Speech Given by Jos Creese, BCS President


Your Royal Highness, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome.

It is true that there is no such thing as ‘a free lunch (or dinner)’ .. I’m afraid part of your price this evening is to listen to me for a short while!

Many of you will have helped me during the year, and you will all have an interest in the IT profession – whether through family, friends, a professional association or as an active BCS member.

And that is what I want to speak about tonight – the IT profession.

In fact, I want this to be a call to arms – a change in how we see ourselves and how others see us.



Official data from the EU says 5% of the UK workforce work in IT. That’s over 1.5m people. This is an underestimate – many people do IT roles but are classified as other professionals.

But we have a IT skills shortage and it will only get worse unless we can attract more people into the profession. Young people and women are under-represented in particular. That is why I chose IT apprenticeships as my Presidential theme this year – and I will continue to support it after my presidential year ends.

This is a bigger issue than simply trying to get more people trained and working in IT. We have an image problem.

The public image of the IT worker is pretty much like the TV show the ‘IT Crowd’ – geeky, socially inept blokes, maybe technical competent, but certainly best kept out of sight in the Data Centre below stairs – and getting older (present company excepted of course!). At best we are seen as technical engineers.

Yet it is ironic that the world’s most well-known businesses are IT-based – led by and created by IT people with business skills:  Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple.

These organisations are the richest, the most successful, the most powerful businesses that have ever existed on the planet. Apple surpassed Exxon-Mobil as the world’s most valuable company in 2012. The Walmarts and Pfizers are now behind the curve of the top tech companies.

No sector ever has had more impact on our lives. And some of the best known (and most powerful) people on the planet come from IT: Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Alan Sugar, Mark Zuckerman, Steve Jobs – and our two DF tonight of course (and some of you in the room).

IT is transforming our health and our wealth. It is emancipating people, creating greater equality of opportunity, enabling social cohesion and better understanding. It can give security for communities and families. It offers new opportunities for universal education and better use of scarce resources and energy.

Technology is giving us more leisure and freedoms. It is transforming and spreading democracy. It is central to pretty much every area of research, development and business transformation.

So the growth in demand for IT skills is understandable. But the apparent inability to encourage more young people and women into the profession is less so.

The U.K. has a global reputation for technology – eCommerce, open government, technology invention and inventors – from Alan Turing to Tim Berners-Lee. Yet the public understanding of the role of the IT profession in the UK is as low as the rate of growth in new entrants.

We are just not selling ourselves well enough, and that impacts not only in a skills gap, but also can result in under-investment in IT in business and research – despite the fact that the fastest growing companies and economies are based on technology.

All this is odd for another reason.

Just a couple of years ago the ‘I’ Newspaper ran a survey of primary school children, asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up. There were 20 choices:

No.1 place was ‘teacher’ – no surprise there.

The next 5 places went:  – Vet, Doctor/Footballer (joint), Police Officer, Nurse – again, rather predictable perhaps. Then guess what? …. “IT Specialist” came next … yes, really! Ahead of racing driver, Fireman, Pilot, Scientist …oh, and Princess.

Yet by the time these primary school children go to secondary school, most already are put off IT and few want to pursue IT jobs or a degree in IT. It’s a tool, nothing more. They continue to choose the often less well-paid, less flexible and less future-proofed roles in the classic professions. And, dare I say, less interesting and diverse?

I confess, I never chose to join the IT profession. In fact, I wanted to avoid it. Frankly I was not much good at programming (patience and accuracy were not strengths as my wife will attest).

My eyes were opened whilst working in the Department for Health in the 1980s when I saw the transformative power of technology – I found myself doing exciting and relevant work, using technology to collect, analysis and reporting on data, to advise the medical profession and to support the NHS delivery teams.

And whilst Health Informatics sadly appears to be tackling the exact same issues today I was dealing with then, IT just gets more and more exciting as a career to pursue and a topic to study – in any field.

When I left my full-time employment last year to set up on my own business, one of the computer journals reported that I had ‘retired’. Apart from all of you recognising I am far too youthful to ‘retire’, why would I want to stop working in such an amazing profession?

Or, as the BCS vision puts it: “making IT Good for Society”?

There is certainly much work to be done, not just in IT but in other professions which increasingly depend on IT skills and on technology.

Just this week I had a phone call from my uncle. He is a lawyer working in the design, tutoring and course evaluation for overseas students studying English Law. He wanted to pick my brains about the impact of ‘digital content’ on contract law and consumer rights.

Well, I told him it would have a massive and complex impact on the legal profession – not just in sharing data but determining what is admissible in court and what represents a binding contract.

And let’s face it, does anyone every actually read the small print when we buy on line? Frankly, we need to care about this in terms of our rights as citizens.

And then there is the Finance profession – one of the biggest challenges for auditors is the ability undertake effective analytical investigations of systems, tracking data flows. Data science is becoming a big thing for accountants. It won’t be long before even the smallest companies are largely digital in the way records are kept, supply chains managed, contracts let and payments made and received.

In the recent banking crisis, despite sophisticated IT and data analytics, there was a failure to manage risk, or to effectively regulate and to audit. In fact, IT systems were giving the wrong risk ratings.

There continues to be a difficulty for the traditional banks with legacy systems to modernise underlying technology because of the fear of what I call ‘Jenga law’ – that replacing system components (some of the bricks) and eventually it will all come tumbling down.

I could go on. But in every field from medicine to manufacturing technology is fundamentally reinventing what we do and how we do it, often giving us as individuals much greater control and responsibility.

IT is also changing the relationship and for the better between government and all of us as citizens – not just in the government digital service, but in all public services. – our democratic voice is louder, better informed and involved. Our health services and our local councils and being transformed by technology – albeit because there is not enough money to do otherwise.

But we are only at the start of the journey – tinkering at the edges of the change ahead.

We know the future of health care depends on technology for improved data handling, records and systems to integrate with social care. But things are currently so fragmented – data, systems, finances even language. Clinical technology excellence is being choked back by weak administrative systems.

Kent County Council have produced a series of video clips about social care. These are personal stories– putting vulnerable people more in control of their treatment and care packages, helping them to be more independent, ensuring help is there only when wanted or needed, and then appropriately provided.

