Government CIO appointed but role will be part-time

DWP CIO Joe Harley to take up post...
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

DWP CIO Joe Harley to take up post...

Department for Work and Pensions CIO Joe Harley will take over as government CIO in February, when the role will be downgraded to a part-time position, the Cabinet Office announced today.

Harley will take on the government CIO role alongside his existing responsibilities, marking the first time the government will be without a full-time CIO since the post was created in 2004.

The Cabinet Office says the move is not just about saving money by scrapping the separate £205,000 salary for the government CIO post, and that the future government CIO role will more closely reflect the ambitions of the coalition government.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We are trying to do more for less, and that means some people are doing bigger roles," adding that a dual role is more feasible for senior Whitehall CIOs since "some of the bigger IT projects that would have been dragging in a lot of time aren't happening any more".

The Cabinet Office has named Department for Work and Pensions CIO Joe Harley as new government CIO

The Cabinet Office has named Department for Work and Pensions CIO Joe Harley as new government CIO
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

"There will be changes [in the government CIO role] as a result of changes in the way that government works. There is much more focus on financial savings and better responding to this government's programme."

The coalition government has created a number of senior civil servant roles that have taken on responsibilities for transforming IT in the public sector - broadening the IT leadership role in Whitehall beyond the government CIO.

The reshuffling of senior IT responsibilities began last year, with the appointment of Ian Watmore as COO of the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group, the body that has led a review to scrap or cut back more than 300 IT projects with a total value of some £1bn.

Since then, the government has created a post to oversee the transition to delivering public services online and today announced it will appoint a director of ICT futures, who will implement "agile" systems in government, increase the use of open standards and open-source software in the public sector and make it easier for smaller organisations to win government tech contracts.

In addition, Watmore has taken over the role of senior information risk officer, which was a responsibility of the government CIO, so he will monitor central government IT projects for overspend or failure to deliver expected results.

Harley's appointment is the second time this year the government has chosen to shuffle an existing Whitehall IT chief into a top CIO role, following the director of the G-Cloud programme Chris Chant being appointed as acting director of digital in January.

The role of the government CIO, a post created in 2004, is to act as a guide for Whitehall and the wider public sector on IT-related matters, lead the national CIO Council and set strategy for the way government uses IT.

Commenting on Harley's appointment, Ovum public sector analyst Sarah Burnett said:...

..."It could be interpreted as downgrading the role or placing less emphasis on it, but at the same time they are bringing in a heavyweight, someone who is respected in the industry to do the job.

"I would think the government would not want to put out the message that it attached any less importance to the role of the CIO - particularly now as it is busy renegotiating contracts to make it easier to change suppliers.

"This is a time when you do need steerage from a government CIO."

New powers will be granted to the CIO role to oversee the appointment of new CIOs in central government and, according to a Cabinet Office statement, Harley will also be able to "call upon commercial procurement and programme management capabilities in the Cabinet Office to improve the delivery and cost-effectiveness of government ICT projects".

However, the Cabinet Office spokesman was unable to confirm whether the government CIO role would have power to approve future central government IT spend and enforce IT policy across Whitehall.

In the new role, Harley will chair the public-sector-wide CIO Council, the body that sets ICT strategy across the public sector. Harley will report to Watmore and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.

The government has yet to publish its delayed Government ICT Strategy, setting out IT policy across the public sector, but the Cabinet Office said the government's future ICT agenda will focus on "datacentre, network, software and asset consolidation and the shift towards cloud computing".

In a statement, Maude said Harley had been "superb in his DWP role" and that he would work with him in "radically changing the way government utilises information, communication and digital technologies".

Under Harley, the DWP has focused on reducing its IT bill, with the department managing to cut its total IT spend by £1.5bn over the past five years through its technology transformation programme - which is introducing standardised software and hardware, virtualisation technologies and a VoIP network.

John Suffolk stepped down as government CIO at the end of last year but is remaining in Whitehall until March in an advisory role.

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