UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 3/15/2013 | 10 comments

Sara Peters
Yesterday the UK's Cabinet Office confirmed rumors that the recently vacated position of government CIO will not be refilled, because "the cross-government role is no longer central to delivery."

The head of profession for information and communications technology will also be eliminated, and most of the responsibilities will be sprinkled around or passed on to the Government Digital Service (GDS). The Cabinet Office has essentially decided that, since providing digital services is now part of everyone's job, there's no longer a need for one person to lead the government's IT initiatives.

The UK government isn't planning on axing all the CIOs in the government -- the Cabinet explicitly said, "Within departments, CIOs will continue to play a crucial role" -- but it does seem like CIOs are going to lose status and will have to share their already reduced powers with more people.

Like it or not, the Cabinet Office has a point.

Before you start calling me names and slinging stones at me, think it through. If an organization wants to create a technology-centric culture, then giving all employees some ownership over IT makes some sense. As for playing nice with leaders of other business departments, we at E2 have always encouraged CIOs to do just that.

Nevertheless, I think that the UK government's decision to eliminate the top CIO position and marginalize the others is at best premature, at least insulting, and at worst pure folly.

In addition to the Cabinet's announcement, Mike Bracken, the GDS's executive director of digital, wrote a blog post about the changes. Though I agree in essence with the spirit of Bracken's post, some of the things he wrote about "the modern CIO" made my blood boil:

While Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) deliver the technology, CIOs are expected to use the flows of information and data from that technology and across business systems to inform strategy. And this is why we need to address the CIO issue in government as, by definition, it 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. The result? An uneven playing field, with the CIO role in government varying hugely by department and agency.

There is no better time to be in a senior digital role if information and data flows can be harnessed into creating great digital services, but to do that we have to put digital leaders and Chief Operating Officers (COOs) in the driving seat across government...

This is why the governance model we need now is more analogous to service design than procurement of technology. We need helpful web services, appropriate tools to iterate and develop new features, outstanding data analysis and resources like We need fewer meetings between large budget holders to discuss procurement, and more stand-up meetings and daily releases based on user need. Or in short, we can do much more, more quickly by using the web, and digital tools and services internally, to collaborate.

The first reason this makes me want to throttle someone is that it seems that UK government CIOs are being punished for executing the very Government Digital Strategy they were asked to deliver. The UK government pushed for more IT efficiency, more outsourcing, and more use of cloud computing services. If the CIOs really have been reduced to "performing as quasi-procurement and contract managers," it's hardly their fault.

Also, by saying that COOs and "digital leaders" should be in the "driving seat," it seems as if the GDS and the Cabinet believe that CIOs cannot be the digital innovators the government is seeking. Frankly, that's just insulting, especially when you look more closely at what the government's digital strategy entails.

Yesterday the Cabinet Office released a beta version of the new Digital by Default Service Standard, as well as a manual describing how to achieve compliance with the standard. Overall, the standard looks fantastic. It sets the right priorities, and its 26 points cover all the important stuff: user interface, open standards, analytics, benchmarking, support services, data storage, privacy, security, compliance... you know, the sort of stuff that might be managed by somebody like, oh, I don't know, a CIO.

However, point No. 2 states that, in order to achieve the standard, a team must "put in place a multidisciplinary team, led by a single, suitably skilled and empowered Service Manager, to design, build, operate and run the service."

Is the CIO title just being renamed Service Manager? (That's an exhilarating job title, if I ever read one.) Or will the government appoint service managers, make the CIOs work with them, and then -- to increase efficiency -- eliminate the departmental CIO positions for being redundant and unnecessary?

The Cabinet Office and the GDS say that they'll still be looking for tech-specific professionals -- for example, the hip-yet-elusive "data scientist." That's good news, but who's going to manage those people? Are they simply going to be wandering mercenaries, selling their services to whichever line-of-business manager asks nicest and pays the most? Are they going to be led by a service manager, who may or may not have any background in technology?

I'm in a lather. Am I just being a cynical alarmist? Am I just grumpy? Or do I have some legitimate complaints here? Please let me know in the comments below.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
xrecrf456   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   11/18/2013 3:36:29 AM
Re: life is change
Shehzadi : Changes in technology make a difference in the way you work and will make your job confortable and faster. Sometimes this will not lead individuals to think out of box and work. However this could be a chance for people to perform and grab ne opportunities.   
shehzadi   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   11/18/2013 2:02:02 AM
Re: life is change
@Batye correct. I agree that changes in technology bring changes in working style and work ethics. New roles are defined and new procedures are developed. Its an opportunity for those as well who are waiting for an opportunity to show what they can do. Its basically a shake up of comapny at a lower level. :)
batye   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   11/17/2013 11:04:21 PM
Re: life is change
@Sara in my books this days CEO could and should be able to replace and act as CIO... as everything changings and Co. do expect to do more with less...
Tuscany   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   11/17/2013 10:57:33 PM
Re: life is change

I am not sure I understand why the British Government has decided to do away with their CIO.  It really doesn't matter what he or she is called - someone has to be responsible for national tech initiatives.

a.saji   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   3/22/2013 10:30:48 PM
Re: They need to fix it first
"Before starting to change path, the UK government needs to get someone in charge of cleaning up the mess."

@Pablo: True, they should identify which areas went wrong for them and should clean up the mess plus should make sure that they DO NOT repeat the same mistake again. 
Sara Peters   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   3/20/2013 12:20:23 PM
Re: They need to fix it first
@Pablo  Thanks for reminding us about that great post you wrote awhile back. That was a good refresher. Also, you said "Before starting to change path, the UK government needs to get someone in charge of cleaning up the mess." So do you think that "someone" should be a national government CIO or should it be someone else? Or perhaps we should look at a national CIO as a temporary position?
Sara Peters   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   3/20/2013 12:18:07 PM
Re: life is change
@batye @a. saji   So am I understanding you both correctly? You both think that the CIO job is obsolete? Or just for central government? And if so, what do you think is the appropriate alternative?
Pablo Valerio   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   3/18/2013 11:37:52 AM
They need to fix it first
Last summer I wrote about the then UK's cloud chief Chris Chant claiming that 'Unacceptable IT' was  Pervasive. I don't think the situtaion has changed.

He said that "CIOs across government, including me in various roles at the centre of government, have been guilty for too long of taking the easy path. We have done the unacceptable and thought we were doing a great job." Part of the reason for this, Chant points out, is complicated contracts that make it difficult for innovative companies to get in.

Before starting to change path, the UK government needs to get someone in charge of cleaning up the mess. It is imperative that regional and local governments have access to the tools to do their jobs, and coordinate efforts to save money.
User Ranking: Blogger
a.saji   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   3/18/2013 11:23:59 AM
Re: life is change
I too feel the same Batye. Not only UK CIOs but most of the other CIOs are the same.  
batye   UK Says Government CIO Is Obsolete   3/16/2013 9:17:40 PM
life is change
the changes in technology, create changes at workplace... I think UK gov. is on the right path...

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