Patryk Kosmider -

UK government starts search for new chief digital officer

£190,000 job will lead digital, data and technology policy across Whitehall, in charge of the 200-strong Central Digital and Data Office

The Cabinet Office is recruiting for a government chief digital officer (CDO) to replace Joanna Davinson, whose 18-month term setting up and running the Whitehall digital operation is coming to an end.

The £190,000-a-year role will be the most senior digital, data and technology (DDaT) leader in the UK government, responsible for “shaping and delivering HM government’s digital, data and technology transformation to deliver better services (and ultimately outcomes) for UK citizens”, according to the job advert.

The new CDO will lead a team of 200 staff in the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO), reporting to the chief operating officer for the civil service, Alex Chisholm. The person chosen for the job will be personally approved by the prime minister.

Davinson was appointed as executive director of the CDDO in January 2021, tasked with setting up the new organisation on an 18-month contract, supported by a part-time non-executive chair, Paul Willmott, who is also chief digital adviser at the Lego Brand Group and former founder and managing partner of McKinsey Digital.

The CDO will take responsibility for some of the most pressing and challenging problems in the government’s digital estate, including the ongoing digital transformation of public services, overhauling legacy IT systems, establishing a cross-government enterprise architecture, updating the approach to data and analytics, improving cyber security, and enhancing digital skills across Whitehall.

“This is a ‘hands-on’ role that requires a full-time commitment,” said Chisholm and Willmott, writing in the candidate information pack published online.

“For a deeply experienced leader, there is no working environment more exciting, more challenging or more rewarding than government, and perhaps no more important time for public service. We have the opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people. This role requires experience and credibility in the DDaT field, but also a genuine passion for innovation, change and for making things better and a respect for public sector and civil service values.”

The job requires coordinating with digital leaders across the civil service, as well as with ministers and 10 Downing Street – even though it will not have direct decision-making authority for the digital and technology activity within individual departments.

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According to the job description, the ideal candidate will have “proven experience as a senior and respected leader within large, technologically advanced environments, with a track record of leading both digital and technology agendas”, will be “an accomplished leader: confident, inclusive and compassionate” and have “a demonstrable track record of bringing agendas together to create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts”.

The selection panel making the appointment will be led by Jane Burgess, a civil service commissioner, supported by Chisholm, Willmott, Gina Gill – the chief digital information officer at the Ministry of Justice – and Mark Denney, former CIO at HM Revenue & Customs.

Before Davinson and Willmott were appointed in early 2021, the Cabinet Office advertised for a government CDO without success. Davinson was part of the selection panel for that recruitment process, but ended up instead taking on the executive director role, moving from her previous job as chief digital, data and technology officer at the Home Office.

When it was announced that Davinson was being appointed on an 18-month contract, there was speculation that Willmott was being lined up as the future CDO after his commitments at Lego came to an end. Over the years, several senior government IT leaders have come from a background in large consultancies such as McKinsey or Accenture.

Applications for the government CDO are open until 18 March 2022.

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