“There is no ‘silver bullet’ that prepares one to be a CIO but mentoring and coaching are invaluable. Allow people to make mistakes and learn from them, avoiding a blame culture where nobody can be seen to fail. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but understand it’s a political role, so negotiation and advocacy skills need to sit alongside technology capability.”
Early Life and Education
Jos was born in 1960 in Gravesend, Kent and during his early years his family moved around the UK due to his father’s career in the civil service. He spent his formative primary school years in Dover, enjoying the downs as a playground. He lived in Saffron Walden during his secondary education while his father commuted to London, attending Saffron Walden County High School, a large comprehensive. He benefited from the combination of arts and sciences that were offered, from the social mix that comes with comprehensive education, and in particular, music, leading the school orchestra in the 6th form. Today he still plays violin with the City of Southampton Orchestra. He left school with 5 A-levels, in maths, further maths, history, English and music and has very happy memories of secondary school.
At that time computing tended to be offered as an alternative to more academic subjects, and although he used some of the very first handheld calculators to help analyses in maths, computing did not register for him. After a gap year working in industry and abroad and inspired by the positive influence of a statistics teacher at school, he went on to study maths and statistics at Reading University in 1979, graduating in 1982 with a first-class honours degree and several prizes. At university computers were unavoidable, and Jos recalls evenings in the computer centre running multiple teletype machines to load, compile and run a variety of programmes. At this stage he did not like computers, he was not terribly good at programming (too precise, binary and constraining) and decided a career in IT was definitely not for him.
His love of statistics and their practical application in solving real life problems led Jos to his first job, as a fast stream entrant in the Government Statistical Service, assigned to the Department of Health and Social Services, (DHSS, as it was then). He worked on a range of projects and research programmes, using statistical analysis for policy planning and financial projections, with professional bodies such as the BMA and the BDA, universities, health agencies and HM Treasury. New statistical computing techniques were coming on stream with the birth of the PC, and growing processing power meant that IT began to play not just an analytical role but it began to transform how government and public services operated. Led by the inspirational Charles Hogan in DHSS, Jos was instrumental in using new computing methods to provide insights and information to the NHS management board. This was how Jos started working in IT and he quickly recognising its possibilities as a career in the public sector that would positively affect people’s lives and impact services more than a statistician ever could.
Hampshire County Council
In 1988, after six years and rapid promotion to Grade 5 Principal, Jos sought a job in IT, and one that would be outside London to reduce commuting pressures. Despite knowing little about local government, he applied for a role as an IT manager with Hampshire County Council. At interview he met another inspirational individual, Mike Winchester, who enthused him about the capability of technology to transform the delivery of the many local government services and encouraged him to accept the position which was offered to him. As IT manager, Jos’ roles covered account management, overseeing relationships, development and consultancy services for multiple services (Police, Treasury, district councils, transport services, libraries, Fire Services, links to Health and more).
The service at that time at Hampshire operated on private sector revenue principles – all income had to be earned with minimal or no IT budgets. This forced business disciplines not always seen in the public sector, and drove efficiency and improved prioritisation of IT activity. It also strengthened internal commercial skills necessary to manage external bought in services. Amongst business methods Jos introduced or refined, he developed, marketed and delivered a 3 day project management course to fill a perceived gap in consistency and quality in how IT projects were managed and delivered. This led to better project outcomes, more realistic delivery planning and more informed IT customers.
In 1993, after five years managing this IT delivery and support portfolio, Jos took on a new challenge as Data Centre and Telecommunications Manager for the council. He had responsibility for two large data centres and a telecommunications networks supporting one of the largest and fastest growing IT establishments in the UK at that time. With 20,000 users, hundreds of partner organisations and over 1200 sites, it was a significant IT enterprise in government, and the commercial models and practice kept it up to date and growing through investment. It was also benchmarked by Compass Services as one of the top data centres globally for efficiency, partly due to business-like methods and partly because of the early adoption of thin client computing.
Jos spent three years in this role, during which he invested a lot of personal time in developing his deeper understanding of technology, something which stood him in good stead for the rest of his career.
