GDS director Mike Bracken could become government CDO as digital roles evolve

Government Digital Service (GDS) director Mike Bracken could be in line to become the government's chief digital officer (CDO)

Mike Bracken could be set to become the government’s chief digital officer (CDO), a change in job title from executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) that would reflect the growing role of digital transformation across Whitehall.

It is believed Bracken’s responsibilities would not change and he will continue to report into the new civil service CEO John Manzoni, whose job is to drive the digital transformation agenda.

Any change in job title would need to be ratified by the Cabinet Office first, but such a decision reflects existing government moves to create more CDO and chief technology officer (CTO) roles, to replace the traditional government chief information officer (CIO).

“The CDO has been the fundamental shift from focusing on ourselves to focusing on users,” Bracken told the Chief Digital Officer Summit in London yesterday (Wednesday 30 October 2014).

“The dynamic between the CDO and CTO is the most important relationship we have in our large departments. They should be asking the same thing – what is the user need? How do we give better services to users?”

Bracken said it was unfathomable how one person could look after all the technology requirements a CIO used to look after, including but not limited to digital, procurement and network infrastructure.

Two months ago it was announced that Bracken’s former boss - chief operating officer of the Cabinet Office Stephen Kelly - was leaving to take up the role as CEO at Sage from November 2014. Earlier this month the civil service appointed its first chief executive – John Manzoni was formerly head of the Major Projects Authority (MPA) in the Cabinet Office.

Government Digital Service

As leader of GDS, Bracken has been one of the key figures behind government’s shift toward providing digital public services for citizens.

GDS is close to finishing a two-year project to move 25 of the most used government services online. The government has calculated that, on average, an online public service is 20 times cheaper than a phone transaction, 30 times cheaper than by post and 50 times cheaper than face-to-face. It claims digitising public services will make cumulative savings of £1.2bn in this parliament, rising to an estimated £1.7bn by 2016.

Outside the 25 exemplars, departments have also digitised other transactions under their own steam, including the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and Ministry of Justice (MOJ).

The new digital leaders

To support this, government has hired over 100 digital leaders over the past year, a number of which have come from the public sector.

Former Credit Suisse CIO Magnus Falk recently became the government’s deputy chief technology officer (CTO), while Jacqueline Steed – former managing director and CIO for BT Wholesale – started as CDO at the Student Loan Company (SLC) in September 2014.

Other recent appointments from the private sector, include former CIO at Electrolux Ian Sayer taking the role of MOJ CTO, former CIO of Vodafone Mark Dearnley taking the role of chief digital and information officer (CDIO) at HMRC, as well as Kevin Cunnington, previously global head of online at Vodafone, taking up the CDO position at the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP).

Bracken said GDS is still hiring, and he will never stop hiring great people. Referring to developers who have left startups in Tech City to work in government, he said: “I’m sorry for taking the technology talent, but I didn’t take them, they came.”

Bracken said the nature of government and creating something worthwhile is what attracts people, but said he wants a “freer exchange of people” where, if talented staff leave government, they should know the door is open for them to return in the future.

GDS contracts

Computer Weekly recently found almost 60% of employees at GDS could be gone in 12 months of the May 2015 general election, presenting a substantial risk to the next government’s digital plans.

Out of 301 employees at GDS, 176 are on fixed-term contracts, all of which are due to terminate within 12 months of a new administration taking power, according to a freedom of information request lodged by Computer Weekly.

If a new government were to come into power, it could decide not to renew remaining contracts as they expire. Equally, if employees don’t agree with new policies an incoming government sets out, they could choose to leave at the end of their contract.

But shadow cabinet office minister Chi Onwura said she hoped those currently working for GDS would continue, if a Labour government came in.

The Labour party has also said it will keep GDS staff – over half of which are on short-term contracts – if they wish to stay.

Bracken said on Twitter in August 2014 that GDS contracts are “a rolling renewal programme based on performance, skills and needs”.

Government chief technology officer (CTO) Liam Maxwell has committed to the GDS beyond the general election, after extending his contract to 2018.

“Together we are going to work for and with departments to deliver the modern and user-focused technology we need, and I'm really happy to sign up for the next stage of this exciting journey to build a digital government based on user needs,” he said in September 2014.

"We know there’s still a lot to do and I’m looking forward to continuing my work and ensuring that we further embed these reforms."

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