Westminster cloud

Former White House CIO Vivek Kundra believes the Cabinet Office's G-Cloud could be the new model for how governments across the world procure IT and technology.

Kundra, now heading up Salesforce's Industries division, was extremely critical of big suppliers dominating the public sector and failing on projects because of problems with procurement when he spoke to CIO magazine's sister title Computerworld UK in San Francisco this week.

Kundra was CIO at the White House for more than two years under Barack Obama's leadership, where he was praised for implementing a cloud first policy and opening up data to the public.

His comments come shortly after the US is having catastrophic problems with its new Healthcare.gov website, and the UK is writing off millions of pounds worth of IT assets under its welfare reform project, Universal Credit.

"There are a whole host of issues, but a core part of it is about how governments around the world procure. If you look at the procurement cycle it is not aligned with the technology cycle. Neither is the budget cycle. If you think about it, the average large scale government IT procurement ends up taking as long as it took Steve Jobs to develop the first iPhone," said Kundra.

"The procurement process actually favours those who have a PhD in procurement process, not innovation. Because of that you are going to continue to see spectacular failures in IT. What happens is you create this alliance in an IT cartel where a few vendors know how the procurement process works and they keep winning these government contracts."

He added: "And what is their incentive? To throw more bodies at the problem. Their incentive is not to finish the project, have it delivered on time, have it be as innovative as possible - the incentives are very perverse. It's billing. The longer it takes, the more money you are going to make. That needs to be completely rethought."

Kundra praised Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude's latest procurement reforms, where he and other key technology leaders in Whitehall have made a number of changes to squeeze out the 'oligopoly of suppliers' in a bid to save costs, introduce more innovation, and deliver projects more quickly.

Part of this is being driven by the G-Cloud, which is essentially an iterative framework that allows government departments and organisations to buy cloud services from a list of pre-approved vendors. It aims to promote transparency, as all of the products and companies are listed side by side on an online catalogue, as well as introduce new suppliers to Whitehall, where most of those signed to the framework are SMEs.

"I'm a huge fan of the G-Cloud and Francis Maude and the reforms that have taken place, it is putting pressure on and I think it could be the model globally as we look at aggressive procurement reforms that are going to fundamentally change the way technology is deployed in government," said Kundra.

"More competition is always better, which means we the citizens are going to get more value for a lot less. Whenever these projects fail, it's not just the tax dollars that we are talking about, if you look at the current example in the US, it means millions of of Americans won't have access to healthcare. Implications are vast, it's a tragedy."

Recently the head of CGI's UK division (previously Logica) hit out at the governments reforms and said that Francis Maude is at risk of pushing investment from the big suppliers elsewhere. However, Kundra believes that when you begin to see a backlash from the 'cartel of government suppliers', this is when necessary change is taking place.

"The fact that you are getting a backlash from the big suppliers means you are doing something right. I would be very concerned if you were not, it would mean that there isn't any meaningful change happening," he said.

"I would rather any day have a model where you have Darwinian competition for the best solution than an eco-system that is closed, secretive and opaque."