month, as part of a wider GEMs relaunch, the MOD signed a new contract with Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd to host the scheme through the Government G-Cloud framework. MOD DCB spoke with Simon Hansford, Chief Technology Officer, Skyscape Cloud Services, about this new agreement, achieving efficiency in practice, and the kind of partnerships involved.

How long and how competitive was the process for winning this contract and what kind of feedback have you received from the MOD?

The process for winning the GEMS contract was very simple and quick. The MOD were able to access the Cloudstore and seek services that met their requirement. The competitive process is clearly laid out in the G-Cloud framework, and requires buyers to shortlist services and then award based on lowest cost (all service descriptions and pricing are visible to the buyer).

The G-Cloud buyer is able to further evaluate against whole-life cost, functional fit, non-functional characteristics and service wrap should that be deemed necessary. All government terms and conditions are pre-agreed at framework award and Skyscape’s pricing is standardised, granular and transparent, so detailed and protracted negotiations with MOD were not required. The process was completed in days rather than months – the latter is the norm in theUKpublic sector.

The feedback from the MOD has been unanimously positive. The MOD has been able to deliver a key transformational project exceptionally quickly, and has made substantial efficiency savings in the process.

The key pointers for Skyscape’s success have been that we were able to deliver the best-fit secure service at the best price point with no upfront costs, and were able to respond very rapidly to the MOD’s requirement.  

Tell me about the MOD’s procurement requirements for this contract.

The MOD had a simple requirement to host the GEMS system on cloud-based infrastructure. Skyscape was able to deliver the initial proof of concept to MOD within 48 hours. As the service had been pre-procured through the OJEU-compliant G-Cloud framework, where Government terms and conditions are pre-agreed, there was little further work for either the MOD or Skyscape to do other than to complete a simple order form which effectively finalised the contract.

GEMS | MOD DCOHow did you go about researching the MOD GEMS system when bidding? What kind of experience do you have in this area?

We have significant experience in hosting cloud-based services for the UK public sector, and we are proud to count two police forces and a number of other public sector organisations, including HMRC and the Government Digital Service (GDS), as our customers. As we deliver an industrialised ‘out of the box’ service, little research was required on Skyscape’s part.

It’s a cloud service, so we run the MOD’s underlying computer platform in a secure, scalable manner and they run the application. The agreement lasts for one calendar year. We are delivering an exceptionally low-cost and secure service.

Tell me more about the G-Cloud framework – and what benefits it can present the public sector. 

The G-Cloud framework is bringing substantial benefit to theUKpublic sector, as follows.

The buyer is able to have access to a very large range of pre-procured services. This simple but compliant commercial process enables rapid delivery of business objectives – the MOD GEMS project is an excellent example.

Seventy-five per cent of G-Cloud suppliers are SMEs – not only does this enable the UK public sector to access and benefit from new innovation; it also supports the public sector’s target to transact twenty-five per cent of its business with the SME community, in doing so helping to grow the UK economy.

The buyer is no longer locked into long-term contracts which are difficult and expensive to break. The maximum contract under G-ii is two years, and the buyer can terminate at will if necessary. This incentivises the supply community to deliver the best possible service at the best possible price point throughout the life of the contract.

Suppliers’ prices and service descriptions are visible to all, including other suppliers – which is unprecedented in theUKpublic sector. This drives healthy competition, and also puts pressure on larger suppliers who may have long-term, expensive contracts with Government outside of G-Cloud to bring their prices down.

The G-Cloud framework can enable substantial efficiency savings for the buyer – Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude recently cited by way of comparison two bids made under G-Cloud, one by a Service Interchange (SI) at £4 million and one by an SME for the same service at £50,000.

How can savings and increased efficiency be achieved in practice?

All parties – whether buyer or supplier – will make considerable savings around the procurement process, which is very rapid and compliant. In addition, the buyer is able to easily perform like-for-like benchmarking for the required service. Should the buyer think that they are being charged too much for a service they can easily move to a lower-cost one. This is unprecedented in the UK public sector, where until recently benchmarking was almost always performed by expensive specialist organisations. The transparency of pricing drives a highly competitive market, with best price point being the primary factor for award of business.

The elasticity and granular nature of cloud computing means that the public sector only pays for what it uses, when it needs it. The buyer no longer has to purchase services priced at optimum capacity. In many cases no capital expenditure is required from the buyer.

Tell me about the kind of partnerships required and who you are working closely with.

Skyscape delivers services based on highly automated, leading-edge technology deployed in some of the most secure and sustainable data centres in theUK. We work closely with alliance partners EMC, Cisco, VMWare, VCE and Ark Continuity to deliver services that the UK public sector is demanding. In addition, we have a number of sales channel partners who range from global IT organisations through to ISVs and fellow SMEs. Adopting this model enables Skyscape to remain a lean, agile organisation whose core capability is highly secure and automated service at the most competitive price point.

How important do you believe innovative thinking will be in achieving efficiency savings over the coming years?

Innovative thinking will be fundamental to driving efficiency savings. To achieve the level of savings required means that theUKpublic sector will need to continue to think out of the box and be willing to do things differently. Perpetuating the status quo with long-term expensive contracts will not drive either efficiency or innovation. The G-Cloud ii framework has over 3000 services and over 450 suppliers, and the framework will be regularly refreshed – so innovative service and thinking will be much easier for the public sector to access and exploit. The GDS is leading the way with its agile delivery methodology and helping other government departments to adopt the same approach. Over the last year Skyscape has seen increasing demand from the public sector for secure, low-cost and efficient service and it is very evident that there is a genuine and deep-seated appetite for change.

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