Jobs and budgets face the chop so why not CIOs?

Why use two government IT chiefs when one will do?

As government bodies move towards shared IT and services, surely it's the right moment to examine whether the number of CIOs in the public sector needs to be cut, says's Nick Heath.

We may be told that we're all in this together when it comes to saving the UK's ailing economy. Yet when the axe falls on government IT, it rarely lands on the heads of CIOs.

But why not upset this orthodoxy and start putting IT directors out to grass alongside the back-room techies whose jobs have disappeared to the private sector?

Why not ditch the notion of each large government organisation having its own CIO and introduce the super CIO - the IT chief with the power to do the jobs of at least two CIOs?

The super CIO doesn't need a cape or spandex trousers, just the ability to look after IT for several public authorities for a single CIO's salary. A CIO 'buy one, get one free', if you will.

CIO take on several roles

It is time for super CIOs to start taking charge of IT for multiple government bodiesPhoto: HystericalMark

Indeed, lone CIOs are already taking charge of IT for multiple government bodies. Look at Zack Pandor, who as joint director of ICT for Herefordshire NHS and Herefordshire Council is the first official to run IT operations for both a health authority and local government body in the UK.

The dual CIO role can even be found at the highest level of government, with Department for Work and Pensions CIO Joe Harley managing one of the largest IT budgets in government and acting as CIO for UK government on the side.

Of course, the creation of the dual CIO role doesn't require a new breed of IT super chiefs. It is, in part, made possible by a shift from hundreds of authorities each running their own IT shops to accessing technology from a shared source.

As government bodies increasingly turn away from inhouse IT to shared services and cloud computing, surely it will become more difficult to justify the need for each major authority to have its own CIO?

Because once IT chiefs have given away the bulk of their kingdom to third parties, can they really justify holding on to their title and their pay cheque?

Sure, relying on shared IT services doesn't mean CIOs can outsource the risk and responsibility of running their organisation's IT to a third party. But in a shared services venture, surely one CIO would be able to look out for the interests of several public bodies.

Then there is the commoditisation of IT. Just as the advent of centralised power plants meant each organisation no longer needed a director of electricity to run its power plant, why should the CIO role be given the same importance when many IT services are accessed on demand over the internet?

Of course, each organisation still needs someone to guide their future technology strategy but in the public sector can each authority really justify employing their own IT tsar on a management wage? Couldn't one CIO be steward to multiple authorities?

Speaking to recently, Glyn Evans, president of public sector IT body Socitm and corporate director of business change for Birmingham City Council, said of outsourcing inhouse IT departments: "If the private sector proves they can deliver the same quality of service for less cost, then what's the justification for them not doing that?"

And if public sector organisations can achieve the same level of service with only one CIO filling a role that used to be carried out by two IT chiefs - then why not do that too?

When cutting IT jobs and spend, government bodies commonly stress that more efficient processes will prevent any impact on the quality of service provided. If that's true, then shouldn't those efficiencies occasionally extend to the top, and what's good for the rank and file sometimes be good for the exec too?

The London local authorities of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster City Council are planning to merge their IT departments and cut jobs.

When it comes to the crunch in this merger, and those that will inevitably follow between other authorities, will the IT leaders' necks be on the block alongside other members of staff?