Technology lies at the heart of their vision and I want to see it embedded across the UK before I need it!

We know all this. But we don’t have clear ambition for the future of the IT profession and the role of the IT professional in this brave new world. It must be more than building IT solutions and fixing them when they break.

Through the BCS and its size and influence, we can help make a real difference. We can champion Broadband and mobile coverage in the UK on behalf of business, communities and individuals. We are not a world leader in this essential service. We worry about high speed trains to improve business productivity, but as I travel round the UK the biggest benefit would be uniform high speed mobile coverage.

BCS is championing the rights of citizens to own our own data and to control how it is used and shared.  We should promote the opportunities of ‘Internet of Things’ and so-called ‘big data analytics’ for retail, manufacturing and transport in the interests of the UK economy. But also be advocates for interests of citizens in how this develops in practice.

These are all areas where BCS is already active and engaged with industry and with government, supporting IT professionals in what is expected of them. But we need all of you and your peers to be part of this.

In my opinion, we need to be seen more like the medical profession – a range of different skills, interests and professional groupings that work together for the common good of the patient – for us that means the business, the research project, the government service and ultimately the citizen.

There is no point, I believe, in trying to invent a professional model for IT based on the existing professions such as finance, engineering, legal … these were set up in a different age for a different set of circumstances.

We need an IT profession for the modern age – an age that is dominated by technology opportunity and risks.

One issue is that we really have not been good at ‘marketing’ as a profession. I think we’ve been complacent in assuming everyone must ‘get’ IT because of the fact we all use it and mostly like it.

BCS has an enviable reputation for encouraging technical research and specialist IT work, but this does not suit everyone as a career. After all, most people I know who work in IT are business analysts, project managers, system designers, consultants, account managers and CIOs – no offence, but you certainly wouldn’t trust most of them to take a back of a PC.

But that’s not all. We are facing a bigger challenge than just selling ourselves better. Despite all the good that IT can and does do, technology also has a dark side that is growing.

The growth in dominance of technology companies has often polarised wealth, not shared it. Technology can disenfranchise communities and individuals, and depersonalise services. It has brought new risks and can make us less safe, for example if data is leaked, lost or abused.

It has also opened up new moral dilemmas as we learn more about ourselves through new technologies that monitor us.

I am not going to tell you all about the ‘Internet of things’ and the predictions for its growth – or the associated cyber security risks it brings You know that.

I’m not going to tell you about the power of wearable tech, or about the advances in medicine which allows you to swallow pills to monitor and detect vital changes in our bodies.

You know that car insurers are monitoring our driving habits by sex, age – offering lower premium in return for data and conformity in driving habits. You want to be reckless? You will pay, one way or another. Most people are OK with that.

You know that the smartphone in your pocket is hardly a phone any more. It’s a tracker, a monitor, a data store, a key, a wallet, a camera and a window onto the world. The problem is that you can be seen through that window as well.

There is an increasing cost of being anonymous. Refusing to have a tracker in the car or to give credit card and personal details on line has a cost, and it is increasing.

And in the future, how do we feel about having to wear a monitoring device that checks diet and exercise habits, in order to get health care, insurance or even employment? Whether you care or not about the data you share, it should be a personal choice and you have a right to privacy.

We also know that technology can be used to exploit scarce resources and can damage our environment – modern technology used for intensive farming practices account for many environmental challenges. Worse, IT can be used to falsify data – as in the VW emission scandal. And of course the variety of data leaks, such as TalkTalk recently, risk our personal finances and security.

These incidents affect the reputation of IT. Yet in them I see a glimmer of hope. More than a glimmer in fact. Both TalkTalk and VM suffered hugely from adverse publicity, loss of share value and customers.

Companies everywhere sat up and took note of the VW incident. It was not just VW that suffered – the wider car industry has come under scrutiny and even Germany’s reputation for engineering quality has been shaken.

Now we see the ripple effect through a wide range of household goods being checked for their claimed environmental and energy credentials – much to James Dyson’s delight, now doubt!

That is how it should be – the public need to trust technology and IT professionals, especially in how our data is used and held, whether in dealings with government, or with business.

So our role is more is so much more than helping to exploit the power of technology for commercial advantage. We design new ways of working. We solve business issues. We have a moral obligation to “make IT good for society”. We are helping to shape the world in which we live.

It was not IT which created the environment which made a part of VW think that it was acceptable to use IT systems to falsify emissions data. Neither was it TalkTalk IT teams who deliberately let personal data leak.

I worry therefore that technologists have been marginalised in some sectors as back room engineers and with technology seen just as just a utility (albeit an important one).

I worry that, as negative incidents of technology impact continue to grow, we could become the scape goats.

If we oversell the IT benefits, hide the risks or exploit the power of IT for the wrong reasons, or if we are simply complacent and ‘just follow orders’, then we could become the estate agents of the 21st century (not that I have anything against estate agents of course).

I believe this wider role for IT professionals will be welcomed by CEOs. My work with CEOs in public and private sector indicates that they understand the opportunity of digital, but are not convinced their IT teams can delivery it.

It is the failure of IT professionals to bridge the gap between technology potential and business opportunity which has resulted in a new breed of Chief Digital Officers.

It’s not about putting the ‘’CIO on the board’ – it’s about the ‘impact of technology’ being key boardroom strategic issue – risk, reputation, opportunity, productivity, customer service, efficiency, competitiveness – and indeed culture.

Many large companies get the message but are shackled to legacy systems – this is where, for example, a new breed of emerging banks have stolen a march on the traditional high street names. It is also where IT professionals need to lead – IT must be an enabler, never a blocker, and legacy systems have to be dealt with.

I believe the UK can set a world lead in tackling the opportunities and the risks of technology in the 21st century, in the interests of commerce, government and society – indeed I think we have to, if we are to retain public trust and our leadership position in digital government and eCommerce.

This is where BCS and BCS members can make a difference, alongside our outstanding historic credentials in technology research and innovation.

I want us to be a household name, as a champion for the profession, in business, in government and in society.

