For John Seglias, implementing digital services is not just a chance to digitise the front-end, but to re-imagine and transform the operational back-end. He is creating a single digital, data and technology services function for Defra that will move away from monolithic outsourced IS contracts, strengthen strategic business engagement and the business relationship management function, and digitally deliver a new suite of services that have been co-imagined and co-created with business colleagues.

Job title
Chief digital and information officer

Company name

How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Having spent 25 years in the industry, leading IT organisations and delivering products and services (I have a software development background), I joined Defra in March 2016 with the remit of creating a single Defra digital, data and technology services function (DDTS). The function was to transform the way we procure and use IT services by moving away from large monolithic SI contracts, and investing the spending review 2015 (SR15) capital allocation to deliver new customer services and solutions.

Previously DDTS was a loose federation of three IT departments. There were great examples of cooperation between them – for example, in the architecture area, which had done some excellent work on producing a first version of our combined application roadmap, and our IT architecture. There was also a programme in place to replace our two SI contracts with a new set of IT services.

What was extremely encouraging was the level of talent across the three organisations. There were, and still are, capability gaps due to the nature of the current outsource contracts, but the teams I took over have the knowledge, energy and willingness to transform the IT function.

I quickly restructured the top team, making the most of colleagues already in Defra, but also bringing in new talent, especially in the digital, data and programme management areas. Together we have re-envisioned what DDTS stands for, how it will work with the rest of Defra, and what it will deliver over the next four years. My senior team and I have spent a long time sharing our vision with our DDTS colleagues and the wider organisation, ensuring it fits with and supports the Defra strategy and new operating model.

We have focused on creating a single function, with a single target operating model (TOM). We engaged our colleagues, undertook an audit of current roles and capabilities, and worked with external experts to design a new TOM. This was a challenging task as we are in a transitional period, taking on management of services that would have previously been managed by our SIs, and having to work with a Defra that is also changing as it implements its operating model.

One of our main priorities for the remaining years of this parliament is to invest the SR15 capital to deliver transformation, new customer services and operational efficiencies. I would like to point to two specific steps I took that are helping us work with our colleagues in Defra to transform our services and products.

First, as part of the new DDTS TOM we have designed and are implementing, I was very keen to strengthen the strategic business engagement and the business relationship management function in DDTS. Defra is made up of 33 agencies and public bodies, now organised in outcome systems, underpinned by horizontal transformation programmes and corporate services. I wanted to ensure we were able to engage with this new Defra operating model, to co-imagine and co-create our services, and deliver them through digital channels. This function of DDTS is now working with Defra business colleagues to re-imagine how we work and what services we offer, especially in a post-EU world.

Second, although line of business solution development and some digital transformation was already taking place in Defra, I was keen to bring all of these together into a single digital transformation programme to ensure proper strategic overview, and the right prioritisation as we work with colleagues through our BRM function. We now have in place a digital transformation and a data transformation programme, delivering common solutions and platforms such as: a common CRM solution, a common data platform and analytics solutions, horizontal transformation solutions such as a single field scheduling solution, and outcome systems solutions such as our livestock traceability and information service.

To deliver this level of transformation we are focusing on strengthening our capabilities. We started a workforce planning exercise to understand what capabilities and resources we need. I have recruited new talent such as a head of architecture and head of data services, and I am in the process of recruiting a chief digital officer. We’ve also launched a recruitment drive to strengthen our digital and data areas while at the same time restructuring our service operations function.

And, of course, our supplier landscape is changing. Part of this is as a result of the disaggregation of our main IT services, but a lot of the change is as a result of the new business services we are delivering. For example, Defra will become a data-driven organisation, so there’s a focus on working with suppliers that can add value to our data platform, data analysis and geolocation needs.

Defra understands the value of technology, and needs DDTS to deliver its outcomes. We have taken the first steps of this multiyear journey and have made many structural changes to the DDTS function to support the department. The journey, though, is only just beginning.

Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
There’s a big shift within Defra to transform the way we deliver business outcomes and customer services. One of the department’s five design principles is to ‘embrace digital and data: make decisions using the best available data and the latest methods and technology to improve outcomes. Processes will be automated, remote technology will be available and common standards and protocols will be applied.’

This shift is necessary to enable us to deliver against our strategy of creating a better place for living, improving services for our customers and increasing local delivery.

