CIO Profile: DWP and UK Government CIO Joe Harley brings a boardroom ethos to public-sector IT

Government CIO Joe Harley has had an illustrious career within the public and private sector. As well as taking on the mammoth task of transforming ICT within the public sector in January 2011, he remains CIO and director general for Corporate IT at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Some people believe he’s taking on too much work, but Harley isn’t deterred by their comments. “At the end of the day being Government CIO is one of the most demanding and challenging roles I’ve had in my career to date,” he says, adding that he’s quite excited about getting out of bed in the morning because it’s a role that can change society.

His track record speaks for itself too: in January 2010 CIO reported that he had managed to carve off £1.5bn from the DWP’s costs since 2005. At the time the department had £3m worth of IT work out to tender and 110,000 members of staff fielding millions of calls each day.

Today he faces a tough spending review settlement, which requires the DWP to cut a quarter of its costs by March 2015. Harley hopes that these further reductions will be achieved by reducing ICT spending and by cutting expenditure on travel, buildings and consultants.

“The cost-reduction agenda is never ending; once you have reached your targets you have to keep on going, raising the bar again to find innovative opportunities to reduce cost,” he explains.

Harley has done it before and so he brings much experience to his new role, and he will gain support by bringing ICT into the boardroom. In his opinion information communications technology is not something that should be hidden away in some dark back room.

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“In the past the delivery of ICT has not been at the front of the conversation as often as it should be”, he explains before suggesting that ministers and policymakers need to be involved in discussions about its deliverability.

To him this shouldn’t be an afterthought, particularly now when public sector budgets are being cut back.

Doing more with less
The public sector needs to do more with less money by creating efficiencies without damaging service quality or the ability of the government and the public sector to fulfil their legal and policy obligations.

“For me the challenge is to keep and continually improve the quality of service and at the same time drive down costs, particularly because we are not living an either-or world anymore,” Harley argues.

In other words he thinks that organisations have to secure the best price for the ICT they need, and need to be constantly improving the quality of their offering.

Harley admits that this is no easy task.