Britain to appoint head of e-government

The CIO for the UK will be charged with building government services around citizens rather than departments, and using technology to improve service delivery at the sharp end

The UK government has confirmed speculation that it will appoint a head of e-government next year as part of its drive to improve the deployment of IT within departments.

The post is effectively a chief information officer (CIO) position and will replace the role of e-envoy. A key responsibility of the job will be to improve the government's delivery of online public services by building them around customers and not departments. Other parts of the job will be overseeing the use of technology to improve "front line" service delivery, as well as increasing the automation of back office functions.

The government is looking to appoint a heavy hitter with plenty of top-level experience.

Andrew Pinder, the current e-envoy, was already expected to leave his position in April 2004 when his contract ends. He proposed that he should be replaced by a CIO who would be able to give leadership on big government IT projects.

The plan to appoint a head of e-government was announced on Monday by Douglas Alexander, minister for the Cabinet Office. Alexander said that the move marked an "evolution in the e-envoy role", and that whoever was appointed would "play a pivotal role in supporting the prime minister's vision for public service reform."

Speaking at the launch of the UK Online annual report for 2003, Pinder explained that the priority for the future is to create effective online public services that are tailored for particular users, not just getting departments onto the Internet.

"When I began as e-envoy, three and a half years ago, we just prodded government departments to get online. Later, we deepened our role to focus on improving the take-up of those online services," said Pinder, adding that a CIO approach was now needed to improve the delivery of public services via the Internet.

Rather than just putting all the functions performed by each particular department onto the Web, the government now believes it is better to pull together different services from across the public sector into portals designed for different groups of the population, such as small businesses, or perhaps the elderly.

This change of approach has been prompted, at least in part, by disappointing take-up of some online government services.

Pinder plans to meet headhunters next week as the process of appointing Britain's first head of e-government grinds into action. Advertisements will be published in the New Year, but the government says it has a fairly open mind on what a successful candidate should be. "It could be a senior partner in a consulting firm, or someone who's managed IT for a very big organisation, but we're not ruling anyone out," Pinder told journalists. "It'll be a difficult role to fill, I expect," he added.