The government-wide CIO role has been abolished and a corporate, government-wide CTO role created, all part of continuing changes to IT governance in Whitehall. This mirrors developments in other organisations, where corporate CTO functions now own and deliver technology leadership.
Strategy and execution is now owned by a triumvirate of officials: digital leaders working with the Government Digital Services across Whitehall on the digital by default strategy for public services; CTOs working with the Government CTO and the CTO Executive; and the central Whitehall COO function. Together, they aim to drive the successful re-design and delivery of digital services, provide better and more cost-effective technology solutions and achieve substantial improvements to the way our public services are designed and operated.
The Whitehall CIO role had become tarnished by association with an outdated and dysfunctional approach. In many programmes the wrong things were aggregated, bundling together the diverse needs of multiple separate organisations running different services for multiple user groups into one over-burdened and expensive ‘one size fits all’ contract.
The idea of letting such risky and lengthy contracts to single large suppliers has waned in an era where money is tightly constrained. Many CIOs are focused on fixing this problematic long tail of existing contracts and frameworks, driving out cost wherever possible. They increasingly appear more focused on the existing ‘lights on’ systems, leaving CTOs to focus on the ‘new dawn’, next generation of IT-enabled services. Both functions are essential to achieve effective, well-managed reform.
The National Audit Office reported that between 2011 and 2012 Whitehall spent around £316 million less as a result of these continuing IT governance improvements. But this represents just the thin end of a very thick and large wedge.
Ultimately, these changes are not about something as superficial as CxO job titles, but about the value to organisations of individuals with the talent and experience to help them succeed in delivering complex and large-scale improvements. The intention is to better meet user needs and improve the use of IT in the modernisation of our public services.
Getting this right will be the ultimate demonstration of effective technology leadership – enabling UK government IT to help deliver the highest quality and least expensive public services per head in Western Europe.