I want people to join BCS not just for the value of professional accreditation, training, resources and connections, but also because of the value it brings to UK society.

And I want us to make a difference by working with others – other professions, with media, with research organisations, with business leaders and with our politicians. We must be an outward-looked and an open profession, sharing freely.

You all have a part for play in this – hence my call to arms.

  • Portray the profession in its widest sense, making connections to value as well as to technology.
  • Advocate professionalism in all we do and support the BCS in our new strategy and programmes, whether you work with government, in research or in industry.
  • Work with others in promoting BCS and sharing openly and widely our ambitions and work.
  • Encourage others to ‘wave the flag’ – we may be the Chartered Institute, but many non-members work with or in IT, and we should support their good endeavour, wherever it lies.

That is what ‘making IT good for Society’ means.

That is the heart of our purpose and of our Royal Charter.

Thank you.


2016 Tech Trends for IT Leaders

1. Introducing 2016:

With growing demands for digital solutions, internally and externally, there’s going to be a lot more money invested in IT this year in most organisations. But the increased spend going to come with more strings attached for CIOs who will be challenged to show value for money from IT budgets, beyond traditional measures of SLAs and IT unit cost benchmarking:

  • How well is IT empowering the business to compete and to engage with customers?
  • How well is IT enabling business change by being more agile and responsive?
  • How well is IT dealing with its own outdated practices for sourcing and delivering IT?
  • How much is legacy IT holding back innovation and entrepreneurial activity?

More open yet secure and resilient IT architectures which make it easier to share data and systems are going to be needed, enabling more cloud adoption without introducing more complex support or security management. This will be especially true in the public sector where money is tighter, scrutiny is enhanced and demands for IT are now growing exponentially to drive productivity and efficiency.

2. The ‘Digital Thing’:

Digital is here to stay – for a few more years at least. CEOs in every sector say that their IT is not keeping pace with business demands. That is why they appoint CDOs, Transformation Directors and Change Managers, rather than simply asking their CIO to do the job. IT leaders who fail to understand this and the surrounding politics will face a rocky ride in 2016.

My advice to CIOs in 2016 is to:

  • Separate your operational IT activity and IT-driven business change support as far as possible, in a surgical way – no blurred boundaries. Get someone strong to lead operational IT or outsource it. Spend (and need to spend) little time on operational IT as an IT leader and more on innovation and business change programmes.
  • Set a ‘stretch target’ to reduce the proportion of operational IT spend so that the balance between IT development capacity and operational IT resourcing is near 70:30.
  • Be seen to deal with legacy and IT sourcing issues. Stop complaining that it’s hard, or about the risk of cloud adoption, BYOD and mobile working; it’s your job to fix it.
  • Take a lead and stand up to the departmental ‘barons’ – trying to please them all will result in a patchwork of digital solutions. In a digital operating model the days of internal IT suppliers servicing all needs are over.
  • Identify and solve business problems by digital means – that means much more than effective use of technology. It means knowing what needs to be done in the business, bringing skills of technology, business analysis and programme delivery to bear.
  • Work hand-in-glove with your CDO, Transformation and Change colleagues, not in competition, or in trying to prove a point.
  • Work with other C-Level executives daily to help them to solve business challenges – build personal relations and demystify the ‘IT/Digital’ message.

CEOs are increasingly information-driven – they expect accurate and timely dashboards of business data to take decisions and judge performance. In any organisation moving to a digital model we will see tough decisions needed around business restructuring, headcount reductions and more effective customer interaction. This alone makes ‘digital’ a board level issue for 2016.

But digital is not going to mean the death knell of traditional ways of delivering services, rather a change to those services. It is interesting to note that although internet shopping continues to break all records, our shops are still busy. But we are tending to shop in-store more for pleasure – social interaction, a fun experience, and chance to try-before-buy. Retailers need to latch onto this trend in 2016 and bring new IT experiences into the high-street.

3. IT Supply Chain Disruption and Sourcing:

During 2015 there was a build-up of tension around the IT supply chain. Cloud has now taken off, big suppliers are changing business models to compete with the new entrants, small IT solutions are exploding in the corporate environment and traditional outsourcing methods are failing. In the public sector we have seen an avalanche of often previously lauded public/private partnerships now failing across the UK, typically because they have proved expensive, inflexible and non-transformative.

IT leaders face a dilemma in the coming year as a result of this. As custodians of information security and IT platform resilience/responsiveness, they must nonetheless recognise and meet the demands for the business to use apps, cloud, social media and mobile tools for conducting business. We can expect to see consolidation of core IT platforms supporting digital operations as a result, but then with a greater diversity of secondary and smaller systems, along with more judicious use of external services such as outsourcing, consultants and contractors – external advice, support and experience is valuable, but needs to be focussed.

CIOs will need more sophisticated supply chain monitoring tools to manage IT portfolios as well as the associated risk. Suppliers will also need to adapt and traditional contract models will, without change, lose business. Embracing change and new risks will not appeal to vendor’s accountants and lawyers but will be essential as clients demand more flexibility. 

4. Legacy IT:

 Dealing with legacy IT will be ruthless. This has happened before in IT in the 1980s and 1990s as new generations of technology emerged. 2015 saw growing frustration of public sector CEOs in particular with the apparent inability of their IT teams to control or to deal with the growing dead-weight of older IT systems and tools (and thinking) in IT, and as a result holding back transformation in the face of cuts.

With the lure of a new generation of mobile apps and tools delivering tangible business value in terms of productivity and customer engagement, the appetite for risk is growing and this will sweep away much of the traditional ways of working entrenched in legacy IT. That is why the ERP suppliers are moving fast to create a new generation of cloud-based corporate services, with more automation and self-service through mobile devices.

CIOs need to divest the organisation of outdated legacy tools to free-up capacity and ability to use newer technology solutions. This will facilitate much needed corporate restructuring, especially in services such as HR, Legal, Procurement and Finance. It will also help CIOs to prepare for the Internet of Things (IoT) support nightmare which lies ahead.

