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Government relaunches search for chief digital and information officer

The role, which will tackle issues such as eradicating legacy and leading data strategy, has been redesigned and elevated at permanent secretary level

The search for a government chief digital and information (CDIO) officer has been relaunched, and the role has now increased in seniority.

More weight and authority has been added to the job, which is now a permanent secretary-level post that underpins the UK’s overall ambitions to become “the most digitally advanced government in the world”.

Reporting to John Manzoni, the chief executive of the civil service at the Cabinet Office, and working closely with Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden, the updated role encompasses not only data as was the case previously, but other tasks related to central government IT.

The closing date for applications is 7 October 2019, with the final interview taking place on 29 November 2019. The recruitment is being handled by an external recruitment agency, Leathwaite Executive Search, and could involve non-UK nationals.

The role calls for a “deeply experienced functional leader” who will devise strategies to overhaul government’s legacy IT systems, which has been pointed out as a priority, as well as strengthen cyber security across departments, another area where concerns have been raised.

In addition, the postholder will be accountable for making the most out of data and emerging technologies to design and deliver citizen-centric services, as well as growing tech talent across the civil service.

The CDIO will also represent the government and promote the work of its digital, data and technology function publicly at Parliamentary Select Committees and other high-profile events, including internationally.

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This redesigned appointment could also mean the role of director-general at the Government Digital Service, which has been filled in an interim basis by Alison Pritchard following Kevin Cunnington’s departure, will not be directly replaced as the CDIO’s duties would include running GDS.

Finding leadership focused on data matters in central government has been a struggle since 2017, when the job was first advertised as a chief digital officer. Lack of leadership is often cited as one of the main problems the UK government faces in terms of making the National Data Strategy (NDS) work in practice.

At a Public Accounts Committee session in July, Manzoni said he believed that, up until recently, the conditions were “not quite there” for the appointment of a leader looking across all of government.

At the session, he indicated that the position would likely be filled by an outside candidate – and the last thing the government wants is to see such a senior appointment failing, so it allowed the data landscape to develop further.

“This is why we gave ourselves some space [between] 2017 to 2020,” Manzoni said at the time. “The conditions around this are changing, and the need being felt across government for ‘someone to please come and sort this out’ is much clearer now than it was two years ago.” 

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