Civil service appoints first chief executive to drive digital transformation

The civil service has appointed John Manzoni as its first CEO, with a remit to drive digital transformation across Whitehall

The civil service has appointed its first chief executive, with a remit to drive digital transformation across Whitehall.

John Manzoni, currently head of the Major Projects Authority (MPA) in the Cabinet Office, will step up to the new CEO role on 13 October. 

Among his responsibilities will be executive control of the Government Digital Service (GDS) – becoming digital director Mike Bracken's boss – in addition to the Crown Commercial Service, the MPA under his yet-to-be-chosen successor, as well as cross-government shared services and civil service reform.

The chief executive role is new and effectively combines some responsibilities of the former head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake and former Cabinet Office chief operating officer Stephen Kelly, who was responsible for the Efficiency and Reform Group until his recent departure to become CEO of software firm Sage.

Manzoni will work alongside cabinet secretary and now head of the civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood. He joined the MPA in February, having been CEO of Canadian oil and gas company Talisman Energy, and before that CEO of BP Downstream. Manzoni said digital and technology will be a key part of his new job.

“The appropriate application of technology could transform the cost base of the civil service,” he said. “But in order to do that, you can’t do it bit by bit – we have to have a different conversation from the one we have had thus far. We have to prioritise. That is a conversation that can be completed now to enable all sorts of things to happen.”

Heywood said the growth of digital will be a priority for every aspect of the civil service in the coming years.

“The modern civil service has to be digital all the way through, including in policy making,” he said. “It’s not just about the civil service – digital principles such as agility, testing things out and getting feedback apply as much to policy making.”

Civil service reform progress report

Manzoni’s appointment coincides with the release of the latest progress report on the civil service reform programme, in which he will play a leading role. The Whitehall digital strategy is a central part of that programme, and the report said government needs to greatly expand its digital capabilities during the next parliament.

“The shift to digital will not stop with the 25 exemplar services. If we are really to change how people use government services, all government transactional services – where possible – should be available online and easy to use. More government transactional services will follow this route,” said the report.

“Our plans will include setting ambitious goals for increasing the proportion of transactions with the public which are completed online, and on ensuring our people have access to technology which is fit for a modern workplace. This will be a key priority for the new chief executive,” the report added.

But the digital change programme will apply to much more than just online public services. Civil servants will be trained with digital skills, and policy-making will be overhauled to include digital methods such as crowdsourcing and collaborative working.

“In the past year, there has been greater use of digital methods and collaborative working as part of the drive to open up our policy-making processes. Now we need to continue that drive to make open policy-making the default,” said the progress report.

Closing the digital skills gap

The report also highlighted critical skills gaps across Whitehall in its digital capabilities. In the past year, GDS has set up a central recruitment function to help departments recruit people with the necessary digital and technology skills. 

I’m a big fan of outsourcing in general, but we outsourced too much IT in the past. One of the things we are doing is bringing that back, insourcing some IT and digital capabilities

Francis Maude, Cabinet Office

During the last quarter of 2013, 4,141 civil servants received training in digital skills – an increase from just 49 who attended courses in the second quarter of the year. The Department for Work and Pensions has set up a digital academy to train staff in digital methods.

Further recruitment is taking place for digital skills. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said he had recently signed off the creation of a new digital team to support the internal needs of his department. Between 20 and 30 new digital jobs will be created as a result.

“There are mini-GDSs emerging in departments, overseen by GDS, with GDS support. I’m a big fan of outsourcing in general, but we outsourced too much IT in the past. One of the things we are doing is bringing that back, insourcing some IT and digital capabilities,” said Maude.

A major overhaul of the technology used by civil servants is also on the cards. Maude said many civil servants had highlighted poor technology as one of their major working difficulties.

Legacy outsourcing contracts slowing change

But the progress report also said the pace of changing user technology across Whitehall is being hampered by legacy outsourcing contracts.

“Improved IT is a key enabler of smart working. There is a significant IT uplift programme in progress across government and some good examples of new IT tools that facilitate smart working. 

"Progress on replacing IT equipment is at a slower pace than we would like – the cost of exiting legacy contracts means we have had to take hard decisions about how quickly we can deliver change,” said the report.

GDS is leading a programme to offer a much wider range of user technology choices for civil servants. Whitehall is heavily reliant on desktop PCs using Microsoft Windows and Office, but GDS wants to open up the use of cloud services such as Google Apps, and other devices such as Apple Macs or Android-based Chromebooks, as well as tablets and smartphones.

Only 25% of all office-based civil servants currently have laptops – about 50,000 people, according to the progress report. Two-thirds of Whitehall departments now have Wi-Fi in place, or will have in the next six months.

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