Southampton City Council
In 1996 he took the opportunity to become CIO (Chief Information Officer) at Southampton City Council at the time of national local government reorganisation, introduced by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Under reorganisation, Southampton District Councils became an independent and much larger unitary City Council, and Jos’ two main challenges were transitioning county-based services into the new City Council and reinvigorating a failing IT department.
During his tenure the City Council IT was transformed into a team recognised for high performance and innovation, winning a variety of national and international awards. Jos’ particularly achievements lay in early citizen smart card work with partners in the UK and across Europe, securing substantial EU funding. He also developed a city-wide digital strategy with business leaders.
Hampshire County Council II
After five years in Southampton, Jos moved back to Hampshire County Council in 2001, after successfully responding to a national advert for the CIO position, on the retirement of Mike Winchester, his mentor. With 450 IT staff, and, by the time he left, 90,000 users, it was a major challenge, and one that he handled for nearly 13 years. Hampshire already had a high reputation for IT and Jos took this further in nurturing new business relationships and shared services, providing infrastructure platforms to help smaller organisations deliver services more efficiently to communities.
With several hundred customer organisations using the council’s IT platforms, including Police and Fire services, health bodies, charities, 13 district councils, two unitary councils, three other county councils, 540 schools, colleges and over 1000 community organisations, management and governance was complex, especially within the public sector with both political and executive leaders. Jos considers this work he did building this capacity for sharing, and his role in developing a world class technology services offering, as two of his proudest achievements. He saw his role as protecting IT delivery teams from the politics, so they could remain innovative and responsive. He also oversaw the development and subsequent sale of an IT tourism business from within the council. The result was many awards for Hampshire IT and Jos was named as the most innovative and influential CIO in the UK in the Silicon 50 survey in 2011.
During his last two years at Hampshire Jos became CDO – Chief Digital Officer – working closely with Deloitte who had been chosen as a digital delivery partner as the organisation went through a major transformation project. His role was to lead the councils’ digital programme development on an interim appointment, working with Deloitte, until new structures and governance were in place.
CIO Councils, Professional Bodies and Registers
While at Hampshire, Jos was invited to join the National CIO Council (NCIOC) to represent the local government sector. The NCIOC was set up by Ian Watmore (Permanent Secretary and Head of the Government Digital Service) and the Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude (now Lord Maude). Its purpose was to turn around the IT fortunes of central government (there had been many failures of IT projects), and to share information and strategic thinking. Local authorities were in some respects some way ahead of central government in IT maturity, but could only have some influence over a largely central government body.
Building on this model, Jos set up the Local Public Services CIO Council, which he chaired for the first six years, still running nearly 20 years later. Its purpose was somewhat broader than the NCIOC, seeking to enhance the integration and join up of all local public services as well as to share best practice and to support (or challenge) national IT programmes. It brought together professionals from all public services and UK regions, with agreed ambition to drive consistency in the local delivery of national projects. It remains successful and influential, now working in affiliation with SOCITM (The Society of IT Management).
In 2010-11 Jos was elected as president of SOCITM, travelling widely and promoting the cause of local government IT. He used his tenure to encourage members to focus on technology enabled service delivery, rather than just on technology management, writing a publication “A, B, …CIO” on how to be an effective CIO. He was a strong advocate for questioning long term IT outsourcing contracts in the public sector which were too inflexible or ambitious to withstand the on-going change in technology. He also worked closely with the Government Digital Service (GDS, now led by Mike Bracken) TechUK and the BCS (the British Computer Society – the Charted Institute for IT).
In 2015-16 Jos was approached to consider applying for presidency of the BCS. Having been a fellow for several years, he decided to do so – it was he felt a chance to promote IT even more widely. His focus whilst BCS president and chair of trustees, was on changing the perception of IT from being an engineering discipline, a utility, mostly about ‘programming and technology’, to be a business-focussed profession of major strategic importance that would appeal to people from all walks of life. His chosen theme for his presidency, and one he still feels passionately about, was IT apprenticeships – at every level, for everyone. Among other initiatives, he launched the Register of IT Technicians, a formal accreditation for apprentices which enjoyed both industry and government backing and is growing from strength to strength.
