Executive Director of the Government Digital Service, Mike Bracken, says that shifts in the government's technology framework has left room for chief digital officers to make real progress and affect change across Whitehall and the country.
Bracken was speaking at the Chief Digital Officer Summit in London yesterday where he confirmed he would be adopting the CDO title, and where he was named as the UK's first Chief Digital Officer of the Year.
The government has been collapsing departmental CIO roles in recent years in favour of CTOs and digital leaders, a shift in technology provision Bracken said "has left room for CDOs across government to make real progress".
High-profile CDO hires include Mark Dearnley taking on the role of chief digital and information officer at HMRC in August 2013, Paul Shetler appointed CDO at the Ministry of Justice, Kevin Cunnington CDO at the Department for Work and Pensions, and Jacqueline Steed taking over as CDO at the Student Loans Company from interim CDO Chris Airey just last month.
Old model too much for one CIO
Bracken said that the old model of a CIO working on a big IT contract delivering everything from the network to service delivery was too much for one person to take on. Bracken surmised government technology as a quadrant comprising of mission IT, common infrastructure service, back office and digital public services
"It's apparent you need different people with different skills in each quadrant," he said.
"The pulls are all away from the centre but under the CIO model all the pulls were inwards to the CIO. The CIO would sit at the heart of that governance but there are too many forces acting on technology and service provision for that to be effective; it's too much work for one person.
"We need CTOs and technology leaders to focus on mission IT and common infrastructure services. And CDOs are instrumental in the shift from focusing on ourselves to focusing on our users.
"And crucially, the CDO and CTO are asking the same question as everyone else - the one written on the back of Government CTO Liam Maxwell's phone – 'What is the user need?' And how do we give better services to users."
Bracken also championed the success of the G-Cloud procurement platform for halting the near monopoly of government technology deals, 84% of which were previously held by companies in London and the South East.
"Through G-Cloud we are opening up the digital and technological supply chain," he said.
"In this country we are fantastic at digital and technological services. We've got a great digital economy going and the government should be paying a part of that."
One of the main drivers behind the success of the Government Digital Service was how it has been able to attract some of the best talent in the UK, Bracken said.
"People want to work with people they like, and work on stuff that matters," he said, "which is one of the reasons the GDS has been a success.
"But you need to recognise people will want to come in, work for a few years, leave, and maybe one day come back, whereas previously being a civil servant was always set up as a job for life.
"We're attracting people because we're touching almost 70 million people; if you're selling fizzy drinks you might struggle to meet that person's values."
On presenting Bracken with the UK CDO of the Year award, CDO Club founder David Mathison said: "Mike is an inspiration to all digital leaders tasked with transformation, regardless of sector.
"The work by his team at GDS provides a case study for the rest of the world on how to transform public sector services to a 'digital by default' model, by building and championing a digital culture that puts the user first and delivers the best, low-cost public services possible. We therefore recognise Mike and his team with this inaugural UK CDO of the Year award."