By Tony Collins
The Met Office gained ministerial approval to appoint an IBM employee for a year as secondee CIO, until the end of October 2011, according to information released under the FOI Act.
It appears that the salary of the IBM executive David Young is being paid, at least in part, by the Met Office. In documents released under the FOI Act the Met Office has redacted [edited out] details of Young’s proposed remuneration and performance bonus.
As a trading fund within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Met Office is required to operate on a commercial basis. It was part of the Ministry of Defence at the time of Young’s appointment. His recruitment was approved by the Secretary of State.
Internal emails show that the Met Office apparently overcame a recruitment ban and constraints on secondments.
Having your CIO seconded from your biggest IT supplier may be novel but it could be controversial because of the perception of a potential conflict of interest.
It would not the first time a public authority has been involved in a controversy after seconding an IBM employee as head of IT.
In 1993 a report of the district auditor criticised the then Wessex Regional Health Authority after it transpired that a member of the health authority was a director of IBM. The IBM director at Wessex promoted a controversial and successful bid for core systems to be supplied to the health authority by IBM and Andersen Consulting (later Accenture). The director later asked that his letter lobbying for the contract be destroyed.
The auditor also found that the Wessex authority bought an IBM mainframe without proper legal authority, the members of the authority having not been informed. The authority paid an unnecessarily high sum for the mainframe and there were doubts the machine was needed. A decision to proceed with the purchase of the mainframe at Wessex was made on the advice of the regional health authority’s new regional information systems manager who was an IBM secondee.
The Met Office, however, has given full consideration to the potential for a conflict of interest in appointing Young as its CIO. It said in a statement this week:
“Full consideration of any potential conflicts of interest regarding David Young’s appointment were fully considered prior to his appointment and his terms of engagement specifically cover these.
“The Met Office complies with specific rules set by the government with regard to procurement and purchases of IT equipment must be agreed by the Met Office Executive.”
The Met Office is one of IBM’s biggest customers. It says on its website: “We are now using an IBM supercomputer which can do more than 100 trillion calculations a second. Its power allows it to take in hundreds of thousands of weather observations from all over the world which it then takes as a starting point for running an atmospheric model containing more than a million lines of code.”
The Met Office reports that Young is responsible for the organisation’s IT strategy and ensuring that it adapts to support the business strategy.
Its website says that Young worked for IBM but does not make it clear he is still employed by the company while on secondment to the Met Office. It says that before joining the Met Office he “held a number of executive position within the IT industry, working for IBM, CSC and Siemens”.
Young’s Linked In profile says he is CIO at the Met Office and Director, System zStack and Mainframe Platform, Central Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa at IBM.
In response to an FOI request by Dave Orr, the Met Office has released internal emails relating to Young’s recruitment and later appointment. Young is described in the Met Office’s Register of Interests 2010/11 as an “Executive, IBM UK Ltd (non-active)”.
The email exchanges show that the Met Office was keen and anxious to employ Young. Talks over Young’s recruitment, initially as Chief Technology Officer, began in July last year and took several months to conclude.
In August 2010 John Hirst, Chief Executive at the Met Office, wrote to Young mentioning, among other things, a ban on recruitment.
“It was good to talk to you on the phone this afternoon. This is to confirm that you are interested in joining us at the Met Office and we are interested in offering you a post.
“As we discussed there are issues of the recruitment ban, terms of secondment and security clearances amongst others but we have both declared an intent to try and get something organised between us.”
Also in August 2010 Diana Chaloner, the Met Office’s Director of Human Resources, emailed IBM on the costs and restrictions relating to the “possible secondment of David Young”.
Her email said: “I will need to get confirmation from John Hirst (our CE) before committing to the costs as outlined below. Whilst I don’t see it as a problem, I do also need to seek a way to overcome external secondee restrictions placed on us by central government recently. I will attempt to get this moving as quickly as possible at this end.”
In another email to IBM in August 2010, Chaloner referred again to the costs of seconding Young. She said:
“Following John’s earlier meeting with David (in his garden!) Alan Dickinson [then the Met Office’s Director of Science and Technology] and I met him last week. John has now spoken to David and is keen to try to progress a secondment. I know David is very keen too, but inevitably, with all the various restrictions placed on us, cost may be an issue, as will enabling the secondment contract to be approved.
“Whilst this might be quite challenging , I think there are usually ways to manage these things, so would really like to understand cost and timing…”
The following month, September 2010, Chaloner emailed Hirst on the need for Young’s appointment to be approved.
Her email has in the subject heading: “IBM Confidential: Secondment of David Young to the Met Office”. Says the email: “At the moment we cannot give a precise date for David to start his secondment. I did mention in an earlier email that there are some added constraints across Government, and one of those is around recruitment and secondments…”
In October 2011 Hirst emailed IBM about a possible delay in appointing Young. “I am sorry this has taken so long and been more complex than anticipated but the rules of engagement have changed at least twice over the last couple of months and therefore keeping things moving forward steadily has been more difficult. I am still confident we can conclude this although I have suggested to David we might need a weeks (sic) delay in starting … the contracts are signed and sitting in my draw awaiting final clearance of the admin hurdles so there is no decrease in my intent to make this happen.”
On 29 November 2011 Chaloner wrote to Hirst saying that Young’s appointment needed the approval of the Secretary of State. “… The situation is looking very positive but we require final approval from Secretary of State. I was told that there seemed no reason for the secondment not to be approved, but it has to go through the appropriate channels. I can only apologise in the delay in David starting, and continue to nudge it from this end, almost on a daily basis.”
Young was appointed by the end of December 2010. The business case for a new Chief Technology Officer (which became a CIO role) says the secondment from IBM would finish on 31 October 2011. It says there is a “need to bring a professional IT expert into the organisation, to reshape the function in order to achieve greater efficiency in delivery of information technology, as well as ensure it is fit for purpose in the future, hence the need, at this time, to manage this as a short term secondment.”
The Job Description, which is headed “Management in Confidence”, says the IBM secondee will “lead the IT function in the effective delivery of 24/7 IT services and enhance our world leading supercomputing and infrastructure capabilities to secure achievement of future corporate objectives.” The main responsibilities will include directing and co-ordinating 300 information technology, programme/project management professionals, and support staff…”
The job also involves overseeing the “selection, acquisition, development and installation of major information systems”. It further includes the need to “determine and manage all outsourced external IT service provision as appropriate to meet service level agreements.”
There is nothing wrong with the Met Office’s decision to hire an IBM secondee except perhaps that it underlines the reliance of the public sector on its major suppliers.
It’s clear that the Met Office has struggled hard to employ David Young because of his expertise. Nobody would understand the Met Office’s IBM systems better than IBM.
But we have seen evidence from the National Audit Office that suppliers all too often understand customer installations in the public sector better than the civil servants know their own systems. In the case of the NPfIT, auditors had to rely on suppliers to explain what they had been paid and why.
It’s time for the civil service to build up its expertise so that it ceases to rely on suppliers that dominate government IT.