Employees are now more and more digitally literate, from frontline workers to top-level executives. This will change business culture in most, if not all sectors. For example, as internal social media takes off as an internal business tool, it will create more informality, faster decisions, employee involvement and flatter structures. It will also reduce the tolerance for legacy IT that stops this happening, and IT will be seen to be responsible if that is the case.

5. The Customer is King (again):

Digital development has certainly given us all greater choice and freedom. But it has come at a cost – loss of privacy and anonymity, needing to navigate complex support networks, annoying pop up ads, complex security and lots of irritating little things that track what we do.

2016 will see the start of a trend towards simplifying things from the customer perspective, for competitive advantage and for improved efficiency – in the same way that hi-fi was simplified from the over-engineered music centres of the 1980s and became a selling point. In some cases, we may have to pay a small premium for simplicity (for example, to have no more intrusive ads), but in other cases it will simply be delivering better service to increase market share.

We can see this already when you call a contact centre; at last you can understand their English or can get access to ‘live-chat’ with immediate service instead of hanging on the phone. But there is some way to go if centralised systems are to offer truly better services, not just more efficient operation. Often, contact centres seem to know little about their local outlets, services or your previous interactions with them, and you have to wait to be passed through a cascade of departments and support teams.

Government in particular needs to take care that in the drive to save money, the benefits of simplified and integrated access methods are not lost. Digital government should mean more than delivering a self-service experience. It is also about delivering interactions that are connected, consistent, convenient, collaborative, customised, clear and transparent.

Retailers would do well to take time in 2016 to re-think how they could integrate digital and physical selling better. Some of the big brands, such as Google and Amazon, now have an on-street presence to enhance their products, following Apple’s early lead. Traditional retailers need to compete by using technology to make in-store shopping experiences more fun and easy, with more personal service and added value for visiting.

Smaller companies will continue to compete well in the digital world against the largest players. Shops, farms, restaurants, manufacturing, services and business start-ups can all use new, cheap IT to be more efficient and responsive to changing market conditions, and also to open up direct channels to customers. This is why the biggest supermarkets have had their market share eroded over the last year. But smaller, especially family-run businesses, have to be willing to change, and may find this hard to do in practice and so risk getting swept away. Of course the big companies know all this and are likely to muscle in on the act in 2016 – so let’s see how AmazonFresh fairs in 2016 for example.

PS from 2016 customers will be ‘things’ as well as ‘people’. Suppliers should ignore this trend at their peril, since these ‘widgets’ will be fundamental in the supply chain and in acting on behalf of paying customers.

6. “It’s all about the Data, Data, Data”:

We all know the value of data and information – but things are changing and 2016 will be a watershed for how we collect, mange, hold and share data for a number of reasons:

  • Big data is here – we don’t use data effectively today and now there is about to be a deluge of personal data and data about things. 2016 will see much more emphasis on sophisticated understanding of information management, data handling and data security.
  • The demand for data ‘on the move’ will grow in 2016, driving greater adoption of mobile-ready apps. This will further increase BYOD, flexible working and shared services.
  • Edge analytics will come into their own this year, tracking us in the background to deliver better targeted services but with growing concerns about privacy as personal data about us is shifted between devices, systems and organisations.
  • The importance of trust in digital services from government and commerce alike will rise up the agenda in 2016 – 2015 saw just too many serious data breaches for comfort. Privacy and better handling of personal data will be key issues and our apparent tolerance of data risk in return for service will diminish, as we gravitate to services which can be trusted.
  • Customer insight is going to be a strong investment area for IT during 2016 as more sophisticated analytic tools integrate data from different sources, to target us all as potential buyers and service users. This will lead to new product and service linkages and ‘bundling’ – even with competitor products.
  • Digital marketing will be based on much sharper data about market conditions and better knowledge about our personal and changing preferences. It will be easier during 2016 to measure the value of marketing campaigns, something which has always been as much a subjective art as an objective measure.

CIOs will need to approach the ‘Internet of Things’ with care but also as a priority topic in 2016. Rather than rushing headlong into this space, they will need to spend time in 2016 to evaluate strategically how a growing base of intelligent objects and equipment and the data intelligence they emit can be combined with traditional internet services and IT systems. This increased focus on data and data science is a return to the past – data administrators were all the rage in the 1980s, as the first mainstream PCs headed a new era of data optimisation; and now we all need data scientists once again to beat the competition in exploiting information better.

7. So what about the Technology Itself?:

Here are a few predictions (and one of them is that we will NOT all have 3-D printers in the home – ever!):

  • ‘Just in time’ manufacture will begin to link more deeply with services like Amazon in 2016, so your order will not only be packaged and sent in 24 hours, but will also be built to your personal specification in that time scale. This will apply to food provision as much as clothes and consumables.
  • Wearable IT will, as expected, become more mainstream as it gets absorbed into everyday items. The cumbersome, battery hungry, water-intolerant smart watches will improve, get cheaper and more stylish (or maybe even hidden from view).
  • Social Media will become mainstream as a business tool, with email use shrinking or plateauing for the first time, at least for internal communications.
  • By next Christmas we will begin to see the next generation of Tamagotchi and Furbys. I don’t know what it will be, but the toy industry is still playing catch-up with the potential of technology to interact with people, and the marketing potential here is simply huge.
  • The focus of the mobile device industry will be less about device design this year and more about automated features – identification and ID protection for example – and of course battery life, as we often now have to carry secondary battery packs and chargers because phone design has largely ignored battery limitations.
  • 4-G will penetrate more deeply across the UK, but the failure of UK mobile and broadband to reach large swathes of the UK will increasingly be a barrier to business, especially in rural areas, with pressure growing on the telecoms companies to invest to keep up with the rest of the world.
  • With increasingly intelligent systems able to connect, link and to process more data, we can expect to see predictions improve – forecasting environmental, financial, social, customer behaviours and other changes.
  • Virtual reality will become mainstream this year – not just for gaming, but kitchen design companies, house builders, museums, travel agents and schools starting to use the next generation VR and maybe even some VR theme parks launched this year.
  • High-Tech Health will continue to be a hot topic, both personal health monitors and technology used in health centres and hospitals. We can expect to see a wealth (literally) of new technology solutions from smaller providers, in 2016 which will increase the understanding by health professionals of their patients and of illnesses, globally. Whether doctors will accept your personally monitored health records from your wearable devices in 2016 is uncertain – that may be a few years away.
  • Lightweight cryptography and other new, more intuitive, stronger yet simpler security tools will emerge in 2016, in response to growing security risks holding back mobile services in particular. But 2015 was the start of a period when we all need to take more personal responsibility for our own data security, rather than just blindly trusting others (as we would take responsibility for our homes, cars and personal safety,
  • Rise of the Machines: 2015 saw the first of my speeches recorded at an event and translated (badly) by a robot. We can expect to see much more automation of content and repurposing of data by machines for natural language consumption. But in 2016 it will mostly be done badly. More of us will be working for machines without knowing it, as priorities and daily work schedules are determined and monitored by machines, especially in sectors such as banking and insurance.
  • ‘Things’ will become customers – devices and embedded technology, from wearables to chips in cars and objects in the home, will all act on our behalf and will need to be serviced and supported. IoT will lead to a whole new IT strategy and architecture.
  • Voice Recognition will become a much bigger topic in 2016, beyond Siri and Cortana, with a new emphasis on the development of machine-human interfaces able to mimic human conversation and recognise needs, using sophisticated fuzzy logic. This will change the role of PAs, secretaries, support teams, contact centres and much business administration.
  • Ad blockers will gain in popularity as we all seek intermediary services which can eliminate or reduce the annoying pop-ups, in-app adverts and other annoying ways of diverting money from our purses. At least we can hope!

