Microsoft's cloud based productivity suite, Office 365, is the latest offering to be awarded Impact Level 2 (IL2) accreditation via the government's G-Cloud framework.
The government launched its CloudStore in February 2012, which saw 257 suppliers signed up to the G-Cloud framework and catalogued within an online portal - Cloudstore. The number of suppliers jumped to 458 suppliers with the launch of the second framework in October last year, and is expected to increase with the third round of procurement.
The government plans to accredit each service offered only once and then any government body can reuse that service without going through the accreditation process again.
However, the accreditation process for the G-Cloud is a challenge for the Cabinet Office, which has to go through a lengthy process to sign off each product. Because this process is done centrally, rather than pushed out as a responsibility for the departments wanting to procure the service, a bottleneck has been created and a number of services are in the pipeline awaiting accreditation.
The UK government is also planning to halve the number of security levels it uses internally from six to three in an attempt to simplify the accreditation process for suppliers looking to provide services to the public sector.
The government's chief technology officer, Liam Maxwell, has pledged to users and suppliers of the G-Cloud that he will be revealing improved and more streamlined security accreditation processes in the first quarter of this year.
The Cabinet Office applies a Business Impact Level (IL) classification to suppliers to indicate the security level of their services. IL0 (protected) is the lowest level of security, while IL6 (top secret) is the highest. IL2 is often the minimum requirement for providers bidding for government contracts.
Microsoft has had moderate success on the G-Cloud so far, winning a number of contracts with the likes of the Department for International Development and Hampshire County Council.
"This is a big endorsement of secure public cloud services and the role of Microsoft Office 365 in enabling flexible working and mobility, and at great value," said Nicola Hodson, General Manager, Public Sector, Microsoft UK.
"Accredited public cloud services at this level are still rare among large IT suppliers and it's crucial that people understand that commodity public cloud services can be as secure as those that keep data behind the firewall and is entirely suitable for public sector data."