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Government CIO post under review

Powers being looked at as part of wider rethink
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Written by Nick Heath, Contributing Writer on

Powers being looked at as part of wider rethink

The future of the role of government CIO is being reviewed as part of an evaluation of key civil service roles in Whitehall.

Ian Watmore, COO of the Cabinet Office Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG), is examining what responsibilities should fall under the post of government CIO.

The evaluation of the CIO role is being undertaken as part of a review by Watmore to determine the future structure of the ERG, the body charged with reducing the cost of running government.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The structure of the ERG is being considered and...the work of the CIO is a part of that structure, and that is part of what is being looked at, how that's best going to be taken forward."

The role of the government CIO falls under the purview of the ERG, as part of its brief to oversee reform of IT spend and procurement in the public sector.

The last person to hold the post of government CIO, John Suffolk, stepped down from the position at the end of last year, although Suffolk will stay in the civil service until March in an advisory role.

Watmore will fulfil the responsibilities of the government CIO until further notice, a Cabinet Office spokesman said.

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.

Under Suffolk's stewardship, the government has embarked on initiatives to create the G-Cloud, a government cloud computing infrastructure that aims to slash billions of pounds from the public sector's IT spend, and to create a single national telecoms infrastructure.

Georgina O'Toole, research director with analyst house TechMarketView, said she would not be surprised to see the role of the government CIO alter significantly or disappear as part of the ERG review.

"Now that Ian Watmore is in place as COO [of the ERG], he may well decide that a different organisational structure is more appropriate for the next phase of the UK government's ICT strategy."

The role of the government CIO is being reviewed

The role of the government CIO is being reviewed
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

As government moves beyond quick-win measures, such as the moratorium and review of IT projects worth more than £1m, and into more ambitious reform of IT and back-office delivery, such as the G-Cloud, she said there could be need for further restructuring of senior IT posts within Whitehall.

"We have gone through the quick-win phase of the project review and the moratorium and are now onto a new phase that may require different types of people in roles, and even different roles," said O'Toole.

She said responsibility for reform of public sector IT had already been split between a number of senior civil servants within Whitehall, whose positions had been created in recent years.

O'Toole cited digital champion Martha Lane Fox who is overseeing a reform of online public service delivery; Andy Tait, deputy director of the G-Cloud project; and deputy government CIO Bill McCluggage as but a few examples of civil servants driving IT reform.

She believes that if the government CIO post were to go, the role's responsibilities would be picked up by new and existing civil servant roles within Whitehall.

"As long as there are people in place to take on those responsibilities I don't think it matters what title the person has," she added.

The Cabinet Office claims to have given the government CIO "central control powers" towards the end of last year. A Cabinet Office spokesman said that the "details" of those powers "are now being considered," and it is unclear if these powers will give the government CIO, or any future central official, the ability to overrule Whitehall department CIOs or to enforce IT-related policies.

This year, Watmore, who served as the first government CIO, was placed at number one in the silicon.com Government IT Agenda Setters list, in recognition of his ability to drive IT reform across Whitehall.

As part of the ongoing review and change in the ERG structure, Chris Chant, programme director for the G-Cloud, has been appointed as acting director of digital for government. The position is a new role that will oversee the delivery of all government online services and will have the power to direct all government online spending.

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