8. Privacy, Protection, Risk and Confidentiality:

These will be top of the worries for CIOs in 2016, more than IT resilience and responsiveness more generally (after all, IT is pretty reliable these days). The challenges will be:

  • Protecting data and handling data responsibly – an amateurish approach, fragmented across the enterprise, is no longer acceptable and will become a shareholder and a voter concern (remember TalkTalk?).
  • With the adoption of mature digital delivery models, the basis of business risk will change fundamentally this year for many organisations. A sole dependency on IT for successful transactions, marketing and cyber-reputation, customer and staff communications and supply chain logistics will force a rethink about business continuity plans and priorities.
  • A balance needs to be struck between the benefits of data tracking – our interests, location, habits, purchasing preferences, health data etc., – and our personal privacy and identity protection. Businesses and government will need to be clearer about what data they hold, how long for, for what purpose, and how it can be reclaimed by us, if we choose.
  • Network security and cyber threats – still mostly from within the business, but also from external malicious attacks. As networks become more porous for partnering and employee flexible working, risks inevitably increase. With the scale of threat and the dependency growing, the impact can be catastrophic for business if the risk materialises.
  • Complex and over-engineered security will only exacerbate that risk, so CIOs need to consider security architecture in the context of changing business need and increasing demands for flexibility. Recovery may be as important as avoidance.
  • In a digital service model, data will be key to tracking and managing risk – financial, health and safety, security, reputation and social media. So once again the way data is collected, analysed and presented will be fundamental (and not just for the banking sector!).
  • With increasing peer-to-peer transactions, facilitated by third party go-between and apps, it gets harder to guarantee that transactions between people will be trustworthy. Accepting some risk but limiting the liability is the only way forward during 2016 moves to further self-service.

2016 would be a good year therefore for CIOs to raise the role of information security management internally as a business opportunity, as well as to reduce business risk from service interruption or loss of reputation if data is lost.

It’s a pretty confident prediction that there will be more high-profile data breaches in 2016, as well as more abuse of personal data held by organisations. Whilst people are tolerant of data risk which does not materialise, accepting being tracked up to a point, to receive better services, they will become angry and risk averse as soon as they, their families of their friends suffer from the consequences of privacy breaches or malicious abuse of identity. We are likely to see insurance premiums rising in response to increasing impact and risk of data loss – hidden, of course, in the cost of services such as credit cards.

9. A Bit About the Public Sector:

The public sector will be in continuing turmoil during the period 2016-2018, not just because money is still tight, (and despite some optimism from the last public spending review), but also because of growing service demand in many areas such as social care, devolution and pressure to share more services.

Top of the list for councils in 2016 will be using technology better to transform, to empower staff and to integrate services across traditional boundaries, in efficient and more meaningful ways. This means IT strategies must be wholly integrated into business plans and digital service strategies:

  • Shared services will increase much more quickly than in the past, not for reasons of efficiency alone, but due to the need to join up services across traditional boundaries. Financial turmoil will exist for smaller councils who continue pursue ‘splendid isolation’ – and they will be forced into alliances and to amalgamate (or risk being taken over to do so).
  • More services will become wholly digital – not just a move to the web, but a switching-off of more expensive delivery channels, including telephone – so the public should not expect to get a fast answer on the phone (remember the unfair criticism of HRMC call handling?).
  • The public sector will become more commercial during 2016, and that will require a new breed of supporting technology to underpin business development – CRM, finance, pipeline management, marketing and various other paraphernalia of ‘being in business’.
  • The term ‘Government as a Platform’ will be adopted across local government much more this coming year, in order to provide more integrated, lower cost and seamless access to all government services at a local level. This will mean more open data, open source and open architectures.
  • G-cloud will (at last) take off in local government, as the realisation of the benefits is better understood. The need for each council to negotiate and tender its own IT contracts will be questioned.
  • Health services and the link to Social Care will dominate IT funding and priorities in 2016 – more than Education at its height of popularity did a decade ago.
  • Join up of services at a local level will begin to trump national centralisation. Devolution and demand for local autonomy will mean that national services such as police, fire and health will begin to be designed more around local needs, but without compromising national control or economies of scale, with shared and integrated IT platforms to support this.
  • Citizen ID, common access methods and rationalisation of security systems will be priorities for public sector CIOs, to create more business flexibility, greater security and improved self-service for staff, suppliers and the public.
  • Failing parts of the public sector will be taken over, whether they are provided by the public sector or the private sector. There will also be more early termination of failing partnerships and outsourcing, with more insourcing – at least for a period. IT will be central to success and to failure as well as to the inevitable mergers.
  • Regulation will be reviewed:  the government will have to begin to address not just the cyber security threat but the extent to which existing regulation, such as the Data Protection Act, are sufficient in the emerging sharing economy to protect citizens from abuse.

