A Government Chief Digital Information Officer for a post-Brexit Britain - a big job ahead for the right person

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan September 18, 2019
The UK Government is looking for a Chief Digital Information Officer, a role that will be hugely important post-Brexit.


A post-Brexit Britain will have a new Chief Digital Information Officer (CDIO) to drive digital transformation across government.

The UK Government has published details of what it’s looking for in the right candidate for the post, who will report in to John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Civil Service. He or she will “work closely” with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, but it’s clear that Manzoni will be steering the ship.

The job description reads:

As the official representative for Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) on DDaT  (Digital, Data and Technology) issues, including internationally, the Government Chief Digital Information Officer will have an established international profile and be respected as a senior thought leader across the profession, with a strong track record for delivery in complex systems.

The GCDIO will lead HMG’s 17,000 strong DDaT community. You will be responsible for shaping and delivering HMG’s innovation and transformation strategies to overhaul government’s legacy IT systems, strengthen our cyber security, improve capability, and ensure government can better leverage data and emerging technologies to design and deliver citizen-centric services that enhance HMG’s reputation as the world’s most digitally-advanced government.

The GCDIO will also represent the Government and promote the work of the DDaT team publicly at Parliamentary Select Committees and other high-profile events, including internationally. He or she will additionally be expected to oversee the range of activities of the DDaT function as set out in the DDaT Capability Framework. The job description advises that this will include oversight of the Government Digital Service (GDS):

In practice this will be done through the leadership of teams of senior DDaT leaders across government, both through professional and functional leadership of departmental teams, and direct accountability for approximately 800 DDaT professionals in the Government Digital Service (GDS).


The timetable for recruitment suggests that the post could be filled by the end of this year, which would, according to current plans, mean that the winning candidate will assume responsibility in the immediate wake of Brexit which is due to take place on 31 October. Whether that Brexit occurs with a deal or not, the post-EU membership period will place significant demands on IT systems across government.

Longer term, the GCDIO will be responsible for kick-starting digital transformation efforts across government. The departure of Kevin Cunnington as director general of GDS last month has highlighted the need for fresh direction and the new role is likely to mean a shift in the balance of power. Currently the DG of GDS position includes acting as Head of Function for Digital, Data and Technology.

Whoever takes on the new role will have a long ‘to do’ list. Simon Hansford, CEO of public sector cloud services provider UKCloud, says:

We would be wanting to see a talented and highly experienced individual who is willing and able to tackle the twin challenges of government transformation and legacy disaggregation head on and in doing so, maintain an ongoing, meaningful and impartial dialogue with the technology industry. And in a post-Brexit Britain, we need to find ways that appropriately encourage, support and promote British tech companies.

Hansford would also like the chosen candidate to have real-world experience of the tech sector:

It would be good to have a credible technologist/engineer with real battle-hardened experience rather than a policy standards person. Some real experience of HMG procurement would be good and understanding of the changes needed. External private sector experience is good, but too often these people just bump into the system get frustrated and leave.

My take

There are several things to applaud here.  A really key point is that whoever the GCDIO ends up being, he or she will reporting into Manzoni. We’ve been critical of his attitude to GDS in the past, but he’s the guy in the charge and as such having the new officer on speed dial is important if any significant change is to happen.

There have been too many turf wars around digital transformation in government in recent years, with the Cabinet Office losing too many central control responsibilities to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Manzoni looks to played a long game here and DCMS may find it ends up giving up a lot of ground won by the never-knowingly under-ambitious Matt Hancock, the former Secretary of State there.

It will be a potential baptism of fire for whoever takes on this new role. As well as potential post-Brexit trauma, December might well end up being the month of a General Election.  If there’s a change of government, will there be a change of policy around digital transformation? If a Boris Johnson administration wins a majority - with its seeming willingness to tear up rulebooks and established practices - this GCDIO role could end up being a very interesting post for someone with a revolutionary approach to rethinking Whitehall structures and processes.

As with everything in UK government circles at the moment, what happens next is frankly anyone’s guess. Watch this space.


Image credit - Svilen Milev via Freeimages.com

Disclosure - Additional commentary via Derek du Preez. At time of writing, UKCloud is a premier partner of diginomica/government.