Public Services > Central Government

Bracken highlights government digital leaders' key role

David Bicknell Published 13 November 2012

But government digital director insists CIOs will continue to lead data and business change in Whitehall


Government Digital Service leader Mike Bracken has highlighted the key role of government departments' digital leaders in stepping up the ambition of departments' digital strategies.

But he insists, CIOs will continue to have a key role in leading data and business change in government.

Bracken, who led the recent successful launch of the GOV.UK service, wants to focus on mainstream transactional services and "utterly transform them from end to end over the next couple of years so that we make a profound difference to a lot of people's lives."

To deliver on that, he says, requires a recognition that processes need to change.

"The thing I'd like to major on in the next few months is helping departments helping government up the ambition level, because we've now shown that it can be done. We've now got to go and execute that. We can only go and do that if we recognise that that's a profound change from the processes and norms that we have in government. The process of getting to what's better starts with the departmental digital strategies."

Speaking at a Treasury roundtable alongside the government's chief operating officer Stephen Kelly, deputy government CIO Liam Maxwell, the prime minister's senior policy officer Rohan Silva, and US attendees Tim O' Reilly from O'Reilly Media and Jennifer Pahlka from Code for America, Bracken insisted that meeting user needs is top of his agenda.

"The great news is that as we travel around and see our service centres, you meet really great civil servants who have a fundamental driver to servicing user needs because user needs have to be foremost. The first and only question that someone has to answer to any requirement for IT spending or policy is 'How does this make the user service better?' 'How does it improve the user's life?'"

He warned, however, that government will need to redefine its thinking around IT.

"Frankly, we've got to move away from the whole framework of IT thinking and redefine it. IT has its place in the world, but first and foremost, it's got to be about the user. IT and technology is the fourth question you should be asking. The first are 'How do we make the user needs better?; 'When can this be done?'; and 'How quickly can this be done?' The savings we've already shown can be absolutely huge. These are radically changing the spending profiles that we have both inside and outside government."

In December, Bracken says, the publication of department' digital strategies will be as much about changes in skills, capabilities, process and thinking within government as they are about technology.

"What we're hoping to see in December is a much more improved level of ambition statement from departments and that gives us the next two years to go and execute on those transactions. But we will not succeed if the framework of our thinking is technology-led. We've got to think about how we change processes and culture."

Bracken insists he will not be speaking to departments CIOs as much as to their digital leaders.

"One of the most unheralded things that we've had to do is to write to all departments asking them to nominate a board member who is the digital leader for that department. They are the people who hold the digital agenda in each department. And in six or seven of the major transactional departments those digital leaders are absolutely crucial because they are holding that ambition statement. And you're going to see and hear a lot more about them in the next year or two."

But, he insisted, that CIOs had a key role to play.

"If I was a CIO in the public sector right now, I can't think of a better place to be. The definition of a CIO is someone who, using business information, adds value to that business and helps drive it. If you truly are a CIO and you understand technology, and have the business information to hand, that can help drive departments to make decisions, then you're in a profoundly interesting place because as we enter this new world, the CIO should be the person who is leading that change and I would support every one of them who wants to do that," he said.

"Sometimes the role of the CIO is actually that of the chief technology officer, people who are looking at technology leadership functions, and actually, it's not one and the same. We've actually got to redefine some of our nomenclature around technology. But for those CIOs who are interested in leading data and business change in government, there couldn't be a better time to be here right now."


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