Will John Suffolk be the last government CIO?

Government CIO John Suffolk effectively leaves his post at the end of this month – although I understand that he will still be on the public payroll until the end of March next year – but there remains uncertainty about how or even if he will be replaced.

A well-placed source recently told me that there is still discussion going on within Whitehall about what to do with the CIO role.

Some in the Cabinet Office were inclined to combine the “back office” CIO role with the “front office” role created as a result of Martha Lane Fox’s review of the Directgov website, but that plan was discarded.

So it seems there is a recognition of the need for a CIO-style role, but not yet a decision on whether that role will be fulfilled in the same way as has been done since it was created in 2004, when Ian Watmore initially took the post.

Watmore returned to the Cabinet Office earlier this year after his brief stay at the Football Association, in a new role as chief operating officer of the Efficiency and Reform Group, the body set up to oversee government cuts and “efficiency improvements.”

I’ve heard nothing specifically to suggest that Watmore may be under consideration for some sort of IT-related job replacing Suffolk, but there is a certain logic to his having some central responsibility.

For much of Suffolk’s time he was in essentially a governance and advisory role – he had no actual powers to over-rule departmental CIOs or enforce policies – he owned the government IT strategy and was “senior responsible owner” for information assurance but did not have ultimate decision-making or budgetary power.

That was due to change – the Tories had promised to give real teeth to the CIO role with sign-off of all major IT contracts – but in the cost-cutting fervour of the coalition, it is inevitable that senior civil servants will be looking for ways to reduce payroll, and not replacing a highly-paid central CIO would be one way to help achieve that.

With Suffolk’s predecessor already in a key Cabinet Office cost-cutting role, we may be about to see the demise of the government CIO role if Whitehall mandarins decide it is no longer needed.

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