Why IT Outsourcing in the Public Sector Fails



With the final death-throes of SouthWestOne (https://t.co/yJts5PfJOA) and numerous other public sector IT outsourcing contracts being reviewed, someone needs to ask the question “what went wrong?” – or more importantly “what can we learn?”.

I’ve been around long enough in the public sector to have accumulated a few home truths…….. so here they are:


Avoid political dogma – insourcing and outsourcing fashions muddy common-sense and business judgement. This applies to local authority leaders as much as politicians. IT sourcing strategy is hard enough without politics allowed to get in the way. So, practices which we saw through the 1980s and 1990s of total IT outsourcing in the public sector, as a matter of policy were, in hindsight, costly errors of judgement. It’s not that outsourcing IT is inherently ‘bad’, but the political naivety in how the contracts were designed were doomed to subsequent problems.

Don’t try and predict the future. You can’t with IT. The way in which technology is used changes almost every year and the pace of new models of IT delivery emerge is also increasing (e.g. cloud), so your contracts must be flexible enough to accommodate this. Too many outsourcing contracts are tied into rigid ROI and SLA-driven, models that can only fail over time.

Accept that local public services are complex – much more complex than the private sector or central government. So trying to hedge bets and define an all-singing-and-dancing outsourcing solution is going to be very tough. Under-estimation of the complexity of business change and the role of IT in local government is the number one killer of council outsourcing arrangements.

Don’t outsource a problem – too many council leaders think that outsourcing will be transformational in itself, propelling the organisation to a level of digital maturity that seems unachievable with the existing in-house engine. Well, it usually doesn’t work. If your in-house IT is broken, you need to understand why and know how to fix it first, even if you then use the private sector.

Magic doesn’t exist – Why do we sometimes think that the private sector holds all the answers and can take away all our problems and solve then easily and cheaply? It is very true that the private sector is often more efficient and agile, and can bring experience and skills to bear which are badly needed in the public sector. But let’s be realistic about where the costs, savings and profits lie and get a more intelligent relationship with the private sector. After all, vendors want long-term profit and that depends on delivering high value.


So what’s the answer? It is certainly not to bring everything back in-house. But there is a need for:

  • Greater sophistication in the way IT contracts are established and structured, to reflect the need for less precision and greater flexibility, without dumbing down the need for performance measures.
  • Recognition of the changing role of IT in transforming the public sector and the role IT leaders need to be able to play in supporting transformation and delivering best value. This is a real issue in the public sector.
  • Building in-house IT skills – not necessarily to deliver everything, but to understand how to build and maintain a coherent IT architecture that is fit for a digital age. This is a tough and complex business, nowhere more than in the public sector.

Why IT Apprenticeships Matter & Why We Must Do More

The UK economy depends increasingly on having a strong pool of technology professionals, and it’s not just the IT industry itself that needs this, but pretty much every business and public service organisation, in any sector and of any size – we just can’t seem to turn them out fast enough!

It’s a global problem as demands for IT grow in the information age, so if the UK is to compete we need to work hard to nurture the next generation of IT professionals and keep them here. But the UK, despite being a world leader in ecommerce and despite the strong encouragement from business and government, is arguably struggling more than others to grow the technology skills it needs. And it will only get worse as many of the earliest IT professionals from the 1980s are approaching retirement age.

Whilst there are plenty of jobs for experienced IT professionals, there are still too few ways to get that experience in the first place, even if you have the training. We need entry level enticement and support – training programmes, jobs advice, mentoring, professional guidance, exciting projects. The result of not paying enough attention to entry level is seen in higher premiums paid for technical and digital professionals and this can place smaller businesses in particular at a disadvantage. IT apprenticeships can offer experience on the job, as well proctical skill training. It can also keep costs down and ensure we develop the right skills and habits fit for the future.

This is why, during my year as President of the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, I have chosen to encourage and to support initiatives that grow apprenticeships in IT, creating the next generation of IT professionals and BCS members. And this is not just about creating more apprenticeships – it goes right to the heart of the misperceptions of the IT industry turn off talent. I want to work with partners in business and government to overcome the barriers which we know exist, shown for example by the significant under-representation of women and young people in IT.

The problem is not just getting support from government and business – which is happening (for example, BCS is already involved with the digital industry trailblazer apprenticeships and will later this year, together with the Gatsby Foundation, launch the Professional Registration of IT Technicians). It also needs to address the myth that a career in IT is only about the technology – an engineering discipline looking after the IT ‘plumbing’. This can turn off those with more enthusiasm and talent for the application of technology and who may be less excited about the technology ‘nuts and bolts’.

This misperception of IT not only limits the attractiveness of the profession, but it also indirectly restricts the social and economic benefits which technology can bring. Many IT professionals have spoken to me of their frustration in the lack of understanding that some business leaders have of the risks and the opportunities of technology to truly transform their organisations. A broader base of IT skills can help to close that gap.

We also often seem to read more about IT project failure than about the skill involved in steering IT-enabled projects to success and so improving customer services, maximising competitiveness, increasing business agility and transforming public services. We need to do more to show how rich and varied IT jobs can be and the massive impact they have on business success.

The Government Digital Strategy highlights the digital imperative for the public sector as well, to drive efficiency and to engage better with the users of public services. Done well and this will not disenfranchise people or depersonalise services – far from it. But it needs smart digital leaders who understand the socio-economic impacts of IT, as well as deep technologists who will shape and design the next wave of technology in every sector.

I am delighted that BCS is already involved with the new Digital Industry Trailblazer apprenticeships and am looking forward to supporting this initiative. I would also like to see a range of new IT apprenticeships emerge which attract those excited by the business impacts of IT, as well as those enthused by gaining deep technical skills. This richer and deeper pool of new IT recruits will come from diverse backgrounds, able to blend business and technology expertise and experience – from schools, colleges, universities, those thinking of a career change or those returning to work after a career break – in fact any background.
IT apprenticeships in the UK can grow the next generation of IT professionals we know we will so badly need over the next 20 years to compete in a digital world and to better harness technology for social well-being.


