Nelson the admiral to lead government IT reform

As revealed first today by Computer Weekly, Andy Nelson is to take over as the new government CIO once current incumbent Joe Harley retires at the end of March.

In a similar arrangement to Harley, Nelson will combine the top job in public sector IT with his current role as CIO at the Ministry of Justice, reaffirming the government-wide responsibility as being that of a figurehead and leader, and chairman of the cross-department CIO Council.

Nelson’s appointment as the IT admiral is a victory for the reformers in the Cabinet Office. He is an advocate of change, already the “senior responsible owner” for the critical G-Cloud project and for IT skills across Whitehall. It will be his role to push through the Government ICT Strategy, but more importantly to push through the cultural and attitudinal changes in government IT leadership that are needed to dramatically reduce the cost of IT and radically reform the relationship with IT suppliers.

The next task will be appointing Nelson’s deputy – a role that will be much more that of the doer than the public face, and the person taking up that role will be the one expected to bash heads together across Whitehall and kick and punch and shout until the desired changes have become second nature in thought and action.

For the deputy CIO role, there is much speculation surrounding Liam Maxwell, currently on a 12-month advisory contract as Director of ICT Futures in the Cabinet Office. Maxwell is a Tory politician, a driving force behind the Francis Maude-led coalition agenda for IT reform, and seemingly in post to bully through policies such as open source and breaking down big IT contracts. His contract is believed to last until June – possibly just in time to take up a role that has only this week been officially advertised.

A Nelson-Maxwell axis could promise a classic “good cop, bad cop” approach designed to shake up those resistant to reform and challenge the status quo in departments that are less inclined to change.

An interesting side note to Nelson’s appointment is that he is ex-Accenture, as is his new boss – Cabinet Office permanent secretary Ian Watmore, who was presumably in charge of the selection process. How ironic it would be if two former employees of a big systems integrator were eventually responsible for breaking up the supplier oligarchy that so many people blame for the legacy of huge IT contracts and major IT failures.

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