UK axes government CIO role

The UK government has eliminated the role of cross-departmental chief information officer, it announced today.

"The role vacated by former government CIO Andy Nelson, who is now CIO at DWP, will not be filled, as the cross-government role is no longer central to delivery," the Cabinet Office wrote in an update on its digital government strategy.

Mike Bracken, the executive director of the Government Digital Service, said that the CIO role has recently become one of procurement and supplier management, not serving user requirements.

"CIOs are expected to use the flows of information and data from … technology and across business systems to inform strategy," he wrote in a blog post explaining the decision. "[I]t is tough to be a CIO in government with 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."

Bracken argued that to serve the needs of citizens, the government must adopt a governance model that is "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," he wrote. "Or in short, we can do much more, more quickly by using the web, and digital tools and services internally, to collaborate."

The government is therefore moving responsibility for governance of technology projects into the Government Digital Service.

In his blog post, Bracken wrote that the government is moving away from "a large procurement approach to technology". A number of government departments have initiated large IT and business process outsourcing procurement in recent months, however.

Earlier this month, the Department for Transport outsourced its back office function to BPO provide arvato in a seven-year deal. This includes swapping DfT's SAP installation for UNIT4's Agresso ERP application.

And just this week, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office awarded Detica a three year, £80 million IT services integration contract as part of a framework agreement that could be worth up to £350 million. Before that, the FCO announced a procurement framework for Oracle-related IT services with a total possible value of £750 million.

These seemingly contradictory strategies can be seen as a struggle for power over technology strategy within government. On one side, the Government Digital Service seeks to apply the techniques of web development to online public services; on the other, the 'old guard' is sticking to traditional enterprise IT management and procurement practices.

GDS evidently has the support of the Cabinet Office (not to mention the digerati), but so far its approach has only been applied to the government's website,, and not any of the public sector's large transactional IT systems.

Indeed, as reported by Computer Weekly today, one of GDS's other notable initatives – the Identity Assurance federated ID scheme – may not be used for Universal Credit as had originally been planned.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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