Social Machinery

Social Machines … not a very good title for what is likely to become a very important topic which will affect all of us.

‘Social Machines’, if you don’t know, is the term used for how technology can learn and support us better (or potentially to control us, some fear). For instance, technologies such as mobile phones, social media and wearable IT all capture data which can be used in many ways – for good or bad. We need to plan now for their use and their control, including how we ensure everyone’s privacy is protected.

You will probably be using social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where people not only interact socially but share experiences and solve problems. Social machines take this a step further, using software tools and networks of computers which link people to collaborate and co-create. They allow a large number of people to give a small amount of time or data to create a big effect, so allowing computing to adopt human traits to make judgements.

In the past we’ve built systems and collected data manually, for example by using surveys. Doing this at scale, such as gathering and analysing global weather data for forecasting, is complex and expensive and needs some very large computers. But web applications run on phones are free and can source data from the public for nothing. This sort of crowd-sourcing is nearly always more accurate (and quicker) than consulting experts. Weather, the economy, traffic, trends, news, health can all be tracked, based on real time information captured from social interaction, giving a faster, more accurate and more shareable means to predict and adapt. See Galaxy Zoo for example: http://www.galaxyzoo.com

Social machines also have many commercial applications: in future you may walk past an electronic bill-board in the street and it will recognise your face, match it to your on-line shopping habits and leisure interests, and there and then present you with adverts relevant to you and your location. Clever stuff!

In my view this should not scare us, provided we remain in control, choosing whether and how to participate and what data to share. This means we all need a deeper understanding of the digital world beyond a grasp of the IT. Its like a driving a car.. you really don’t need to know what is under the bonnet to drive safely, but you cant drive safely is all you know is how the engine works.

Done well, these social machines can help with education, economic growth, employment, health and social care. The trick in the digital world is to ensure that we have developed our own understanding and new skills to protect our privacy (and then teach these to our children). At the moment too many people are still falling for basic phishing attacks.


Digital Maturity vs. Digital Delusion

Digital maturity is little understood and regularly confused with IT maturity IE a strong and effective adoption of technology in the business. Here are some comparisons so you can check out your own organisation. IT maturity it is hard enough to achieve in its own right, but don’t assume that that is the same as being digitally mature. It’s just part of journey.

Strategy – IT Maturity:

You have an effective IT strategy, with a range of digital outcomes identified. The process of IT strategy implementation shows a high-performing even ‘world class’ IT department, regularly and independently benchmarked. The strategy recognises the importance of business change to drive value from IT investments and the barriers. There is a clearly defined and well-managed IT architecture.

Strategy – Digital Maturity:

You have a digital (not IT) strategy, agreed by the Board for all parts of the business. The process of strategy formulation and implementation demonstrates business value. There is a recognition that IT-related costs will increase, along with technology-led entrepreneurial change and innovation. A new risk model for the business as a whole is in place, recognising the reliance on technology for reputation, service, cost and future success.

Culture – IT Maturity:

Cultural change is underway as a result of new service models using IT, with staff expected to use systems for common activities, especially in finance, HR and procurement. They will be comfortable with electronic self-service for things like annual leave requests, absence, expenses, purchasing and changing personal details.

Culture – Digital Maturity:

All employees are aware of the impact of ‘digital’ and the part in the change this implies for them – in what they do and how they do it, in being more accountable and responsible, in operating more swiftly. They know they are responsible for coming up with ideas to improve digital adoption as part of the digital strategy – helping to capture, prioritise and to harness digital opportunity in their day-to-day work.

Leadership and Governance – IT Maturity:

You have an effective IT department and a strong CIO leader, with great ideas and a good IT delivery track record. Programme boards follow Prince and Programme methods, to ensure effective allocation of roles and responsibility, with IT projects underpinned by effective and tracked business cases.

Leadership and Governance – Digital Maturity:

You have a digital leader (aka CDO) and a Board-led digital programme, cutting across the whole business, supported by effective operational IT delivery. The digital programme assigns clear digital responsibilities to all board members and is a regular topic for the main board. Long-established working practices, processes and senior management skills are challenged openly and positively.

Delivery – IT Maturity:

You have an effective management and reporting of all IT programmes and IT-enabled change, with clear business cases and prioritisation of resources against corporate ambition. All back-office transactions are ‘self-service’ digital, and individual departments have digital plans of varying levels of maturity.

Delivery – Digital Maturity:

There is an overarching digital roadmap or delivery plan which has a mandate of sovereignty over every service area and department, to deliver a common digital platform, process and working practices. Back office and front office business processes are digitised and boundaries blurred. Delivery is not by ‘IT’, but by all directors and managers of services, coordinated corporately.

Performance – IT Maturity:

All IT-enabled programmes are consistently judged against time, cost and quality metrics, and ‘benefits realisation’ is carefully monitored. IT costs are tracked and controlled against industry best practice, and reported transparently. IT performs, by any metric, at the highest level and has adopted modern practices (Agile, ISO and ITIL).

Performance – Digital Maturity:

Value outcomes from digital change and investment are part of chief officer performance targets and embedded in all service planning. There is no separate annual report of IT, only the effectiveness of IT deployment to transform the business and innovate for financial and service benefit reported by service leads. Assessment of the performance of IT common business platform for digital adoption is considered regularly by the Board.

Skills – IT Maturity:

The organisation has good or very good IT skills, with appropriate eLearning and training programmes, ensuring that all new technology is rolled out as a managed change. IT literacy amongst staff is high, IT skills are valued (and expected) for all.

Skills – Digital Maturity:

Learning and Development, including leadership skills, is designed holistically across the business to support fast-track digital adoption – considering employees, suppliers, partners and the public. Employees in particular are comfortable and competent in using digital tools and electronic information in everything they do, wherever they work. This is more than competency in using IT, but in how tools are used to deliver service improvement.

Service Design – IT Maturity:

IT opportunity is embedded in the process of service design and development, looking carefully at IT potential to support new ways of working and engaging with customers. Web services are highly automated, easy to find and easy to use.

