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Joe Harley and Ian Watmore outline ways to improve government IT

Government CIO Joe Harley and Efficiency and Reform Group chief operating officer Ian Watmore have outlined a roadmap to improve public sector IT.

Government attempts to implement large-scale IT systems are doomed to failure in almost every situation, Watmore told a Public Accounts Committee this week. Designing with the customer in mind is key, as is working on smaller projects, or "chunking" larger ones into smaller components, he said.

Watmore highlighted key ways for the government to improve its IT systems.

"Stop talking about 'IT disasters' as it makes problem worse, [failures] are nearly always due to business challenges not IT; pressurise people to shorten timescales for projects; help evangelise Martha Lane Fox's message of digital by default; and [think about services with] the citizen in mind not the government," he said.

Joe Harley, the government's CIO, added that keeping senior responsible owners (SROs) at the helm of projects throughout their life was crucial to future success. Past projects have seen many changes of SRO, which critics say diminishes accountability.

"Projects are more likely to work when SROs are accountable for whole projects," he said. "I would expect mitigating actions in the event another job came along [for the SRO] so at least there would be a smooth transition."

Harley also reiterated the need to create further cost savings. "We have to make inroads in the cost of IT in government, including progress on datacentre consolidation," he said.

During the committee meeting, Harley defended his dual role as CIO, jointly heading the government's IT along with that of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). "I don't view myself as having a part-time role. What I have to do is prioritise carefully what I have to get involved in. I also have a good, very capable team," he said.

Under his other position as CIO at the DWP, Harley oversees around one-fifth of government IT spend.

It was announced in the meeting that the appointment for a new head of digital would be made this month. Watmore also revealed that consultancy spend had been reduced by around 55% since last year.


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