This article is more than 1 year old

UK government's chief digital officer departs

Ex-IBMer leaves behind no clear plan for sprawling legacy estate

Former IBM and Home Office tech supremo Joanna Davinson is set to stand down as the UK government's chief digital officer, leaving the Cabinet Office with no one to wrangle its unmanaged legacy estate.

Departing after an 18-month term to set up Whitehall's tech team, Davinson was responsible for leading the government's 20,000-strong Digital, data and technology (DDaT) community after her appointment in January last year.

An ad for her replacement confirms the Cabinet Office is now looking for an individual to lead a "transformation" which includes "digitising end to end services, overhauling Government's legacy IT systems, establishing cross-government enterprise architecture, updating our approach to data and analytics, strengthening our cyber security, and upgrading our [Digital Data and Technology] talent and skills."

Two hundred specialists and small and medium businesses will also report to the £190,000 role.

Davinson set a benchmark others can only aspire to.

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found the government had "no clear plan" to set out how it will replace ageing legacy systems vital for the operation of the public sector despite some dating back to the 1970s.

The report followed a September hearing in which Davinson told MPs the UK government lacked a central, dynamic list of its legacy computing estate and the risks associated with elderly IT infrastructure and applications.

She assured MPs her team was working on such a system, aimed at helping prioritise spending, which was supposed to launch in January.

"I acknowledge that it's not as systematic as it should be at the moment, but we've got an initiative in place," Davinson told the committee.

"The intent is that we pilot through the rest of this year. My intent is that we have a tool we can start working with – and we will refine it as we go – from the start of next year."

That tool has yet to see the light of day, although Davinson's office has come up with a way to assess the IT resource needs of central government departments and measure their performance: emailing a spreadsheet and asking for multiple replies.

The need to understand the risks involved with maintaining legacy IT systems was brought into focus last week when the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed an ICL mainframe from the 1980s was one of the systems implicated in an underpayment of state pensions by around £1bn.

This follows a report last summer by the Modernisation and Reform Group which said a whopping £2.3bn of the £4.7bn UK government spent on technology in 2019 was dedicated to "keeping the lights on" activity on "outdated legacy systems."

Davinson arrived at the Central Digital and Data Office following an illustrious tenure as chief digital, data and technology officer at the Home Office. During this time she oversaw delays to the troubled Emergency Services Network, which would create additional annual costs "in the ballpark" of £550m each year "across the whole of the legacy estate."

Davinson's role was supported by Paul Willmott, chief digital advisor at the Lego Brand Group and founder of McKinsey Digital.

Given the government's apparent fondness for management consultancies, The Register can only imagine the pool of prestigious talent from which the government is likely to select a replacement. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like