Since leaving Hampshire, Jos now works independently as a digital consultant and advisor, undertaking varied and short assignments such as strategy development, coaching, research, recruitment, trouble-shooting IT projects and contracts, advising on marketing, and cyber resilience planning. Within 3 years he had helped over 150 organisations from all sectors, from start-ups to the largest businesses, councils, universities, professional bodies and central government departments. He supports many organisations as a retained strategic advisor and associate.
He also lectures for a range of universities and is an experienced non-Executive director, including working for the Department for International Trade Risk and Audit Committee. With around a dozen clients at any one time, this portfolio work plenty of diversity, which suits him. One of his first roles was as principal analyst for the Eduserv Executive Briefing Programme (having been a trustee of Eduserv, a not for profit IT business). This gave him the chance to undertake a range of research projects into the value that IT could bring to the public sector. He is also a fellow of the Society of IT Management and associate director.
Having managed large-scale departments with all the HR, financial control, project discipline and account management, he now has no intention of establishing a larger consultancy business by taking on staff. The variety of work, assignment, organisations and research projects plays to his strengths, whilst keeping up to date with technology developments and maintaining a public profile.
Apprenticeships can provide scope for better integration of academic learning and practical experience. Apprenticeships should be broadened to provide a genuine alternative to a university education and need to be given the same status.
IT professionals are recognising that their roles are not just technical: recent corporate and political abuses of data and the introduction of measures like GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation) emphasise the need for greater digital literacy and individual awareness. Government, professional bodies like BCS, IT practitioners and technology businesses have a collective responsibility here regarding the ethical use of digital technology.
Outside the academic sector, technology should be about solving problems, social and economic, not just technology innovation. In business and in government, ‘innovative use of technology’ is better than ‘innovative technology’.
Ethics will play a growing role for IT professionals, given the growing risks and dependencies on IT. Cyber threats, use of AI (Artificial Intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things), machine learning, IT in health, and robotics all pose huge opportunities but also today at least risks and uncertainties. Ploughing on regardless in the interests of IT innovation is irresponsible without consideration of the ethics and the impacts.
IT can be a major force for good in protecting the planet, our way of life, our security, our democracy and our health and wellbeing. But we all need to take more responsibility and learn more from past mistakes (such as protecting personal data and promoting digital inclusion). With effective leadership from government, business and academics, it will be feasible to establish the necessary control and regularities without stifling innovation. This will help to ensure that the on-going transition to a digital way of life is managed in an intelligent, inclusive and sensitive fashion. The respective roles of governance, regulation and technology development need to be very carefully balanced moving forward, avoiding a polarisation of power that is not in the interests of communities and individuals.
IT professionals now have a dynamic and far reaching role that extends well beyond technology, because IT fundamentally influences the way that we develop our society. This is a tremendously exciting time to be working in IT, especially for those just setting out.
When you study, don’t just do something that gets you a qualification, do something because you want to. You’ll be a lot happier, and probably as rich in the long term.
A diverse personal background helps to be successful in IT projects, because you have to envisage the different ways that people approach and use IT, accommodate different business and social cultures and perceptions. IT developed without empathy is likely to create white elephants.
Play to your strengths. Individuals perform better within their comfort zone: specialist technology roles will suit some people better rather than IT management roles.
There is no ‘silver bullet’ that prepares one to be a CIO but mentoring and coaching are invaluable. Allow people to make mistakes and learn from them, avoiding a blame culture where nobody can be seen to fail. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but understand it’s a political role, so negotiation and advocacy skills need to sit alongside technology capability.
Technology is not an end in itself; look beyond it to see how things could be done differently. Lateral thinking, problem solving, and creativity are critical skills for future IT leaders.
Stop projects if they are not working; recognise when the barriers to delivery are too significant. Encourage early reporting of issues and failures.
Recognise that digital leadership is not necessarily a job for techies and programmers: digital leaders are business-driven and can recognise both the wider opportunities as well as the risks of implementing technology. Moreover, you do not need to have been brought up with technology.
Interviewed by: Jonathan Sinfield on the 23rd May 2018 at the WCIT Hall
Transcribed by: Susan Hutton
Abstracted by: Ema Fryer