Digital Summit opens in London as UK strengthens central leadership

By on 20/09/2019 | Updated on 04/02/2022
Alison Pritchard

The UK’s digital chief yesterday welcomed senior digital leaders from 16 countries to London for a day of debate on the shared challenges they face, as the government announced that it intends to give its most senior digital leader permanent secretary grade – putting them on the same level as departmental heads.

Alison Pritchard, director general of the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service (GDS), said she felt “humbled and privileged to be part of” the first Digital Summit – a Global Government Forum event, lead sponsored by PA Consulting – at which 28 national and departmental digital leaders debated topics including leadership, capability, data and emerging technologies. “It’s quite an amazing moment,” she said. “I’m really delighted to have the opportunity to open this event and I’m grateful for all the time and effort all of you have put in to be part of it because to bring together in the UK such talent from around the world gives us the opportunity to share with others what are in effect similar challenges that may be tackled in different ways.”

Following the first round table discussion, which covered the topic of leadership in a digital world, she described the quality of debate as “exceptionally good,” adding that it revealed the range of experiences across nations. “Sometimes you forget others are going through similar journeys or are ahead or behind you on those journeys – it’s a reflection that none of us have all the answers and that we can learn from each other,” she said.  

Hunt for a chief digital information officer

Hours before the opening of the Summit, Pritchard had been at the GDS-organised ‘Sprint’ event, also held in London, at which the minister for the Cabinet Office, Oliver Dowden, had announced that the government would appoint a government chief digital information officer (GCDIO).

The job description, posted on the government website, calls for an information officer who has an established international profile, is a respected thought leader within the profession, and has a solid track record for delivery in complex systems.

The role’s permanent secretary-level grading is a real step up for the digital profession, Pritchard told Global Government Forum, explaining that it will provide “senior level influence and oversight of the entire digital function across government”.

“It will be the first function to be led at this level,” she said. “It demonstrates that digital has such a degree of significance that we want it to be led at that level.”  

The appointed permanent secretary, who will receive an annual salary of up to £180,000, will be responsible for overhauling legacy IT systems, strengthening cyber security, improving capability, and ensuring government can better leverage data and emerging technologies to design and deliver citizen-centric services, according to the job spec.

The successful applicant will lead the government’s 17,000 digital, data and technology (DDaT) officials, overseeing their activities through the leadership of government departments’ senior DDaT teams and through direct accountability for approximately 800 staff in the GDS.

They will work closely with Oliver Dowden and will report to the chief executive of the civil service, John Manzoni.

In terms of how the landscape will need to change with the arrival of this senior post, GDS is already thinking about how it might need to adjust or be structured to support the post holder at this level.

Pritchard said Dowden is keen to ensure that the GDS continues to showcase to other countries the “great stuff we’re doing and to remain bold and ambitious” and that, assuming the GCDIO role is filled, the successful applicant will be responsible for driving that.   

The closing date for applications for the role is 7 October and, after long-listing, short-listing and assessments, final interviews are expected to take place on 29 November.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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