Why GovIT reform is so slow?

By Tony Collins

An NAO report “A snapshot of the Government’s ICT Profession in 2011”  depicts government CIOs not as business leaders who are passionate for change but as middle-managers who are more or less dispensable.

The impression given in the report is that CIOs are, in general, necessary but not of strategic importance,  not necessarily party to key business decisions.

The NAO reports concludes that there is “more Government and departments could do” to:

– raise the influence of CIOs in departments;

– move the ICT profession from a support service or overhead to taking an active or lead role on business decisions; and

– develop people to a level so that they become leaders and bring ICT into the heart of the business.

Of 17 departments the NAO investigated a CIO sat on the main boards of only two. One department abolished the role of CIO in April 2011. The NAO quoted a CIO as describing his department’s perception of ICT as “at best an overhead”.

What CIOs told the NAO

CIO comments to the NAO on the impact of cost reduction measures were generally negative:

“We are having to re-prioritise and delay IT service enhancement projects.”

“A significant headcount reduction… and consequently a new operating model and a new strategic approach which will affect the roles of all IT professionals significantly.”

“Continual focus on cost-out and scrutiny of spend – in some ways this has helped engender a positive culture of efficiency but the constant demand for information/data is distracting. Skills shortage owing to recruitment freeze on external candidates and reduction in contractors. Requirement to broker cross-network relationships to drive out costs/savings.”

“Pressure to reduce costs/headcount to the Iowest levels means desirable things such as career development opportunity planning, implementing SFIA etc are left on the shelf whilst we divert resource to focus on significant projects to deliver running cost savings to the dept. … The consequences for the lCT function are not yet fully known.”

“The situation has been uncertain and reviews have caused some loss of momentum, but the set of future projects is now clear and we are progressing. Austerity measures have limited our ability to obtain the level of IT skills required for our portfolio.”

“As part of our change programme, the Central Department is reducing cost by approximately 30%. IT is included within this envelope. No money and everybody having to re-apply for jobs.”

[Source National Audit Office survey of central government CIOs 2011]

Skills most needed

It’s a shortage of IT people with business skills that appears to be one of the biggest barriers to change. Demand is greatest, says the NAO, for programme and project managers, procurement specialists and business analysts.

In particular CIOs perceive the need for good people who have contract and supplier management skills, and the ability to manage stakeholders.

On the technical side the skills most needed, as perceived by CIOs, are architecture, analysis and design, and information management/security. The biggest barriers to recruitment, as perceived by CIOs, are public sector pay constraints and inflexible civil service recruitment processes. [On pay some departments are still able to pay large bonuses – see near end of this article.]

NAO recommendations

The highest immediate priority for Government is to continue to motivate and reinforce the value of its ICT profession, says the NAO.

“ICT leaders need to dig deep to manage their teams whether in development projects, service management or operations. CIOs themselves need to continue to reinforce their standing in departments ideally by sitting on departmental boards or, if this is not appropriate, finding other ways to develop their influence so that ICT is properly included in strategic and business decisions.”

ICT leaders will have to find innovative ways to develop skills to fill roles.

“… government cannot ignore the capability gaps because it is so reliant on ICT to conduct its future business.”

The NAO said that CIOs described the same business and technical skills as being in short supply. It advised “structured on-the-job experience and mentoring”.

Greater collaboration across departments and with suppliers may “help to make optimum use of the skills that the profession already has to offer”.  Where
necessary, government must “find practical ways to recover lost skills”.

It added: “With more services being delivered through technology channels, there is a real need to ensure that service delivery is being driven by a skilled and capable ICT workforce.”

The Government Digital Service has at least made a good start – it has begun recruiting innovators.

And when it comes to paying bonuses to keep valued staff, departments still have scope. The Financial Times reported yesterday that the Department for Work and Pensions was the most generous employer in the civil service: it paid more than £45m to its staff in bonuses in the year ending April 2011.


Thank you to ComputerworldUK.com for spotting this report which was not distributed by the NAO to the media.

NAO report “A snapshot of the Government’s ICT profession in 2011”

Government CIOs are undervalued, official audit report finds.

2 responses to “Why GovIT reform is so slow?

  1. And on the ICT profession – It was first raised as a professional skill for government in 2003. See for example our discussion here:

    So they’ve managed to employ Chiefs (CIOs) at £209,000/yr before bonus (more here http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/may/31/senior-civil-servants-salaries-data)

    but not improve the quality of the indians.

    Which seems roughly consistent with the the ratio of Rear Admirals to ships


    or the ratio of Generals to tanks



  2. Credit where it’s due.

    The “ICT profession” was a Katie Davis job while she was in the Cabinet Office, before moving to the Identity & Passport Service (IPS), where she served as Executive Director of Strategy.

    After IPS imploded with its defective strategy, and after a brief return to the Cabinet Office where she served as Executive Director of Operational Excellence, she moved next to the Department of Health, to replace Christine Connelly.

    There, she is basically a hostage, kidnapped by pirates. A hostage who can be paraded in public whenever the Department of Health think it necessary to remind the Cabinet Office to keep its nose out of their business.

    So much for the “ICT profession” in central government. The big departments of state have got their IT strategies. These strategies may include the odd bit of innovation. But that’s not the point. The point is to protect the territory, to guard the silo.

    If they have to pretend that some new development is “agile”, they will. That’s just another hostage. Like Katie Davis, who provides the department of Health with the opportunity to say “look, we’re so devoted to following the Cabinet Office line that we’ve got their Executive Director of Operational Excellence heading health infomatics. How much more on board could we possibly be?”

    And then there’s the Cabinet Office. What is “success” in government IT? To the Cabinet Office, success is clearly being like Amazon, Facebook and Google. They are jealous of Amazon, Facebook and Google. They want what Amazon, Facebook and Google have got. They want it because they can see it, and they can see that it’s popular.

    That is not how to devise an IT strategy. An IT strategy is not a Christmas present list written by star-struck children. If the Cabinet Office’s strategy stated from what the public want, it meant end up looking rather different. And then the definition of success would change. And then, who knows, central government IT might find that it is succeeding.


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