by Julian Goldsmith

CIO UK Interview: government CIO Andy Nelson

Mar 06, 20126 mins
CareersCloud ComputingIT Leadership

See also: Andy Nelson’s MoJ profile in the CIO 100

Andy Nelson begins his role as government CIO at the end of March, replacing Joe Harley after little more than a year in the job. Even though he his tenure was short, it marked a sea-change in the way IT strategy was driven within the UK government, compared to his predecessor, John Suffolk.

Speaking to CIO UK, Nelson suggested that he will continue with Harley’s approach. Like Harley, who remained IT boss of DWP, Nelson will not be relinquishing his post as departmental CIO for the Ministry of Justice.

For Nelson, delivery will be the keyword of his office, at least for the next 12 months. He will be inheriting many large IT initiatives that are still in the development and launch stages and making sure those will be deployed are at the top of his agenda.

He says: “I’ll be focusing on delivering on implementations in the first year. It’s about being able to shift to live examples, such as the Public Services Network (PSN).”

This year there are a number of procurement projects on new frameworks that are due to come on line in late 2012, explained Nelson and he is looking forward to exploiting them.

One of the biggest he cites is the G-Cloud initiative which is just about to see departments buying and using it, he says.

“The next 12 months is about a shift to tangible implementations.”

There has been much criticism poured on the way Whitehall procures products and services from suppliers, even from within and the coalition government is driving budget cuts in all quarters. Nelson sees his role as one of championing a shift to more flexible and responsive procurement environment.

“Previously procurement has been hampered by structured formal processes,” he says. “I think John Suffolk talked about an 18-month procurement process.”

One of the big initiatives within the G-Cloud initiative has been the creation of CloudStore, a framework for purchasing IT services in a much more flexible way. This framework has been criticised for lacking big-hitter buy-in, but Nelson is hopeful he can garner enthusiasm for it amongst the bigger departments.

“If you look at CloudStore, you can develop a framework in months and a procurement process of weeks. We should be buying services today on a completely different model.”

It’s not just IT procurement that is under the spotlight but the purchasing of other services through digital channels. This is another area Nelson expects to focus on as he takes on the role of government CIO.

Nelson’s approach as IT leader will be around taking advantage of economies of scale and adopting best practices as standard. His role will involve identifying champions for particular processes which he can hold up for other departments to follow.

He says: “The same with procurement of commodity services. We are going to push further into e-auctions, so that we are procuring in a different way. We are going to make more effort with new frameworks. In the MoJ, we are leading procurement with a new hosting framework and we are pulling in other departments for their future hosting needs.”

Nelson will retain his remit as head of IT at the MoJ and will continue to use it as his poster-child for the other departmental CIOs he deals with, encouraging them to do the same with their own projects.

It will doubtless be a boost to Nelson’s credibility amongst the other central government CIOs that he has the day-to-day running of the MoJ’s IT to worry about (and something that Suffolk didn’t have), but it will also mean his time is divided between the two roles.

“It’s a big aspect that I do this as well as CIO of the MoJ. That makes a difference as it is now a part-time job,” he says.

Nelson sees the government CIO role, as it has been developed over the last five years, broken down into four parts:

1 An absolute focus on delivery 2 Ownership of the IT strategy 3 Engagement within the community of the different departments and with the industry 4 A champion of the IT profession within Whitehall and for developing capability.

He says the difference with his particular approach to the role is a strict focus on delivering the publicised plan and developing the capability of the IT profession in the public sector.

“I won’t devote as much time to strategy ownership and engagement with the industry as John Suffolk did,” he says. “I just have not got the time.”

This clarity of focus, though admirable, might leave some holes in the remit of the role, if Nelson was adopting more of a command and control management style.

He suggests though that his leadership of government IT will be consultative and democratic. He views the CIO delivery board, set up by Harley in May last year, as a useful tool for sharing the task of transforming the government’s IT landscape with some of his CIO peers — his Camelot.

Nelson regards the CIO delivery board as the key change in IT governance in Whitehall in the past few years. It is a group of CIOs of the biggest departments. They will share ownership of the government IT strategy as a whole.

It is made up of the CIOs of DWP, HMRC, MoJ, The Home Office, MoD and Health. They are joined by a number of other stakeholders, including Liam MaxwellCabinet Office director of ICT futures, Mike Bracken Cabinet Office executive director of digital and John Collington Government chief procurement officer.

The latter three have been linked with speculation over the appointment of the deputy government CIO, a post held by Bill McCluggage, until he departed for a post in industry, and which is expected to concentrate on enforcing deployment initiatives.

Nelson gave no credence to this, saying that the role is still in open competition and that no decision has been made over that appointment. An announcement could be made by April.

The CIO delivery board is a peer-review organisation, where participants are expected to contribute to the improvement of Whitehall IT as a whole, by replicating successes developed in their own departments.

Nelson says: “Part of this model is greater ownership of IT strategy shared around the table. Different departments take on the task of different aspects of the strategy and then share their successes with the other board members.”

Nelson’s favourite example is the PSN, which has been led by the MOD.

He says: “The change for government is that projects achieve much greater buy-in. The MoJ will lead to procure PSN compliant networks. I expect to see a greater number of opportunities to build systems, in the same way that we can all use.”