by Jerry Fishenden

CIOs’ central role in central government

Nov 28, 20113 mins
GovernmentIT LeadershipIT Strategy

Last month’s publication of the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) for government IT (see CIO’s report and the Cabinet Office’s release) adds substantial momentum to the public sector’s intent to become an intelligent client and break the supply-side IT ‘oligopoly’ identified by the earlier IT Strategy and by the Commons’ report into government IT.

The publication of the SIP and its associated sub-strategies (cloud, green IT, general IT capability and end user devices) reveals a quietly determined revolution in progress, with IT an embedded change agent of effective public service reform.

The SIP contains clear timescales for delivery of meaningful change. These include moving half of all new IT expenditure into the public cloud by 2015, and adopting agile techniques in place of current waterfall methods in half of major IT-enabled programmes over the next two years.

Such rapid changes will require the IT profession to help government turn on a sixpence as it transitions from its historic custom approach to one based on the adoption of commodity services.

By a quirk of fate, the SIP appeared around the same time as the National Audit Office reported that government CIOs were undervalued (see CIO’s story and the NAO report).

The report was a timely reminder of the need for public sector organisations to ensure their CIOs are properly positioned to deliver optimal value.

Few other roles have the ability to look across an entire organisation’s functions, providing CIOs with unique insight into how revised information architectures and the appropriate application of technology can enable outdated processes to be radically improved.

A CIO may not need to sit on a management board in order to drive out operational inefficiencies, dysfunctional processes and nugatory costs.

But to deliver the wider potential of the role they do need to operate, contribute and lead at the most senior levels, with the authority to innovate across all organisational functions.

The Cabinet Office has already prioritised the need to develop a strong cadre of IT expertise within the public sector to help deliver effective public service reform.

Public sector CIOs have a pivotal and central role in helping develop the more productive, flexible public sector envisioned — one that delivers digitally-enabled public services in a much more citizen centred and cost effective way.

If all of the aspirations of these latest plans can be successfully delivered, next time the NAO reviews public sector CIOs they may well find their role in the delivery of essential improvements to our public services much more widely appreciated.