By Tony Collins
Government Computing reports that HMRC has appointed a new chief digital and information officer, Jacky Wright, who is currently Microsoft’s corporate vice-president, Core Platform Engineering.
Theresa May ratified Wright’s appointment. Candidates were considered from across the civil service and the public and private sectors, and internationally.
The chief executive of HMRC Jon Thompson said,
“Jacky is a seasoned commercial leader with ‘best in class’ credentials, globally. Balancing strong operating experience with a record of driving innovation… Her influence as a technology leader and as a champion for the role of women and BAME [black, Asian, minority ethnic) in industry, is a major win for this organisation.”
Wright will take up her appointment from 16 October. She said,
“I am passionate about the impact innovation can have in truly transforming services for people and businesses in a positive way and want to continue the great work being done within HMRC and across the Civil Service at this time. I am proud to represent women and BAME in technology and will continue to promote the vital role of diversity within our industry and more broadly.”
One of HMRC’s biggest IT challenges in the coming months and years will be to detach itself from the £10bn “Aspire” outsourcing deal in which Capgemini and Fujitsu are the main suppliers.
Aspire is being broken up. HMRC says the contract is already “dead” but the department will rely on Capgemini as a strategic supplier until June 2020 and most probably beyond. HMRC has spent at least £720m a year on Aspire since 2008, including 2015/16.
After spending years trying to distance itself from major IT suppliers, HMRC has appointed a top Microsoft executive as its new head of IT.
That said, Wright is an excellent appointment. She’s widely recognized for her contributions to the technology industry and for championing diversity. She has been in Britain’s Powerlist 100 of Most Influential People, the Top 100 BAME Leaders in Business, and Savoy Magazine’s Top Women list.
The challenge for Wright will be to use her influence and skills in a civil service that, at the top level, may not fully appreciate her. Will she feel sufficiently valued and stay?
Francis Maude – the former IT reformer and Cabinet Office minister – said in a Speaker’s Lecture this week that the civil service values policy experts more than operational and technical leaders.
“Policy nearly always trumps operational and technical skills for the leadership roles,” said Lord Maude.
“It feels like a class divide: there are the white-collar policy mandarins, and the blue-collar technicians who do operations, finance, procurement, IT and digital, project management, HR, and so on.
“All the attempts to create genuine parity of esteem have failed. This has to change in the future. Many government failures could have been prevented if operational and technical teams had the same access to Ministers as do policy officials.”
In working for HMRC, Wright may need to acclimatise to a civil service culture that could, at times, strike her as frustrating, closed and irrational. HMRC’s former IT chiefs include Steve Lamey, Phil Pavitt and Mark Dearnley.
Will an innovations specialist of Wright’s calibre last at HMRC? If she does, it could imply that HMRC is defying the civil service culture and is valuing a top international IT professional.
If she doesn’t last, it could imply that she has been hired as a Formula One driver and then given a Prius to race.
The Prius is an impressive piece of machinery. But it’ll never go particularly fast, however expertly it’s driven.