Is DWP about to lose its CIO?

I’ve been told that the Department for Work and Pensions CIO, Andy Nelson, is about to step down from the role.

The information came from a usually reliable source, but at the time of writing this, the DWP press office has yet to confirm or deny what I was told, despite repeated requests.

If it’s true, Nelson’s departure would raise further questions about IT developments in a department that is already under great scrutiny as a result of the problems surrounding Universal Credit, the DWP’s flagship welfare reform programme.

DWP is the biggest Whitehall department in IT terms, and should Nelson depart it would be another step to the elimination of the CIO role in central government.

Nelson ended up at the DWP as a result of his previous job, as HM government CIO, being scrapped in favour of the Government Digital Service (GDS) model of a digital chief alongside a chief technology officer (CTO).

The scope of the CIO role at DWP has changed since Nelson was appointed in February 2013, with the creation last year of a new post, director general of digital transformation, taken by former Vodafone online chief Kevin Cunnington.

Cunnington is responsible for IT development for the most important, high-profile DWP projects such as Universal Credit and single-tier pensions. Nelson’s predecessor as CIO, the late Philip Langsdale, was also responsible for Universal Credit, but after his untimely death in December 2012, a new director general was recruited, Howard Shiplee, to oversee the department’s most important project.

As well as Cunnington, a CTO, Jon Ayre, was appointed at DWP in September 2013.

Before Cunnington was appointed, I heard rumours of disagreements between Nelson and GDS chief Mike Bracken over the preferred candidate for the DWP digital job.

So, if Andy Nelson’s departure is confirmed, it would appear that the DWP CIO role has been gradually diminished since his appointment. Nelson is an experienced CIO – Ministry of Justice CIO before his HM government CIO role, and senior IT leadership jobs at Royal Sun Alliance, GE Capital, and Asda prior to that.

Few CIOs with such a track record would feel comfortable being left as the guy who keeps the lights on, even if those lights are central to the UK’s benefits system.

In the circumstances, it seems unlikely that Nelson’s departure – if confirmed – would have much impact on the future of Universal Credit, but perhaps that very fact makes it a good time to leave anyway.

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