G-cloud = open?

I came to the conference with precious little knowledge about G-cloud, except from a few pages that I had read (e.g. John Suffolk and Cloudbook) but just an impression that perhaps G-cloud by definition should/could be totally open (open source, open data, open data structure, open ….).

Why my interest?

Well working in the public sector I have become increasingly aware that our ability to be agile is frequently hampered by the software systems that we use. Specifically, most of these systems cause problems due to vendor lock-in. The main impacts of vendor lock-in is that we are dependant on the vendors for development (e.g. we have been waiting for 16 months for a working connector between our casework system and ePlanning) but also it is extremely difficult to switch between vendors . The other issue is that in Scotland the legislation etc. is generally different and we often end up with software that is ‘Scottishised’ i.e. usually does not quite meet our needs.

So our current situation is that our systems sit within our network, difficult to connect to the outside world, difficult to create additional functionality …. you get the picture.

My dream … our future systems would probably be outside our network and would be modular, so that all users use a core business logic but can ‘pick and mix’ the modules to bolt on to the core. The data would also meet agreed Open Data Standards/Structure (see PODS), which would enable us to easily switch vendors and if necessary develop functionality in-house. Also other user groups that interact with us (e.g. Community Councils) could also more easily develop functionality linked to our systems.

Photo kindly taken by Gavin Crosby

So when I heard about G-cloud I wondered if it might be my ‘dream’ solution. Could this deliver what I want (an end to vendor lock-in) and help develop shared services?

The discussion that followed (in no particular order) was really interesting:

  1. There was consensus from the other people working in the public sector that vendor lock-in is a real problem (i.e. it isn’t just me!!)
  2. Open Data Standards may be too restrictive and perhaps a better approach might be the Semantic Web (Ontologies, RDF …)
  3. Business Logic can be proprietary (businesses need to make a profit) but can be small
  4. Systems have ‘got to be open’ (i.e. Open source is what we should be striving to use but open APIs etc….) but there was some debate about issues
  5. Security may or may not be a barrier (not conclusive)
  6. The code could be ‘Government source’
  7. Procurement policies in relation to open source.
  8. There are other models for developing public sector systems (e.g. SEEMIS)

My take when I went to the conference was that we should push the UK government to ensure that the G-cloud can meet our Scottish needs (i.e. componentised and open so that it be developed).

However, my impression was that perhaps there is not much appetite for taking on the UK government (it’s probably just me). So perhaps what we could do is start by getting a few Scottish public sector agencies together and set up our own ‘cloud’ for testing purposes. This might then provide an opportunity for developing our own Government Open Systems (GOSCON might be a starting point)? Who knows, our existing vendors might then be interested in developing more open solutions?

To sum up, this was a great opportunity for me to air some of my daft ideas and fortunately I wasn’t totally shot down πŸ™‚

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6 thoughts on “G-cloud = open?

  1. lelil says:

    I see Holyrood has organised a conference on ‘Cloud Computing for the Public Sector’: http://cloudcomputing.holyrood.com/ Sounds interesting, but it’s a tad more expensive than ScotGovCamp πŸ™‚ Anyone intend going along?

  2. In the current financial climate you would think that more events would be run like ScotGovCamp plus I wonder if the Holyrood conference will have the same buzz/energy that we experienced!

    • lelil says:

      I doubt it Nick. They always get the big names, but I don’t think Holyrood Conferences provide good value for money. And generally have very low levels of interactivity – although they are getting a bit better at that.

  3. Hi there,

    This is Chal from Holyrood – I am developing the cloud conference linked.

    Its good to see some Scottish specific discussion around cloud issues!

    We have endeavoured to enable discussion through a half day worth of Q&A format breakout sessions – looking at what the big barriers to cloud adoption are in Scotland from a user perspective.

    I can be certain that you wont get the level of interactivity you desire, as in this instance the focus is on educating and addressing concerns, while raising the profile of cloud computing and what it can do for Scotland.

    We are developing some methods and tools for offering a far more interactive experience for future events and I would welcome a discussion on this! You can find me on twitter: chuteatholyrood

    Thanks

    Chal

  4. lelil says:

    Thanks Chal

    Good to hear Holyrood is entering the 21st century πŸ™‚

    Would be interested in hearing more about your plans for providing more interactivity at events- do you blog?

    • Hi Lelil

      I do blog – limited to our cloud website at the moment: http://www.holyrood.com/cloudcomputing

      We will be aiming to get something more substantial and permanent into place in the near future.

      I am keen in the first instance to get some audience participation in the creation of an event including mini online consultations, polls and creative use of social media.

      I would hope to allow delegates to direct the conversation in advance and then perhaps have some flexible sessions built into the usual format to start with.

      If you want to get into more detail follow me on twitter or email at chute ‘at’ holyrood.com

      Chal

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