UK scraps government CIO in tech project shake-up

IT bosses spend too much time managing contracts and not enough time thinking about public services. Time for fewer meetings and faster releases, according to the government's digital chief.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

The UK has scrapped its cross-government CIO role, as part of a major shake-up aimed at shifting the focus of IT bosses from mega-procurements to providing digital services.

The vacant role of government CIO will not be filled "as the cross-government role is no longer central to delivery" according to the Cabinet Office.

Thursday's announcement comes as a part of a wider rethink of the role of the CIO in government.

Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service, said too many public sector CIOs spend their time managing contracts and not creating better services for the public.

While CIOs are expected to use the flows of information and data from that technology and across business systems to inform strategy, according to Bracken, this is tough in government because so much of that information and data residing in outsourced services and proprietary software.

"Unfortunately, this means that many of our CIOs are performing as quasi-procurement and contract managers, rather than really driving business performance based on meeting user needs. The result? An uneven playing field, with the CIO role in government varying hugely by department and agency."

Over the last few years the UK has been trying fix the problem of public sector IT, often characterised by epically-long procurement processes, lack of innovation and being prone to project failures. Attempts to introduce - for example - cloud computing models have been met with resistance and have only made slow progress. To date, only £7.4m of the public sector's £16bn IT budget has been spent through the government's own CloudStore.

All government departments have now been asked to appoint an "active digital leader" who will work with departmental CIOs to drive digital transformation, while the role of CIOs will now be to pay more attention to the users of public services. "Within departments, CIOs will continue to play a crucial role where the role is adapted to user needs. For example, a CIO in the Department for Work and Pensions has a very different role to one in Defra, and both are led by the end service," the Cabinet Office said.

Bracken added that as the government moves away from large procurements of IT to delivering digital public services, it needs to change technically, and culturally.

Government departments have been hiring new staff including data scientists, information architects and designers of all types and said "above all they must understand that the challenge now is not about information technology, but about designing, developing and delivering great, user-centred digital services".

"There is no better time to be in a senior digital role if information and data flows can be harnessed into creating great digital services, but to do that we have to put digital leaders and Chief Operating Officers (COOs) in the driving seat across government," he added.

According to Bracken, the governance model now needed by the public sector is one more analogous to service design than procurement of technology.

"We need fewer meetings between large budget holders to discuss procurement, and more stand-up meetings and daily releases based on user need. Or in short, we can do much more, more quickly by using the web, and digital tools and services internally, to collaborate."

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