Service Design – Digital Maturity:

‘Digital by default’ is the norm in service planning, and services are developed to empower service users (customers, suppliers, and employees) and intermediary service providers to use digital methods first and to take control. This means web design starts with the user and encouraging take up of digital dictates IT policy and practice.

Customer Access – IT Maturity:

Single sign-on and web access methods are prioritised and there is an effective ‘deep and broad’ customer contact service, using modern tools such as ‘Live Chat’, and CRM. Customer choice is prioritised, recognising not everyone can embrace the ‘digital world’. ‘Digital by default’ results in more efficient operating models.

Customer Access – IT Maturity:

Entire ‘customer facing processes’ are digitised and personalised, and customer experience is consistent across all channels. Digital services are designed in collaboration with users, as well as across the supply chain and with partners. All users are expected to engage digitally or through intermediaries, and support mechanisms are prioritised to enable this. ‘Digital by default’ empowers users and is designed for take-up and equality of access, not just for efficiency.

Technology – IT Maturity:

You have invested well in IT tools, keeping abreast of trends and developments and judging correctly the right time to exploit them. You are a leader in successfully delivering new technology services such as social media, videoconferencing, single-sign on, identity management and automation.

Technology – Digital Maturity:

You have undertaken a full IT review to consider from the ‘bottom up’, what will need to change in terms of IT supporting a full move to ‘digital’ and to create a digital platform for the future – capability, capacity, priorities, governance, development methods, digital design principles, technologies, investments and prioritisation of IT activity. This has fundamentally challenged traditional ‘world class’ IT delivery. Legacy IT is no longer a barrier to innovation.

Examples of Innovation – IT Maturity:

All internal transactions are available on-line, on multiple devices, with complete end-to-end self service, removing any unnecessary internal management hierarchy of checks. BYOD is mature and secure. Social media is widely and effectively used, with electronic data capture and analytics of customer feedback and engagement.

Examples of Innovation – Digital Maturity:

‘Internal only’ processes are now made available to customers and suppliers, to increase the level of self-management which clients, suppliers and partners can undertake. In particular suppliers take on new parts of the value chain to reduce any double-handling. ‘Big Data’ is used effectively to drive faster decision-making and service design. eBook for digital help staff to fully engage with the digital agenda.


Some killer CIO interview questions … For interviewers or interviewees …

Some common questions and variants and how they are designed to test a prospective CIO..

1. ” If you were asked to undertake a review of IT where would you start?”

The answer to this question should demonstrate the need to start from business outcomes, not a traditional review of IT efficiency and effectiveness. I would expect it to include an assessment of where the business/sector is moving, partnerships that are required as well as the specific operational pressures to be dealt with in order to be more effective and efficient.

2. “Much is being talked about organisations becoming truly “digital” in the way that they use technology. What you think this means in practice and how it relates to this role?”

The answer here should reflect an understanding of how technology is fundamentally changing culture, behaviours and business practices across organisations. It should cover the difference between a CDO and a CIO function. It should cover change management, re-evaluation of business models, challenging traditional service design and delivery, as well as the way in which technology is deployed/used. Does the candidate understand how business risk is managed in a truly digital operation – eg reputation and social media, security and information sharing, transactional service management and joint working. It is much more than simple adoption of more technology, mobile and flexible working, self-service and automation.

3. “Without knowing [the business] in detail, what would you imagine of the main IT challenges we face currently and how do you think they would be best addressed?”

A variant of the questions above, but the answer this should demonstrate the maturity of the applicant in working in a complex organisation, where there will be common issues for IT to address. However, a really good answer should demonstrate some homework around the main priorities facing the company they are applying to join. Much will be around managing relationships, retaining scarce IT skills, enforcing common practice, appetite for risk and change, Etc.

4. “How do you balance the demands from frontline services for new IT, the need to make savings overall and pressures from budget holders in prioritising IT developments? How do you ensure IT is responsible and and ‘enabler’ but doesn’t simply try to respond to everything?”

This question is trying to probe the conundrum which faces all CIOs in complex businesses: balancing corporate, departmental and frontline service demands for IT. In the past IT was expected to be business-led: – responding primarily to departmental and individual service needs and following budgets set around individual services. Maximising the value of technology in a modern, complex business now requires compromising at the local level to support common corporate objectives. How would the individual perform in such an environment? Would they adopt a conciliatory but weak approach which just responds to demand? Or exhibit an arrogant and aggressive approach which fails to engage and win hearts and minds? How will they deal with conflict which inevitably would result at times?

5. “If the CEO comes to you with an urgent request for an IT solution how would you handle it?”

A trick question… The easy answer (wrong) here is to simply appeal to ‘being responsive’ to the most important person in the organisation. Reflecting the assessment of the impact of this request, eg on existing priorities or technology architecture, will be important. Is the individual strong enough to stand up to the Board on any demands that may not be appropriate? How would they do this in an appropriate fashion? In being an advocate for technology opportunity, there is a need for honest realism about risk, cost and value. Short term ‘fudges’ can build up major IT legacy problems which are usually resource hungry and limit future agility.

6. “If you were asked to reshape an IT service and this resulted in a number of job changes and potential redundancies, how would you approach this? What is your style?”

This is a pretty straightforward question to probe the individuals experience and leadership style. Most new CIO appointments will be expected to reassess current IT (and deal with lots of often conflicting Board views about what needs to change!). The best answer here needs to demonstrate that an individual is thoughtful, sensitive and can anticipate challenges at a business and at a human level. At the same time individual needs to be able to demonstrate that they have experience of grasping difficult HR situations and can take difficult decisions. Striking the right balance is not easy, and it depends on the credibility, experience and style of the candidate.

7. “Can you give an example of where you have personally overseen a project or an initiative that has not been fully successful. What lessons did you learn from this?”

The wrong answer here is to say that the candidate has not really been in this situation..ie they have had problems, but always dealt with them successfully. This is either untrue, or it will come from an individual who is unaware of their weaknesses or has never had to deal with any real challenges in IT. The right answer will be an honest assessment of a project that resulted in an early closedown and write-off. A partial answer is one where the individual has been able to stem a problem and redirect it successful conclusion.