Liam Maxwell is CTO for the British Government.  His team within the Government Digital Service (GDS) is responsible for technical leadership across government and for identifying the technologies required to deliver great digital public services. 

Previously, Maxwell was lead member for policy at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead; responsible for IT, sustainability and the council's role as a "government lab," he has been head of computing academia at Eton College. Maxwell has experience of business technology leadership at Capita, Adecco, Office Angels and Accenture business services organisations.

We've heard about the evolving role of the CIO in the enterprise. How is the CIO role changing in the public sector?

The role of CIO in government has changed so much that we now have chief digital officers (CDOs) and CTOs.
The CTO looks after the common infrastructure, the common desktop and what we call Mission IT - things only governments would do.

Only the Revenue and Customs Department collects taxes. Only the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) runs long term custodial services and needs to manage the interpersonal relationships between its residents to avoid clashes, only MoJ hold the system of record for litigation. Those are the unique things a CTO handles.

The CDO is generally concerned with the interaction between the state and the citizens, understanding the two-way exchange of information and the delivery of public services. Digital officers look at people, process and technology — how the work is written, how the service is designed, user research and feasibility. Digital is much more than just technology - it is about transformation.

It’s a design-focused role. Since the design of services is crucial we have much more of a design focus than government has had in the past.

The most important aspect of digital leadership is a clear understanding of user needs. Every decision you make will be based on user needs, and that requires strong leadership, but it is fundamental to the delivery of excellent public services.

How does the growth of mobile device usage influence your mobile strategy and application designs?

We have many more people accessing services with mobile devices, so we've designed for the multiple form factors that our users need.  But we don’t design mobile-specific apps. We need technology that will work on any device to help people get the services they need.

How is the broader availability of data shaping the decisions you make today?

We publish performance dashboards at GOV.UK/PERFORMANCE that reveal how people use our services.  

These represent about 20 of the current 766 transactions we perform, with more to come. We are freeing up this data; it had previously been locked up in service contracts.

This data helps us identify how people are using our services so we can determine whether they work and how many people use them. The size of many transactions is not as big as we thought it was. In fact, the volume of transactions beyond the top 50 that we handle is relatively small. Government really must be at the right scale and that’s not necessarily at the scale we had previously thought.

How does your department manage cyber-security concerns?

While the number of digital services grows arithmetically, the potential cyber threat is growing exponentially.  Because the success of our interaction with users is based on trust, effective cyber-security is very important to us.

Using security as a blunt instrument is not helpful.  We're working to deliver security that’s based on users rather than on a department’s organizational procedures. That’s a more effective use of security and proportionate to the threat. For example, GOV.UK/VERIFY demonstrates our new identity verification program and would be a good illustration of how security is at the core of what we do.

This is an opportunity to use security to reduce our vulnerability and deliver the services users need.

Where will you be prioritizing your time over the next year?

Unless we build a digital government based on user needs, at some point, people will say: "What has government ever done for me? I can't access it; I have to go and see them or write to them, whereas everything else in my life is digital."

That's why, over the next 18 months our focus will be on government as a platform. We'll introduce a series of common technical services for others to use in building world-leading services that meet user needs.

We have a concept we call "digital by default," meaning we want to design digital services so good that people will prefer to use them. If you can do that, you keep your customers, you keep people happy and you keep government relevant.

For those who are not digitally connected, we have to make sure they have access to the services they’re entitled to.

That's where our Assisted Digital plays as well. Our strategy is to offer such good services that people will prefer to use them, and then make sure there's an Assisted Digital channel that works for these citizens.

About this article:

This interview first appeared in the report about the CSC Global CIO Survey, 2014-2015. Visit

Self assessment test: At the bottom of is the self assessment function that will compare someone's own results (that they key into the microsite) against the report's findings.