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Civil service chief appeals to ‘wise, experienced, powerful’ IT leaders to apply for CDIO job

John Manzoni explains why the new government digital leader will carry the power and authority of a Whitehall permanent secretary

Civil service chief executive John Manzoni has said the newly created role of government chief digital and information officer (CDIO) will need someone who is “very wise, very experienced, and very powerful” to fulfil the complex demands of leading IT and digital change across Whitehall.

The advert for the £180,000 per year job was published earlier this week, and formally announced by Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden at the Sprint 19 digital government conference in London on 19 September.

The CDIO job will be the first time the most senior digital leader in government has been recruited at permanent secretary level – the highest in the civil service – and Manzoni said this reflects the importance of digital transformation in delivering better public services.

Speaking to Computer Weekly at the TechUK Smarter State event on 18 September, Manzoni outlined the qualities required to fulfil the job.

“You have to be very wise, very experienced, and very powerful – and never use that power. That’s the kind of person we need because those people need to be the ‘go to’ people, they need to be the people that can convene all the departmental CDIOs, who can convene for government, which is a big, complicated organisation,” he said.

“How do we move the digital transformation strategy forward? What does government’s move to the cloud look like? What are the data and infrastructure standards we should deploy across the system? Those are complicated, difficult things to do in an organisation of 28 very proud, constitutionally separate [departments]. That’s why this is pitched at a senior level.”

Manzoni explained that the civil service increasingly works on a matrix management basis, with functional leaders for common areas such as human resources (HR), property, security and commercial matters, working across departments which carry policy responsibility. Until now, those functional leaders have been at director-general level in the civil service – one down from the permanent secretaries that run the departments.

“In a big system as established and proud as the civil service, it takes a lot of time to make these changes. I’ve always felt that a true matrix has a proper balance,” said Manzoni.

“The CDIO is one of the more complex and larger functional leader roles, and therefore it is entirely appropriate that its put at a second permanent secretary level. It is a step up, the role is complex, as any of these roles at the centre of a large complex organisation are, and they’re complicated and difficult to perform.

“This role at the centre of government is to assist, help and challenge all of government’s digital and technology development. It’s a very exciting role, and it’s a continuous evolution. I say to people, it isn’t the articulation of the future that is difficult, it’s the bringing the past into the future that is difficult, and that takes a special kind of experience that’s not often found.”

The CDIO will report to Manzoni and will take responsibility for the Government Digital Service (GDS), which is run by Alison Pritchard. Asked by Computer Weekly at Sprint 19 if she would apply for the CDIO position, she said she would give the job “serious consideration”, but did not rule out retaining the GDS director general role – she is currently an interim appointment – and reporting to the CDIO.

“We need to give this person the opportunity to work out how they want to be supported in that more senior role. I am doing some thinking around how best to provide options. There’s no simple answer, second permanent secretaries often have senior-level support. But I'm not presuming. And I am an interim, so whatever we do, we can seamlessly transition into the new arrangement,” she said.

The closing date for applications for the CDIO job 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.

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