After taking over as the UK Governments chief information officer in June
2006, John Suffolk will lead the work of the CIO Council in delivering the
governments strategy for the transformation of public services enabled by
technology, which includes driving the use of shared services. Suffolk will also
provide leadership to the IT profession across the wider public sector, and will
act as the face of the UK Governmentboth at home and abroad.
Before taking over in his current stint, Suffolk has served as the
director general of Criminal Justice, IT. Suffolk has over twenty-five years
experience in IT working in the engineering and financial service industries,
delivering IT enabled change. He has essayed varied roles at the director level
including as a CIO twice as well as customer services director, operations
director and a managing director of a multi-channel 20 bn business. His
experience of running large, national businesses means Suffolk has the requisite
experience and insight to lead major IT enabled transformation programs which
deliver clear business benefits. He blogs at
Considering that Unions are strong in the UK, do you face problems in some
of the government work that you do with outsourcing vendors?
Outsourcing in the UK government has been going on for many years now.
Compulsory Competitive Tendering for government departments has been in force
right from mid 1980s. For UK government, entering in outsourcing deals is not
new. We have laws to protect the transfer of workers between organizations known
as 2P. I have not seen or heard of any union issue since I moved into this role.
Do Indian companies getting contracts in the UK employ local workers or is
the work done by Indian employees from India?
There is never a one size fits all. We positively encourage people to come
up with contracts, deals, and services that are appropriate for that
organization. The contract details are the prerogative of the respective
departments and the suppliers. This is a local decision and whatever they think
is right for that organization, they do. For example, Steria does a lot of work
for the UK government and that is done offshore. The bottomline that we work on
is what would be in the best interest of the organization. The government has no
policy whether a company bids alone or bids together through a consortium.
Companies are free to do what suits them. As we issue our recommendation, it is
for the company how best they can fulfill the governments requirement. What we
do is to break the contracts and avoid giving it to one company to provide more
competition. We are more concerned about the strengths and skills of each IT
supplier. We actively encourage local governments to assess the performance of
the suppliers across the whole set of categories. After we get this data, we are
in a position to assess the suppliers in a holistic manner. We try and find out
consistent performance across many projects, and that helps the industry.
Has the UK government developed IT best practices over the years and are
you sharing this with other governments including India?
The offer we make to every country including India, we also make to the
public and private sectorsto share everything from our processes and any other
thing. My belief is that since many of the organizations are global and operate
in various parts of the world, there are even more chances of sharing the best
How has the UK governments IT strategy changed over the years?
The strategy that we worked on recently was how do we change the model and
go beyond traditional ways of IT. The traditional way was that you go to a
supplier and get design, build, and operate the computer systems. People are
using social networking tools, are shopping online. Governments are no
different. But, the world has changed in terms of technology fundamentally. We
are trying to create a model of an application store which gives everybody,
including some of the suppliers, the opportunity to show their capability. IT
suppliers need not worry about the infrastructure, instead they need to worry
about the problem they are going to solve by using their expertise. This will
encourage innovation and foster competition as well as reduce the time taken to
deliver a solution. Above all, all of these do reduce cost. We are very clearwe
want to do more with less. IT has to reduce the cost of running and maintaining
our infrastructure, and also deliver citizen services at much lower prices. By
rationalizing the networks, data centers, putting in applications store, we
believe we can reduce the running and maintenance cost by 20%which comes to 3
bn sterling a year.
Can you talk about the cloud infrastructure that the UK government is
Hundred people from thirty-seven different organizations are designing cloud
information for the government. The idea is to consolidate the governments
computing infrastructure into twelve secure data centers from the present 500.
Each of these data centers will cost 250 mn to build. The infrastructure can be
used by the central government, police forces, and local authorities. This will
result in cost savings of 100 per machine, and a total 400 mn across the
Is the UK government also looking at putting up public information on the
website, on the lines of what the US government has done through data.gov?
We have already created www.data.gov.uk. This has been possible due to
efforts of Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt and others. The idea
is to open up data for reuse. This site aims to give a way into the wealth of
the government data, and is under constant development.