Watmore plans super-group of CIOs to streamline Whitehall IT

Ian Watmore, the new IT tsar for government, is to form a super-group of top information officers across the public sector to...

Ian Watmore, the new IT tsar for government, is to form a super-group of top information officers across the public sector to help streamline central departments, improve take-up of online services and reduce IT-related failures.

Politicians and civil servants have announced similar goals before but Watmore, who started his job two weeks ago, said this time the reforms will happen.

Simplified business processes and new IT will be required to make possible savings recommended in the Gershon efficiency review, published in July. The review will force departments to effect important reforms, said Watmore, former UK managing director of Accenture.

Meeting formally like a board of directors, the group will have a remit which goes beyond that of the "e-champions" who are helping to meet the government's targets for online services to be delivered by 2005.

Watmore said one of the group's main challenges will be to work with business managers to simplify and unify processes across government departments. Once these changes have been planned in detail it will be easier to install a few core software packages, which will contribute to the £20bn of efficiency savings sought by 2008.

The cuts are sought by the government after the efficiency review conducted by Peter Gershon, former head of the Office of Government Commerce.

Successive governments have sought to cajole departments into combining common back-office functions such as HR and finance, using common systems, thereby saving huge sums. This is likely to happen now, said Watmore, because the savings sought by Gershon have been written into departmental budgets over the next four years.

Implementing the review will break down the barriers between traditional parts of government because there is "overwhelming pressure" to make efficiencies materialise, he said. "It is clear that [finance, HR and IT] departments will all face the same sorts of challenges. There will be a lot of commonality in the software solutions they will want to adopt".

Watmore said his job would be "analogous to a group chief information officer role of a conglomerate", and added he may seek to save money by entering into central negotiations on IT purchases.

IT across government will be rationalised but Watmore was uncertain whether this would affect technology-based jobs. "I think the bigger efficiencies in IT come from better use of platforms and software," he said.

To set up the board he will have to identify a "CIO" in each central department. Richard Granger, director general of IT in the NHS, is likely to be included, as will be the new IT head of Inland Revenue and Customs Steve Lamey.

Whitehall will make better use of IT staff, says new government CIO >>

More than just another government tsar >>

Read more on IT legislation and regulation