Wanted: New government CIO

Analysis: What does Ian Watmore's departure mean for Government IT?

The promotion of government CIO Ian Watmore to advisor to the Prime Minister will boost the profile of IT across the public sector.

Watmore has stepped up the career ladder to head the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, and will advise Tony Blair on public services — but will still oversee a large part of work he mapped out to unify government IT.

Watmore said in a statement: "Most of the initiatives launched during my time as head of the e-Government Unit are owned by the CIO Council who remain responsible for their implementation.

"I will still sit on this council — working closely with other council members and the new e-Government Unit head who will replace me as chair — to ensure we continue to make progress. I will maintain overall responsibility for the work of the e-Government Unit in my new role at the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit."

While the search is on for the new government CIO, Watmore's deputy Andrew Stott will act as the interim head of the e-Government Unit and oversee the council's plans.

So will things change now Watmore has moved on? The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) thinks not.

Jeremy Beale, head of the e-business group for the CBI, told ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com: "He's not actually leaving. I see this as a step up. There he'll have a broader reach. I think the person who steps in will still have Ian there to support them.

"Ian's effectiveness always relied on support from above. This move up for him is government cementing his plans. We're at quite a turning point."

And Jos Creese, a fellow member of the CIO Council and chairman of the Society of Information Technology Management Insight Group, said the new CIO job will be different to Watmore's old position.

Creese said: "The nature of the role will be slightly different from the one he had because he'll be taking part of it with him. The implementation of the national infrastructure is important. So is the intersection of central government and the compatibility of IT."

The Transformational Government Strategy is Watmore's biggest plan to change the face of public services by "designing around the citizen or business" and moving to a shared-services culture and improving the professionalism of IT in the public sector.

The general goal is to try and catch up with the private sector, which is a bit better at doing all of those things.

Some of the initiatives outlined include slimming down the 130 government call centres to give people a one-stop-shop to call, in the event of a non-emergency. It will also reduce 2,000-plus Web sites to a handful, incorporating many into the DirectGov Web site. Digital TV and texting are also being looked at to improve services.

Beale believes that to make this succeed, the new CIO must include the private sector in developments.

He said: "[The new CIO] needs to keep plugging away at the agenda. Ian laid the groundwork for the CIO Council. That work needs to be maintained. But where it's moved on is the Transformational Government Strategy.

He added: "In there they need to have a representation of the private sector. Not just suppliers but companies that use government services. They need to have the private sector or there might be a tendency for government departments not to challenge each other. And from challenges you have innovation – that's what the role of the private sector would be."

Terry Smith, senior director for public sector at Microsoft UK, said the new CIO must improve the level of IT understanding in the public sector.

He said: "To see the government's e-strategy through to completion, the new CIO will need to focus on building the skills base of public sector workers in IT.

"He will also need to address resistance to change from public sector stakeholders and to enthuse public sector workers about the opportunities present through the implementation of IT, from HR through to the frontline workers."

But as well as putting services in place, ensuring that the public use them could be one of the trickiest tasks the new CIO has to deal with.

Smith said: "The entire e-government strategy will only be deemed to have succeeded if citizens make full use of the range of services offered online. The new CIO needs to educate the broader public about how new services can benefit their daily lives."

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