Barely one month into his role as government CIO, Andy Nelson’s diary is filling up as he juggles the new appointment with the demands of his other job as CIO of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
In an interview with Computing, Nelson explained that his new role takes up only two days of his working week, while he devotes three days to the MoJ. Surely, this sends out a message to the UK IT community that being CIO of the British government, the country’s biggest single user of technology, is a mere part-time role – and that his departmental focus is the bigger deal?
Nelson argued that the two roles are complementary. “The MoJ strategy is based on datacentres, standardised desktops, a single network, green IT – a lot of the same agenda items [as the government’s ICT strategy], so there is a strong overlap with my roles,” he said.
“If the agenda wasn’t so aligned, it would be a bigger challenge. But because they are, what we’re doing at the MoJ reinforces and, in some cases, leads to parts of the implementation of the [government ICT] strategy,” he said.
Naturally, it’s to be expected that a major, central department’s technology strategy would be aligned with Whitehall’s overall goals for UK IT implementation, but how does Nelson deal with any criticism of his two-day working week at the centre of government?
“There is a danger of that, but if [people] were to talk to the suppliers, to the government ICT team, and to colleagues of mine at the CIO Delivery Board [CIOs from large departments, such as HMRC], I am confident that they would all say that I am engaged, not passive,” he insisted.
Nelson seemed at pains to point out that his is an active role, and that he is “far more of an executive chairman” than a “passive chairman”.
“I’m far more hands-on in terms of driving [the ICT strategy],” he said. “It’s not a passive, stand-back role, it’s proper engagement, and that’s why I have to be very focused on where I spend my time,” he said.
Nelson said that his principal task is the government’s ICT strategy implementation plan, and ensuring that this is always moving forwards in line with other government strategies.
Another focus, he said, is his role as head of the Government IT Profession, the professional group for those working in ICT across the public sector. Nelson chairs the organisation’s board, whose job it is to manage the implementation of the government ICT capability strategy.
But alongside his bulging in-tray, Nelson said that the rest of his job is all about engagement.
“It is engagement across government, with IT vendors, and with the media. With the industry, I’ll be focusing in on the top suppliers in government, in addition to spending time with SMEs and working closely with the IT industry body, Intellect,” he said.
“Another challenge is engagement across the CIO community in government, so I am tasked with reinvigorating that. The CIO council met for the first time last month,” he said.
Nelson explained that the engagement aspect of the job is something he shares with his new deputy, Liam Maxwell, and suggested that this means he goes about his role differently to some of his predecessors.
“Other aspects of the work that [former government CIO] John Suffolk would have carried out in the past, such as supplier and industry engagement, engagement in the international space, engagement with government CIOs and trade associations, are picked up by Liam Maxwell, who supports me.
“That’s broadly in line with what [Nelson’s predecessor] Joe Harley did. But I’m paying closer attention to the strategy tasks,” he said.