Or is it just a load of GAS?
Buzzword bingo is a game for the whole team to play. You can while away the hours ticking off the words with colleagues, seduced by the easy cynicism. In a previous incarnation of my IT career I used to enjoy taunting jetlagged Americans who rhymed the word router with trout(er), which probably explained why I never quite made it in the world of Layer 3 networking.
But now we have a new evil in IT, the spectre of middle-aged men using phrases like ‘mashup’ and ‘App store’ to describe the detail behind the theory of Government plans. And I’m afraid that the Government App Store is going to be one of the biggest offenders. Ignoring the fact that those involved keep calling it App Store for Government in a desperate attempt not to see it abbreviated to GAS, I am beginning to wonder if it’s actually going to fly.
GAS has a sound set of principles behind it. Produce a catalogue of products which are approved for use, present them in an easy to procure manner, so that users can just click, download and crack on with their lives, and in doing so, massively cut costs. Except there are three major flaws in the approach:
Flaw One: Diversity
Diversity is not just the mother of innovation (just look at the trouble Google, Facebook and Twitter have caused at Microsoft), but it is also the first cousin of cost reduction. This is good. Lots of competing products on the GAS drives innovation, which drives cost reduction. Hurrah. However, too much diversity creates another set of problems, that of interoperability and support. Too many products means that you need to ensure they all work together (does my new widget for finance work in Lotus, Microsoft and Novell environments? Does it meet the requirements to submit to HMRC? Does it work with my security software?). Also, it means that you need to train staff, and if there are too many products out there, the skills aren’t often portable. Which means that staff can charge more for their services. Which drives up costs. Eeek!
Flaw Two: Big deployments
GAS sounds great for little widgets. But nobody is going to deploy security software on a whim. You’re going to want to try, test, POC, mess about with and finetune deployments of anything more than a few seats. Which means nobody is going to buy via an App store. They are going to do it via the normal route, as it’s too risky to do it any other way.
Flaw Three: Certification and Partner channel
Typically, vendors have sold their product via a partner channel. The partners get certified by getting on a framework (e.g. OGC 12, SPRINT, ICS catalogue) run by Government, and then Government can buy simply and easily via these partners. GAS seems to be suggesting that the product gets certified and bought direct. This raises some questions:
1. There will need to be a certifying body. Since the diversity of products is huge, this is going to have a large upfront cost (bad).
2. Who bears the cost? The vendor of course. OK for the likes of Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and the other behemoths, but what about the little guys? The little guys that are producing the specialist software that GAS is supposed to be helping with? This is going to add huge costs to the software, which will need to be passed on to the end user (bad again).
3. What on earth is going to happen to all this specialist knowledge built up in the UK reseller/partner community? People have spent years building up knowledge to assist Government procuring software, hardware and services. I doubt this is going to change, but GAS will devalue this work, which means business will shy away from providing these services.
I am 100% behind removing unnecessary costs from software procurement, but from my vantage point of selling security software to Government, I must question how it is going to work. The two extreme scenarios where hundreds of applications are being downloaded and used with little controls put in place OR a situation where just a few well-heeled suppliers can afford to be involved are not the solution. And dressing it up in this year’s buzzwords is compounding the problem.