Liam Maxwell, new UK government Deputy CIO – does he press the right (open-sourced) buttons?

Congratulations to Liam Maxwell who was appointed last week as the UK Government’s Deputy CIO. We’re interested because so much Government procurement is IT related, including some pretty critical projects and initiatives such as Universal Credit. And this role is clearly going to have a lot of input into the procurement processes related to this sort of activity.

Liam Maxwell

So through the medium of Twitter, we checked with the Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office that this appointment was made through a competitive process- here's how he replied (in < 140 characters).

“Of course it was open and fair Headhunter and Civil Service Commissioner led process".

We asked that question in a slightly mischievous sprit. Maxwell seems almost too good to be true in terms of ammunition for conspiracy theorists, who have decided that one of David Cameron’s problems is a certain fondness for surrounding himself with cliques. And in terms of Maxwell;

- he is a Conservative Councillor in Windsor and Maidenhead, one of the most innovative and forward looking in the country by general consent.

- he was the Head of IT at Eton College, Cameron’s old school (but is not an Eton old boy).

- he is an Accenture alumni, as are Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary at Cabinet Office, Katie Davis, John Collington and various other Cabinet Office leaders.

And, as we’re dealing with an Eton schoolmaster, I thought we’d express this mathematically:

Maxwell ∈ Accenture∩Eton∩Tories

But, being positive, Maxwell is also a real IT expert, with big jobs behind him in firms like Capita. He’s also by all accounts made a huge impression in a short time as Director of IT Futures in the Cabinet Office over the last few months. And I’ve heard very good reports of his knowledge, drive and vision.

However, we also hear of some issues. Principally, he seems to have become the de facto “gatekeeper” for IT projects across Whitehall – or even some projects that can be only loosely decirbed as “IT projects”. He’s such a strong character, I’m told that  “people are bringing stuff to him even if they’re not sure they need to – they don’t want to get on the wrong side of him and risk his wrath”.

Which is fine to the extent that he’s adding value in most cases, as far as we can tell. But he’s also in danger of becoming a one man bottleneck and his new role, with even more positional power, could exacerbate that situation.

If we start seeing major programmes slipping and Permanent Secretaries shrugging their shoulders and saying, “it was delayed by Cabinet Office”, then the ramifications could be interesting. He’s also a big supporter of open source and smaller suppliers, so that could be another source of tension given the continued dominance of the bigger firms in Whitehall.

Anyway, good luck and congratulations to Maxwell, and I’m sure we’ll be featuring him again here at some point.

First Voice

  1. Clark Kent:

    Not forgetting the paper he wrote for Centre for Policy Studies. A political appointment without question. Cant see the delivery track record on his Cv, or the value that has been added – some illumination please – but I know who to ask if I want a printer cartridge changing.

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