Career paths can lead to better public IT

Government CIO Ian Watmore outlines his plans to create career opportunities that will be of mutual benefit to individuals as well as the public


Government CIO Ian Watmore outlines his plans to create career opportunities that will be of mutual benefit to individuals as well as the public

What does professionalism mean in the context of government IT?

I grew up in an NHS family. To me the term "professional" conjures up the image of healthcare workers whose skills, qualifications, standards and ethics generally inspire a high level of trust in their customers and stakeholders.

Being a professional can also mean being paid for what you enjoy doing anyway. This is certainly true for areas such as sport and the arts.

I remember in the 1980s the term Yuppie was coined for "young urban professionals" who worked hard to achieve their ambitions. A Yuppie, of course, is not to be confused with a Lombard - after Lombard Street in the City - which stands for "loads of money but a real dork", but I digress.

As head of the IT profession in government I want to try to create the best of all of the above so that our IT professionals:

  • Enjoy what they get paid to do every day
  • Work hard as a team to achieve their own potential
  • Have a well recognised career path across the public sector
  • Receive and give excellent training in a continuous learning culture
  • Share knowledge with each other and shun "not invented here" responses
  • Have a sense of community with their fellow IT professionals
  • Aspire to high standards and expect to be assessed by their peers
  • Are proud of their profession and what it achieves
  • Are trusted to advise and deliver by politicians, fellow officials and the public.

The programme to build this profession will be launched in July under the governance of the new CIO Council.

We are already working with those from whom we can learn quickly. These include E-Skills UK (the sector skills council for IT and telecoms in the UK), the British Computer Society, the National Computing Centre, IT trade body Intellect and its members.

Our initial plan for the profession will be announced in July. Our aim is to create a joined up, government-wide IT profession which provides IT professionals with a career of mutual benefit to the individual and the government. We estimate there to be up to 50,000 people who could join our profession across the wider public sector.

The pinnacle of this profession will be the role of chief information officer, a senior, often board-level, position where business change and IT capabilities are brought together for the good of the whole organisation. This model follows that taken by the most successful public and private organisations.

For those areas of government where IT is particularly critical, the best CIOs who progress through this professional framework can become permanent secretaries and chief executives.

In preparing our plans, we have listened to our people. At the April CIO Council meeting, seven brave souls gave us their views on what it was like to work in government IT today. They value the experience that they have gained, but do not necessarily feel valued by us. They want the opportunity to reach their full potential but do not feel supported in this aim in practical ways.

In short, they have good jobs today, but not good careers. This is not good enough for those individuals, or for the country at large given the dependence the government's reform and efficiency agendas have on IT-enabled business change. Our professionalism agenda is thus a critical response to a critical issue.

Perhaps one of the trickiest challenges will be to decide what to call our profession. In the Yuppie, Lombard tradition, the government IT service perhaps does not quite have the best acronym.

Ian Watmore is government CIO and head of e-government

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