Think Digital Partners meets UKCloud’s CEO, Simon Hansford (Part I of II)

What does the former Skyscape see as its main contribution to the UK public sector IT buyer and user?

Posted 20 October 2016 by Gary Flood

'Cloud' by Art Hitklif, FlickrThink Digital Partners recently sat down with the head of UKCloud, which describes itself as “the power behind public sector technology”, to find out more about its story.

It’s a story that has had a few interesting additions, for certain, this year. For one, the company settled what many of us found to be a rather strange court case brought by the folks at a certain well-known satellite broadcaster, who claimed subscribers to its service were confused about the difference between it and a UK tech SME providing cloud services to central government and the wider public sector. That’s the reason the firm we call UKCloud now may be much more familiar to you under its older branding of Skyscape Cloud Services – but never mind; UKCloud it firmly is, going forward.

The second bit of 2016 news you may have seen around the x-based company is a much more value-add one – its announcement last month that it was the winner of The Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100, a highly-regarded league table of fast-growing UK privately-held commercial technology companies. That award came on the heels of it doing very well in the also highly-credible Deloitte Global’s Technology Fast 500 EMEA programme, which also ranks fast-growing public and private technology companies, but on a European basis. Among other accolades, in 2014 it was voted a ‘cool vendor‘ in the cloud space by Gartner, too. Such distinctions seem to suggest the firm is in a good place, and so we wanted to find out just why – and how – so we opened a dialogue with one of the firm’s co-founders and now Chief Executive, Simon Hansford

Our conversation with Hansford is going to come at you in two parts. In this post, we set the scene and find out a little about the basics of the firm, while in our upcoming second part we delve into his take on where we are in the adoption curve of cloud in the UK public sector, as well as how much progress has been made – and not – in what he styles as the “journey” the sector is on in terms of delivering greater value in IT investment to the taxpayer.

Thanks for agreeing to chat with us today, Simon. In a nutshell, can you quickly tell us what you company is all about, please?

With pleasure. We provide AWS-style cloud compute and storage services exclusively for British public sector organisations. We set up in 2011, so we’re quite a new company, only really getting commercially active in early 2013. About 70% of our current business is in central government – we work with all the major Departments, including The Cabinet Office, DVLA, Home Office, HMRC and MoD – but we are also active in the wider public sector. One of the standouts there is the work we’re doing with Genomics England, which is an amazing drive that is really all about helping every individual in the UK, ultimately, by using Big Data to help fight cancer and other medical problems.

OK – what brought you into being? What was the business problem you wanted to solve?

It seems long ago now, but a lot of things came together in 2010 and 2011 that were really exciting. The new Coalition government had come in with a strong IT procurement reform agenda, picking up on some end of New Labour ideas about something called G-Cloud but really putting it in a new context. So we had new ideas about carbon neutral, about better support for SMEs in the supply chain, and so on, but the really big one was the idea of finally doing something about the IT Oligopoly, where so much of the market, especially in central government, was dominated by a mere handful of suppliers. That was a situation partly down to the behaviour of the SIs, but also partly down to the way the government had let things run on.

Why did that all inspire you?

We felt, especially given the lead The Cabinet Office took, followed by the strong work the Government Digital Service is doing, that there was genuine opportunity for new vendors like us.

And what’s the verdict five years on, Simon?

I think there has been genuine and significant change – surely we all must acknowledge that. New purchasing frameworks have opened up doors that were just not open before.

But I also have to say – I am sure echoing many Think Digital Partners community members’ thinking – that we are only at the start of our journey, too. There are some great markers for that journey, like some real momentum around the Marketplace and G-Cloud, some real use cases and proof points about the value of this new way of procurement, and a sense from all quarters that we’re not going to go back to the ‘Bad Old Days’. But it’s absolutely, just the beginning; last estimates I saw were that cloud is about 2% of the entire UK public sector market, as it stands. So we’re on the way, but a lot of ground still needs to be covered.

In Part II of this interview, we find out more of what UKCloud sees as the remaining challenges to UK public sector IT change; please check back in a few days to read more.