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Tony Collins is an investigative and campaigning journalist and former Executive Editor at Computer Weekly. With his friend and colleague David Bicknell he wrote "Crash", which found common factors in the world's largest public and private sector IT-related failures. He wrote "Open Verdict", a book on the strange deaths of defence scientists. He writes, and gives talks, on the tensions and disputes between suppliers and users.

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John Suffolk to leave as Government CIO - a blow to G-Cloud, innovation and radical reform?

Is John Suffolk's departure a win for big suppliers and anti-reformists?

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John Suffolk has decided to leave his post as Government CIO by the end of this year, a departure that will be seen by some as a setback to the campaign for major cuts in wasteful IT-based spending in the public sector.

Suffolk confirmed his departure to me last night. "Just under 5 years is a good stint ...time to pass the baton on and give the new Government a clear run on new policies, new strategies and new people. Its been truly great working with Francis Maude. His agenda is my agenda and reverse. He will drive it [major reform] forward."

An outspoken reformist, Suffolk has given a high profile inside and outside government to the savings that could be achieved through radical change and innovation. He has led a campaign for SMEs with the right products and services to have a much greater role in government IT, and has been critical of the domination of a few large suppliers.

He told a conference in London last month that the top 12 suppliers have 60% of the Government IT spend. "Every time I change something I have to hand over money,” he said. “That’s fair commercial stuff. No criticism there but it has its consequences.”  

Suffolk has spoken of the need to rationalise more than 8,000 data centres that are delivering similar services, and are costly to maintain - in electricity alone.

He said at the conference: 

"As my minister would say: if ever there was a case for over-supply, data centres is it... Standardise, simplify, commoditise - quality goes up, price comes down. You try to limit what is unique to an organisation. Tax will always be unique to the tax department; benefits will always be unique to benefits. The reality is that much of what we do is common and standard and simple and therefore absolutely ideal for a cloud-based model."

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister who is leading the Coalition's campaign against wasteful spending, has always strongly supported Suffolk. 

Maude, though, may not be fully aware that some of his officials are less enthusiastic than Suffolk is about the radical reform of government IT.

Recently senior managers at the Cabinet Office ordered officials to stop talking publicly on matters related to government while a new IT strategy is written. But a new strategy could be months away from publication. It means Suffolk would be barred from continuing to speak out about the need for radical reforms.

Market analyst Techmarketview says that Suffolk's replacement is likely to be an ally of Ian Watmore, who was brought in to head up the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group.

"The Government CIO now reports to Watmore, and the two will need to work increasingly closely together to push forward the new government’s agenda," says Techmarketview which adds pertinently:

"Whoever fills his (Suffolk's) shoes will have to be an equally strong character if they are to keep this momentum and force through the changes required to achieve the government’s savings targets and dramatic improvements in public sector efficiency."

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