by Jerry Fishenden

Free and radical

Dec 22, 20112 mins
GovernmentIT Strategy

Just how radical and innovative does a CIO need to be?

With all the talk of the consumerisation of IT and the increasing adoption of cloud computing, some of the traditional assumptions about the role are being challenged.

The CIO’s role in public services is being redefined by an era of loosely coupled internet-enabled services and a move to the adoption of technology-agnostic open standards and architectures.

The resulting impact is re-opening market choice and driving a convergence on inexpensive utility services better able to respond nimbly and cost-effectively to the increasing demands placed on our public services.

It’s a move inspired by recent internet history. As Tim O’Reilly has observed, “The secret to the success of bellwethers like Google, Amazon, eBay, Craiglist, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter is that each, in its own way, has learned to harness the power of its users to add value to [and] co-create its offerings.”

Managing a similar transition in public services, built around open and cost-effective services, will transform the way in which technology is specified, procured and deployed.

By providing a cheap commodity platform, companies like Google have enabled content providers, consumers, innovators and advertisers to develop applications, share data and acquire services in a way that lets it crowdsource ideas before investing in and developing the best.

The resulting dynamic is a world away from the rigid and expensive contracts controlled by a handful of big suppliers.

Open standards and cheap connectivity have transformed both technical platforms and commercial markets, with IT moving beyond the automation of outdated processes and reliance on high-cost services.

What is developing is a model of IT that will enable modern public services to become light touch, lower cost, open, agile and locally responsive.

The role of the CIO is increasingly to re-orientate the strategy, architecture, procurement and governance to support their users.

This strategic shift will displace the era of tightly integrated, proprietary systems organised around the supplier and service provider and reintegrate IT around the delivery of better public services at lower cost.

Radical? In some ways, yes. But orchestrating a complex mix of elements such as user empowerment, effective exploitation of commodity IT, and organisational innovation is actually what leading CIOs have always done.

The difference now is that what was once new and radical is entering the mainstream.

Jerry Fishenden is director of the Centre for Technology Policy Research