Well, I never!

Reeling at the shock of a government minister answering a direct question directly, we learn that there will be no government CIO

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14 February 2012 | 0

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Picture the scene: a press conference where the good and the great of the IT industry in Ireland are assembled to hear details of a bold new initiative between industry and government. A senior minister is present to give details, praise all involved and reassure attendees that the Government is doing what is necessary to further the industry on the island.

Then, the floor is opened to questions. Ever mindful to take advantage of such opportunities, the IT hacks begin what is actually a rather gentle line of questioning, mostly directed at the minister.

Just as the compere is rounding it up, drawing the formal session to close, I decide to slip one last question in.

Addressing Minister for Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte TD, I begin by stating that compared to pre and post-election versions, some things appear to have fallen out of the programme for government, notable among them being the government CIO. I asked if there had been any progress in either defining the role or finding an appointee.

The minister, entirely unruffled, gives a wry smile and says that a lot of things have fallen out of the programme for government, not all of which will be missed.

He then goes on to do the entirely unexpected-the minister gives a straight answer to the question!

Minister Rabbitte said that there had been no progress on the issue of a government CIO and that the government was in fact rethinking the idea.

Now, this was a double shock. Not only had a direct question on government actions been received, acknowledged and answered directly, which is a quite a shock in itself, but the minister had revealed that the entire concept of a government CIO was under review.

As the room itself adjusted to the new reality of government ministers answering questions directly, the press conference was called to a close and the assemblage moved on to networking, one to ones and camera time for the assembled broadcast media.

I was left bemused, elated and feverishly extrapolating the possible ramifications of what I had just heard.

Having recently read that the UK government had only just appointed a new CIO, the prospect that Ireland will probably not have one at all is quite a concern.

Looking at this in context, the bombshell came at the Cloud4Gov announcement where the Irish Government was announcing a first of its kind, government industry partnership to develop cloud based solutions for government and public services that could not only be used locally but also sold internationally. Not only that, but the bombshell came immediately after the announcement of the Action Plan for Jobs 2012, which also makes direct reference to cloud computing, indicating that it would be a major area for job creation. As such, its actions for the plan would include "a Cloud Computing Strategy for the Public Service and establishment of a research centre in cloud computing," which, presumably, was the Cloud4Gov bit.

Now, with cloud computing being central to a number of efforts by the government to both modernise, streamline and increase the efficiency of public services and the commitment in the programme for government, one that actually made it through the election, to provide a supportive legislative framework for cloud computing in Ireland, does it not beg the question as to why there is no senior government appointee who actually has a clue about such things to oversee their implementation, advise on best practice and inform policy decisions? Just like a CIO!

The UK is on its third CIO, having established the office in 2006. The US is only on its second government CIO, having had one since 2009. Finland has one since at least 1997!

Now some might argue that we don’t need one. One of those people is Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin TD. In November of last year as part of a range of announcements around public sector reform, Minister Howlin outlined a plan to reduce the public sector workforce from 37,500 to 282,500 by 2015. Notable by its absence from these announcements was the government CIO idea, but present was a proposal for a public service CIO council. A classic move there, don’t hire one person when a multitude could be used instead. And of course, that would fit with the stated aim of reducing public service numbers and smashing quangos that are expensive, inefficient and lack transparency. No, wait…

Furthermore, in response to a question from Michael Healy-Rae, TD for Kerry South, Minister Howlin responded on the nature of the Public Service CIO Council, giving this description: "It comprises senior representatives from a range of Departments/Offices and public bodies with responsibility for Information Communications Technology (ICT) and eGovernment. The aim of the group is to assist CMOD with the development of ICT and eGovernment policies in support of the Programme for Government and the Reform Implementation Plan."

Now, forgive this cynical hack, but that sounds like a recipe for paralysis, inaction and with a speed of proceedings somewhere between glacial and geologic.

So, to recap, there will be no single industry experienced, independent person appointed by Government to oversee all government policy and development of ICT and e-government, but there will instead by a committee of people who already have day jobs in their respective departments that will assist CMOD.

Good luck with that.

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