Cabinet Office to axe government CIO and boards in governance shake-up

The Cabinet Office is to axe the government CIO role in a governance shake-up that will put digital leaders at the heart of technology change

The Cabinet Office is to axe the role of government CIO and the current cross-government IT board structures, in a governance shake-up that will put departmental "digital leaders" at the heart of technology change across Whitehall.

The Cabinet Office said the cross-government role of CIO is no longer central to delivery and would not be replaced with the departure of former government CIO Andy Nelson, as revealed by Computer Weekly in December. Nelson has taken over as CIO at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Under the changes it will also pause all government structures around CIO delivery boards, with a new governance strategy to be publish next month. The new focus will be on boosting digital capability in-house, it said.

This will include the appointment of 14 senior technology advisors to government chief technology officer Liam Maxwell’s team. “Those are the guys who are going to help us deliver the technology and will provide more capability to the departments,” he said.

Unwieldy governance structures have impeded the pace of IT reform, said Maxwell, citing the six months it took to push through the open standards consultation and the recent move to a "cloud first" policy.

“Today is a watershed between the old style which was about procurement and being a digital government that works at speed,” said Maxwell.

The moves come as the Government Digital Service (GDS) intends to start digitising public sector transactions, the most challenging phase of its remit.

“If you want to move at pace and deliver in short periods of time, then you have to have a governance structure that is itself mobile, digital and web-based,” said GDS director Mike Bracken.

 “There is a massive amount of diversity [across government], the CIO function is random – it depends on the department they are in,” he said.  “Therefore governance model differs depending on that. So helping them make decisions means navigating against uneven territories.”

He said bodies such as the CIO delivery board were not inclusive in their approach.

“If the governance structures are stopping people from making decisions, then that has to change,” he said.

Bracken said the previous model of long-term IT procurement was opposed to the new agile way of working in government, and added that a cultural change was needed across government to push through digital change.

Government chief operating officer Stephen Kelly is to take on the additional role of government senior risk owner, to manage information and technical standards.

Kelly said government was moving at pace to a world away from proprietary, locked-in, multi-year contracts. “A lot of traditional technology companies’ business plans are on a collision course with what we want,” he said.

“We’ve got to get to more iterative, user focused world."

Change change controls clauses in large contracts meant a few words on a website could sometimes take as long as three months to be approved, said Bracken. Maxwell added that under the "oligopoly" world, costs per transaction went up as each change to a system added another layer of complexity.

The moves will also see departmental and transactional agency boards include the role of a digital leader, who will work closely with GDS.

Services handling more than 100,000 transactions each year will be redesigned, operated and improved by a service manager. So far five service managers have been appointed and work has begun on 15 of the government’s "examplar" services, with nine in alpha or beta delivery stages.

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