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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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Joe Harley expected to be new Government CIO

A successful reformer, Joe Harley, CIO at the Department for Work and Pensions, is expected to take over as Government CIO.

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Joe Harley, Director General of Corporate IT and CIO at the Department for Work and Pensions, is expected to become the new Government CIO after the departure of John Suffolk, ComputerworldUK has learned.

Although no announcement has been made, I understand that Harley will keep his job at the DWP while taking on the role of Government CIO. It will save the salary of outgoing Government CIO John Suffolk who earned about £205,000 last year. Harley is among the highest earning civil servants though he has taken a pay cut from about £260,000 a year in 2009/10 to about £248,000 now. 

Senior civil servants deny that Harley will be a cut-price part-timer as Government CIO. They say that he’ll confront with flair, experience and determination the waste and unnecessary duplication in government IT and commodity applications - inefficiencies which have been highlighted repeatedly by Suffolk. 

In his public speeches Suffolk has said that central government has more than 8,000 server rooms, not taking into account those within the police, local government and the wider public sector. Most of these server rooms unnecessary, Suffolk has said. 

Harley shares many of Suffolk’s views. In one of his rare public speeches, Harley has said that the annual government spend on IT is “so huge it’s hard to get your arms around”. He added that it’s the equivalent  of building 7,000 new primary schools a year, or 75 hospitals, or employing 600,000 nurses. It could pay more than three million state pensions a year. 

His appointment is likely to be welcomed within departments. He is widely respected and has succeeded in cutting at least £1.4bn in DWP IT costs between 2005 and 2010. He has simplified some working practices, reduced managerial structures and cut about 700 IT jobs since his appointment to the department in 2004.

There’s still much to do though, even within the DWP. The department has an uncomfortable reliance on Fujitsu [formerly ICL] mainframes which run on the VME operating system. It dates back to the 1980s and has few experienced support specialists which means that Fujitsu can all but name its price to support the systems. 

That said, Harley has kept systems running smoothly at DWP while making important changes. He renegotiated contracts with BT and EDS (now HP) which reduced the annual spend with them from £700m to £520m. It’s reported that Harley’s working day is from eight in the morning to seven although he often then has dinner with suppliers.

Ian Watmore, former Government CIO and now Chief Operating Officer at the Efficiency and Reform Group, which is part of the Cabinet Office, has said that the DWP under Harley is the most innovative and experienced when it comes to managing projects.

Harley is known to favour the outsourcing of commodity IT products - which could provide a role for G-Cloud. 

It's unclear whether Harley will be able to achieve business process reform - beyond  specific IT  change - because permanent secretaries are reluctant to simplify structures within their departments. John Suffolk became disheartened by the slow pace of change and wanted the top 200 posts within government to be subject to competition. 

Harley is a former IT Director at BP Alaska. Before that he had been a trading manager, buying and selling oil on the open markets and speculating in trading and options. 

Joe Harley's career highlights:

1993 - 1996: BP Alaska, IT director
1996 - 1998: BP Exploration and Downstream Europe, CIO
1998 - 2000: BP, global IT vice president
2000 - 2004: ICI Paints, CIO
2004              Director General of Corporate IT and the Department’s CIO.
2007              Public speech in which he said: “Today only 30% we estimate of our projects and programmes are successful. So it's not a place for everyone to be. Why shouldn't it be 90% successful?” 

Other Joe Harley quotes:

“I am someone who relishes big challenges and big targets."

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“You must pursue bold moves and not settle for mediocrity. You have to take measured and thoughtful risk and embrace an agenda for change.”

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He says his whole career has been "the transformation business" and dealing with underperforming IT departments. 
He adds: "When the day ever comes that the ship is in a steady state and it's just keeping the engine room going then it's probably time for somebody else to do it. I'm up for extraordinary results, I'm not up for average. After all, who ever heard of 'Alexander the Average'?"

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“It’s not sustainable for us as a government to continue to spend [on IT] at these levels. We need to up the quality of what we do at a reduced cost of doing so. The first step is a conversation for radical change and we have had that conversation with our key suppliers across government. Again it’s about improving performance in projects and programmes and our day to day services as well as our procurement processes.” [speech in 2007]

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A spokesman for the Cabinet Office declined to confirm or deny Harley's appointment. He said only that "no announcement has been made".

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