This year we can point to a number of services delivered by the DDTS function that support the above business outcomes. For example, the work and outcomes in the regulated customers area of the Environment Agency is something we are proud of. We have now developed and launched new digital services around customer journeys – for example, ‘I want to fish’, ‘I want to do something next to a river’, and ‘I want to manage waste services’. These are now on as fully digital services, whereas previously they were very unfriendly and complex paper-based services. Implementing these types of digital services is not just a chance to digitise the front-end, but to re-imagine and transform the operational back-end.

Another business outcome was the redesign of our animal disease testing service at the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Previously this was a paper-based service, with all the overhead one would expect for both vets and our agency staff. The new digital service we developed has transformed the user experience, but has also delivered business efficiencies.

And a Unity programme will replace our two SI contracts with a set of disaggregated IT services, delivering substantial IT savings and flexibility at the same time.

We are particularly proud of how we are helping transform our department, and I encourage my staff to share their experiences on our blog.

What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?

Product innovation: Through the restructuring of our function and the strengthening of our digital and data capability, we are delivering an increasing number of digital services, using innovation where we can. Defra doesn’t have products in the private sector sense of the word, but we work with business colleagues to reimagine our services and processes and use technology to transform what we do and how we do it.

Business model innovation: I was part of the team that designed and delivered the new Defra TOM. Since then I sit on a number of the new business boards and committees that the department has put in place, including being part of the EU exit programme that is rethinking our policy and services as a result of Brexit.

Technology innovation: We have been extending the use of technology innovation in Defra. In the last year we have made more use of satellite, lidar (a detection system which works on the principle of radar, but uses light from a laser) and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), for example, to undertake inspections or identify agricultural run-off. We also use sensors to measure river levels, and that drives automation, and our flood warning systems. To ensure we continue innovating with technology, I have embedded an innovation team within the DDTS architecture function, and they are busy trying and testing new technology and techniques with our business colleagues.

How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
As a newcomer I had the opportunity to create a vision for the DDTS department, and get everyone aligned behind it. Soon after I joined, I worked with my senior team to agree the three pillars of our function:

  • First, an outstanding function, encouraging our staff to be the best they can be and proud of the work they do, putting professionalism, governance and customer focus at the heart of what we do.
  • Second, being outcome focused, delivering excellent services based on user needs and business requirements. I want us to be the exemplar across government for awesome technology, outstanding service and transformative capability.
  • Third, I want us to be transformative, working with business colleagues so that our data can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone, delivering innovative data-driven digital solutions that can solve complex business problems, designed with the end-user in mind.

When it comes to culture and leading by example, it all starts from the top. I encourage my senior team to challenge my thinking and to have robust discussions and debate as I am a great believer in the power of teams as well as the individual.

But it doesn’t stop there. We encourage openness and discussion at levels. As a result my senior team and I hold very regular huddles with our staff in our offices around the country. We are keen users of Yammer, where our colleagues and I keep each other updated on our work, and we hold regular all-staff meetings to ensure we are all updated on progress with our new DDTS function and TOM. We always encourage feedback and we act on it.

How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
I am in a great position because both our permanent secretary and my line manager, the COO (corporate services director general), are great believers in the power of data and digital. That’s why embracing data and digital is one of our five design principles. They are both big advocates of our digital and data work, and use every opportunity to promote it.

How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
I believe that our suppliers and vendors are a critical part of our delivery capability. They need to understand what our departmental strategy is and what outcomes we want to achieve so that they can work with us effectively. We do not buy technology, but business outcomes and services.

On the IT infrastructure front, our Unity programme will replace the two large SI contracts with a new set of IT services and suppliers. We make use of government frameworks where we can, and encourage large suppliers and SMEs to bid for these new contracts.

On the digital services and data front, we have used suppliers of all sizes to work with us in an agile fashion, using GDS design principles. Much of this development is co-located in our offices, with business owners and product managers being part of the development process. The government’s G-cloud framework allows us to very quickly identify the right partner for the relevant service we want to develop and launch.

As a result of the move from two large SI contracts to a multi-supplier environment, we have had to develop a new supplier management framework. It’s based on a collaboration agreement, and supported by a governance structure that includes representation at all levels of the suppliers and the Defra organisation. 

How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Diversity and inclusion is at the core of Defra.

