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Where to now for the CTO?

Paul Brislen, Editor. 27 August 2018, 7:12 am

The demotion of Clare Curran from Cabinet means the future of the search for the country's first Chief Technology Officer hangs in the balance.

Curran championed the role before the election and led the search for someone who could fill the role in a way similar to that of the Chief Science Advisor. Someone who would be able to provide both guidance and insights to the minister (and Prime Minister - the role reported in to both) but who would also be able to work within government across departments to help reduce overspending and minimise duplication of services.

This has proved to be a big ask as the initial wave of applicants were deemed unacceptable by the minister and the job was re-advertised with a slightly updated brief.

But instead of making an appointment by February, the position remains vacant and with Curran's fall from grace (she retains her portfolios as associate minister of ACC and minister of broadcasting and communications, but loses her digital services and open government portfolios) the future of the position remains uncertain.

The baton of finding a CTO has passed on to Chris Hipkins, the Minister of Education, who is currently reviewing the structure of the education system. This is no small task in and of itself, and comes as the minister faces the joint issue of an ageing (and thus retiring) workforce that is also seeking better pay and work conditions. That must surely take priority over any search for a CTO.

And while the need for a unified approach to ICT implementation within government remains clear,  not so obvious is the need for one person to fulfil both the internal facing and external roles incumbent in the job description.

Perhaps it is time the government steps back and reviews just what it is the CTO role will be required to do and how it will be resourced. Currently the job has no staff, no authority and very little in the way of support (secretariat services aside), yet the brief is far reaching and potentially quite divisive. Departmental CIOs are unlikely to welcome yet another layer of input, particularly from a political appointee who cannot tell them not to do what they're going to do.

It would appear the challenge is to find someone who is both embedded in the current industry but also a visionary able to see the future trends. Someone who is both technically proficient and a strong generalist communicator. Someone who can understand both the detail of current system requirements and the implications of future developments on the national interests, someone who can bridge the gap between ERP implementations, cloud computing and the future of driverless cars, augmented reality, 3D printing of food and all the other could-be, should-be, might-be developments that are on the horizon.

That may be quite a big ask for any one person and I would suggest that person already has a job if not their own company, and wouldn't relish a government stipend for an advisory role.

Hipkins' first job may be to cut the CTO down to size.


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