Local authorities should employ both chief information officers (CIOs) and IT directors, government CIO Ian Watmore told the Society of IT Managers’ (Socitm) annual conference in Brighton this week.
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Local government organisations needed people in both roles to realise the business benefits of IT, he said.
CIOs have a role in driving though IT-enabled business change. Watmore questioned whether "people who are IT directors are the right people to be CIOs”. But that did not mean downplaying the importance of traditional IT skills, he said.
“The CIO will always need someone like the IT director to complement their skills. You need someone whose night and day job is to worry about the technology working. That skill set is rare and valuable,” said Watmore.
Watmore believes that business change projects could cut public sector spending on legacy IT systems by 10-15%. As the public sector spends 70-75% of its £14bn annual IT budget on legacy systems, that could save £1.5bn a year.
Jos Creese, head of IT services at Hampshire County Council and chairman of Socitm Insight, the society's research programme, said less than 10% of local authorities gave their most senior IT positions the title CIO.
Creese told Socitm delegates “The role of CIO has been evolving, certainly over the past five years in local government, and over the past 18 months it has been an exponential curve.” But he added, “If the technology does not take, you won’t get off the starting block (of business transformation).”
Watmore has struggled to convince Whitehall of the CIO's role. “I got Whitehall comfortable with the idea of the CIO, and believe me that’s been a battle,” he said. "Permanent secretaries [the top civil servants in a department] are almost there, but I’m not sure that the ministers are,” he said.