In DDTS we work with our HR business partners to ensure we support this strategy through our actions and plans. For example, we support individuals who want to work flexibly (from home or part-time), promote an open and tolerant culture, and ensure that we take every opportunity to increase our diverse workforce.

On a personal note, I try to lead by example. My recent recruitment for senior leaders has resulted in an increased female representation at DDTS leadership level. I achieved this by working with recruitment agencies that have a diversity plan themselves and try extra hard to attract applications from individuals of a diverse background. I do this not because I am keen to meet internal KPIs, but because I am a true believer in opportunities for all, and the value that diversity of thought and beliefs brings to an organisation.

Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
We have only recently developed and are now implementing an interim target operating model. It is interim because both Defra as a department is changing and our IT landscape will be very different in two years’ time after Unity has delivered our new IT services.

One major change to the way we operate is that the service operations and management function is now moving in-house. We will be responsible for ensuring the various IT services that we procure or develop work together to deliver a seamless end-to-end service to our internal and external customers.

Another major change to our operating model is the creation of the business engagement, digital and data services functions. Over the next four years we will be working with our business colleagues to transform the way the department operates and the services it offers.

We now have business engagement partners and BRMs for each of the main Defra outcome systems (an internal departmental structure that focuses what we do on what our customers need) and our main agencies. This allows us to work closely with business colleagues, not just to capture demand, which is a very passive/reactive way of working, but to proactively identify ways of using technology and data to transform our operating models, processes and services.

The business engagement function then works hand in hand with our internal delivery capability (digital and data) to turn these ideas and needs into real data-driven digital services.

What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
Our main SI suppliers are CapGemini and IBM. These contracts have been in place for over 10 years and, in line with government strategy, we have a programme under way (Unity) to disaggregate these into a number of smaller IT services and contracts.

We have already signed a contract with Crown Hosting for some of our legacy hosting needs, ServiceNow for our ITSM tool, and have gone to market for managed print, service delivery, and hosting and application management. Over the next few months we will be going to market for other services including end user, connectivity and service desk.

We are also making use of government frameworks, so are working with Microsoft to roll out Office 365, and with Apple to roll out smartphones to replace our ageing Blackberry estate, as well as to put intelligence and capability in the hands of our field force.

In the digital and data areas we use AWS and Azure to host many of our digital and data services. Cloud is an area of growth for Defra as we digitise our legacy processes and customer services.

What are your key strategic aims for next year?
In 2017 we will implement some of the initiatives that we planned and prepared for during 2016. That’s why we use #2017MakingItReal as our theme in internal communications, to bring this to life for our colleagues.

By the end of the year Unity will have gone to market and selected the majority of our IT services. The DDTS TOM and single organisational structure will have been implemented, and the new service operations function will be in place and managing these new IT services.

A number of business cases will have been approved, resulting in work to replace key business systems, services and processes using digital and data. These will include our livestock tracking and information service, single field management service, and additional services in the area of licensing and permitting. By the end of the year we will have rolled out a single CRM solution for the department, supporting the customer engagement programme and initiative.

Finally, our work on EU exit will continue, and we will use our digital capability to support the department depending on the outcome of the upcoming negotiations and plans.

How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
Defra and other government departments are at the centre of Brexit. Defra in particular is one of the most affected departments, being the conduit for much EU legislation, including environmental, countryside, animal and plant health, farming, and food, to name a few.

For the past few months I have personally been part of the internal discussions on the impact of Brexit to the department and how we prepare and support the government through negotiations, as well as our readiness for our future relationship with the EU.


When did you start your current role?
March 2016

What is your reporting line?

Are you a member of the executive leadership?

Are you a member of the board of directors?

What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
Chief digital officer (reports to me), head of data (reports to me), and head of innovation (reports to my head of architecture).

How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
Twice a week.

How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?


What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?

What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
70% operational, 30% new developments.


Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:

  1. CIO peers
  2. Industry bodies
  3. Analyst houses
  4. Consultants
  5. Media


Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?

Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?

Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Yes, does not report to me


Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?

How many employees are there in your IT team?

Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?


Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • networking/communications.

Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?

  • cloud
  • data analytics/business intelligence
  • CRM
  • datacentre/infrastructure/server
  • IoT
  • security
  • machine learning/artificial intelligence
  • social
  • devices (mobile)
  • devices (desktop)
  • wearables
  • networking/communications.

What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?


Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?

Does your department include technology staff from the EU?

Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?