September's 2013 CIO Summit showcased what true technology leadership means. It shone a bright, inspiring light on those doing the right thing, busy improving organisations and services through a relentless focus on their users’ needs – and cast into shadow those elsewhere who have made "enterprise IT" such a derogatory and discredited phrase.
It's easy to utter phrases such as "rebuilding in-house government IT capability", "restoring a level playing field" and "meeting user needs", and yet a significant challenge to deliver them.
Restoring a competitive, genuinely level playing field into the provision of government's IT services requires the problem to be tackled holistically. Attempting to inject competition into just one part of this self-sustaining supplier ecosystem might save some short-term marginal costs (such as delaying the renewal of a PC hardware refresh), but will not help move the public sector away from its wider and more damaging dependency culture.
However, until recently there was no such credible, co-ordinated delivery plan – despite the creation of entire libraries of IT strategies and policies. The CIO 100 and CIO Summit illustrate just how much the world has changed – and that you don’t need to be a CEO or Permanent Secretary to lead your organisation to a better place. There are now meaningful improvements on a whole variety of fronts across the public sector, from the refocus on user needs to rebuilding in-house capability; from improving the strategic understanding of technology amongst wider public sector management to the restoration of truly open competition, drawing on “cloud first” principles and the use of open standards.
Judging by the “moaning minnie” reactions from some incumbent government suppliers – such as Fujitsu here and grumbling system integrators here – this time a real impact is being felt across the breadth and depth of the public sector. Many of the old suppliers appear caught like a fatted calf in the headlights of an oncoming butcher's van arriving from the abattoir. They display a contorted, split personality, simultaneously holding the incompatible conceits that they can continue to make healthy margins and secure new long-term contracts whilst knowing full well that neither is going to happen. The old adage that you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink (or Dorothy Parker's more acerbic version, that you can take a whore to culture but you can't make her think), seems to aptly capture the mindset of some of the old guard.
Out of all the current changes, rebuilding in-house capability and developing empowered, inspirational and delivery-focused technology leaders probably matters most. CIO 100 public sector technology leaders such as James Thomas, of University College London Hospitals, and Liam Maxwell, the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, have become some of the most visible flag bearers of this important change.
The CIO Summit provided insight into a revitalised public sector, cultivating a growing cadre of technology leaders who can actually deliver these long-needed improvements rather than just talking and writing about them. This is a double win for all of us: improving the reputation of government IT, and, more significantly, the design and delivery of our public services.