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Obama’s key cloud adviser criticises UK’s G-Cloud

Reuven Cohen advised the Democrats to use AWS for their original sponsorship website

One of President Barack Obama's key cloud advisers in the US has criticised the UK's G-Cloud for not 'knowing what it wants to be when it grows up' and for the amount of spend it gets each month, when compared to overall government IT spend.

Reuven Cohen, who is also senior vice president at cloud provider Virtustream, spoke to Computerworld UK about the UK's moves to provide cloud services to government departments.

The government recently released the second iteration of its G-Cloud framework, which has 458 suppliers offering a variety of services to the public sector, all of which are available through an online portal called 'CloudStore'.

Cohen, who advised Obama to use Amazon Web Services for his sponsorship website during his initial campaign to become President, and then subsequently was asked to join the US' federal CIO council to advise on cloud strategy, also presented to Westminster prior to the coalition government coming into power in 2010.

He said: "My proposal was simple, that they were going to be left behind, that the whole world was moving towards an internet centric approach to software and information technology.

"Essentially the idea was that if you don't implement strategies and approaches that will allow the population to interact with the government through information technology you are not going to be able to interact with the government. Also, if you could foster a cloud ecosystem you could foster greater investments and set yourself up as a leader in the space."

When Cohen was asked, however, on how he thought the UK was progressing with its cloud strategy, he said that it was a hard question to answer while still being 'politically sensitive'.

"The issue with the G-Cloud is that it seems to not be sure what it wants to be when it grows up. It doesn't seem to be solving any particular need or issue. It sort of recognises that the internet is going to be important, but isn't sure what that actually means," said Cohen.

Cohen also said that the recent spend on the G-Cloud framework, which has varied between £170,000 and £555,000 a month, when put into context of overall spend, 'is probably nothing'.

Estimates vary, but the government spends between somewhere between £15 billion and £20 billion a year on IT.

He continued: "As it currently stands, I'm not sure what it is, and I'm not sure anybody else does either."

Cohen also warned the government that it needs to be wary of signing big cloud suppliers to the framework, where the likes of Salesforce.com and Microsoft are listed. Although three-quarters of the 458 suppliers are SMEs, he said that having those big players on the list could result in the SMEs being isolated.

"Here's your challenge. Your SME base here in the UK is lagging somewhat in the cloud economy. If you are doing this from the point of view of an economic stimulus, then you are probably not going to want to include the large multi-nationals," he said.

"If you are doing this from the point of view of trying to make government more competitive, you are going to want to include the multinationals, but you do it at the risk of alienating the SMEs who have a hard time competing."

He added: "It's a bit of a catch twenty-two. However, there are a variety of niche type applications that can address the local market more effectively than some large multinationals."

However, Cohen did finish by saying that the recent release of the UK's digital strategy did somewhat change his perception that there is a lack of strategy behind the G-Cloud.

The digital strategy laid out clear plans for the government to adopt a 'digital first' policy and said that it plans to save up to £1.7 billion a year after 2015 by digitising millions of transactions.

Cohen said: "I don't want to be too negative, there are a lot of things that came out of the digital strategy that if are adopted will put the UK in a leadership position."


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