Government CTO Liam Maxwell on C-level change

The government is scrapping the cross-government CIO role. Since the coalition took office in 2010 there has been a significant level of CIO churn in Whitehall. Liam Maxwell, currently the Government CTO, has risen through the ranks and is considered to be a major reformer. CIO UK met with Maxwell recently to discuss a wide range of issues, including the politics of his role, the Government Digital Service, G-Cloud, SME vendors and – of course – cuts.

Not long after the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took power, John Suffolk, the Government CIO since 2006, stepped down in the first of a series of CIO changes. CIO for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Joe Harley replaced Suffolk, and subsequently took on a dual role of Government CIO and remained DWP CIO, but Harley stepped down from both roles in March 2012 to be replaced by Andy Nelson, CIO of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in another dual responsibility post.

Last month the government announced it was ditching the Government CIO role as Andy Nelson moved to DWP to replace Philip Langsdale, who died in December 2012. Nelson will be tasked with delivering the Universal Credit scheme at DWP, which is already being described as a major government IT disaster in waiting.

So it’s been a turbulent airspace for the role of Government CIO, and the same is almost true of the CTO role. In December 2012 Maxwell became government CTO replacing Bill McCluggage who moved vendor side to join EMC. Maxwell’s move up to CTO was from inside the Cabinet Office, where he had been director of ICT futures until June 2012.

Concerning his responsibilities Maxwell says: “As CTO, my role is to help government - and particularly the digital leaders - get the cheaper, better and faster technology solutions that we all need.”

And don’t think for a minute that the disquiet is restricted to CIO and CTO roles. Chris Chant, formerly a programme director at the Cabinet Office, called for the resignation of the Cabinet Office’s chief operating officer Stephen Kelly in January after it was revealed that £750 million is to be spent on an Oracle enterprise resource planning framework.

Maxwell is not bothered by the politicised environment, and one CIO contact says he weathers bad storms daily. Maxwell says his career milestones and achievements have prepared him.

“My experience of working in location government, and being a councillor, has helped to shape our approach to technology in central government and the focus is on providing what the end-user wants.”

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Maxwell was the Head of Academic Computing Department at Tory leader growing ground Eton College. He was also as a Conservative councillor in the nearby Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which led to his role as a director of the government’s IT Reform Group. In the lead up to the last general election he helped the party to develop its IT policy.

At Windsor and Maidenhead Maxwell claims the council improved public services and cut taxes by 12%. He describes this achievement as being “the most fun, as we were up for pretty much anything that changed the way we could deliver, and lots of that was based around new technology.”

Maxwell’s team introduced a scheme that paid residents to get involved in recycling. Most people had thought this was an idea that just wasn’t possible. He claims that the initiative saved the council money, improved the council’s services and helped local business.

Maxwell says in his council times taught him that you have to collaborate to help people to get to where they need to be.

The fact that he has been so close to the Conservatives implies that his appointment might have been politically motivated, but he scoffs at this suggestion.

“I was appointed Deputy Government CIO through an externally advertised, fair and open competition, and the recruitment exercise was chaired by a Civil Service Commissioner.” So as an existing Civil Servant, his appointment as Government CTO is what he calls a “managed move”.

Maxwell says his deputy CIO and ICT Futures positions prior to becoming CTO permitted him to “view from the inside how systems work inside government, and the expenditure controls that were brought in by the government in 2010 meant that we could analyse the activity and challenge the way people across the public sector and government were spending their budgets to advise them accordingly.”

Alongside his new boss Mike Bracken, the executive director of the Government Digital Service, Maxwell is working on implementing the government’s ‘digital by default’ strategy, which aims to make it easier for IT firms to bid for public sector contracts while also reducing the cost of procuring, managing and implementation.