by Jerry Fishenden

Realigning Whitehall IT from the top

Dec 14, 2010
CareersGovernmentIT Leadership

Here we go again, I thought: like a restless vampire rising once more from the grave, a recent survey raised the hoary old issue of whether CIOs are aligned with the business and policy needs of their organisations. After stifling a yawn, I paused to wonder whether in some organisations the survey’s conclusions might find a less weary response.

Good CIOs have long taken a lead not only in understanding the business needs of their organisations, but in shaping those requirements. They have also generally managed to align IT successfully throughout their organisations – no mean feat in a world of change, mergers, acquisitions, cuts and constant technology churn.

In return for being assimilated into the strategic core of their firms, CIOs are often rewarded with a substantial financial stake in their future success by way of large bonuses.

But how far do these same rules apply in the public sector? For some CIOs in local government the model is already a familiar reality: they often work as part of their local leadership teams and thrive on a healthy mix of base salary plus outcome-related bonuses.

Yet headlines such as “Government computer blunders cost £26bn” suggest that alignment between IT and policy remains a problem in Whitehall. No great surprise when so few CIOs sit on their departmental boards, preventing them from contributing to policy decisions. Alignment, after all, needs to be a two-way street.

This is a timely opportunity for government CIOs to demonstrate a relentless focus on aligning public and technology policies. Alongside promotion onto their departmental boards they should be the first to adopt a new pay and reward structure.

Existing remuneration would be restructured around a more realistic baseline salary, but enhanced by significant outcome-based bonuses that maintain the value of overall CIO packages – provided that improved public services are delivered.

The public sector urgently needs to do things better for less. Government CIOs can play a pivotal role in making this happen, moving to the heart of their departments to help deliver better public services. Making these changes will provide a timely reassurance to taxpayers about the essential role CIOs play.

And it might also drive a final, terminal stake into the heart of the tired old notion that they’re inadequately aligned with the business needs of their organisations.

Jerry Fishenden is a director of the Centre for Technology Policy Research