The right man for a tough job

The appointment of Ian Watmore as head of e-government is one of the best decisions this administration has made. He has a...

The appointment of Ian Watmore as head of e-government is one of the best decisions this administration has made. He has a reputation for being open, clear and effective.

In his current job as UK managing director of consultancy Accenture, he has gained enormous experience of handling difficult projects, and learning from mistakes. For example, he has had to account to MPs over the troubled implementation of Nirs2, the National Insurance Recording System.

In a civil service steeped in the ways of Sir Humphrey - who prides himself on secrecy for the sake of it and treating MPs and other outsiders as an unnecessary evil - Watmore is likely to be a breath of fresh air.

Essentially his role will be that of IT diplomat, creating change while skillfully dealing with special interests, reactionary cultures and protected empires. We are confident that he will court the pragmatists - the IT managers in departments who achieve a huge amount at little cost.

The challenge will be to bring down the hermetically sealed, reinforced concrete walls that divide departments. That is where the greatest savings are to be achieved.

The national programme for IT in the NHS will be the biggest government computing project. The test of its success will not be the number of transactions flowing through the systems or the number of government announcements on early successful adopters of the new technology. It will be the number of patients and health service professionals who benefit practically. This may be an opportunity for Watmore's finest hour.

Other challenges include coping with the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act - many departments will not have systems ready for it by January and there is a big question over whether most will meet the spirit of the new legislation or merely comply with the letter of the law. Then there is the need to achieve cost savings from the merger of Customs & Excise and the Inland Revenue, and to deliver efficiencies as a result of the Gershon Review into government procurement practices.

Watmore should also act on any moves from MPs to publish Gateway reviews and introduce legislation to enshrine good practice and create defined areas of accountability for ministers and departmental heads on major projects.

We wish Watmore well. He is influential and experienced without being over-confident. We hope his abilities will not be subsumed into a bureaucracy that might prefer he became a mere figurehead rather than an agent of real change.

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