Irish Government CIO reveals hints about areas of focus

24 Jun 2013

Bill McCluggage, Irish Government CIO. Photo via Bill McCluggage's Twitter account

Newly appointed Irish Government CIO Bill McCluggage has said more metrics are needed before deciding on whether to outsource Government IT services.

Making his first public presentation since announcing his appointment in May, the CIO explained he is responsible for technology expenditure in the public sector, and he said his remit also involves driving implementation of cloud computing and e-government strategies.

Speaking at an ‘Unlocking Big Data’ event hosted by EMC and Enterprise Ireland this morning, McCluggage’s presentation steered away from making too many specific commitments about his role. Among the largely neutral comments, however, he offered some hints as to where his focus might lie as he gets to grips with the job over the coming months.

“I think outsourcing has its place to play, but at the moment I don’t see any metrics in place where I could make a value judgment as to whether to outsource, insource or even move to some other areas,” he said.

He referred to Vivek Kundra, the US government CIO appointed by US President Barack Obama, who introduced the Federal IT dashboard in 2009 to improve public transparency around the country’s budget and spending decisions.

“I think we can investigate an IT dashboard so we can get some metrics in place around the cost to serve. We [tend to] look at the cost to acquire, and ‘here’s how much the project cost us’, but we don’t turn around and look at the total running cost of an application or service downstream,” McCluggage said.

“So yes, outsource, but only on the basis of a value judgment you can make because you’ve got data that it’s a better place you’re going to, and not a worse place.”

He made the remarks in the context of addressing the silo mentality which can prevail in governments. “I’ve seen a series of organisations in a number of places – I was CIO in Northern Ireland and we were confronted at that point with the same dilemma of how various silos were generating the same systems over and over again. You could go out and have 12 or 15 organisations doing the same thing.”

Government transparency

McCluggage said he was “a big admirer” of Tim O’Reilly, the technology publisher and Government 2.0 advocate, who has argued for a single platform on an open and transparent Government environment.

McCluggage also suggested social media can play a role in government, pointing out that he is one of the few in his organisation who has a Twitter account – in fact, he announced his appointment as CIO on his own Twitter feed before the department had issued the official press release.

“But then, I come with that legacy, don’t I, and I wouldn’t call it baggage; I would call it a modern view of how to interact with people. But I think the Government is moving quite rapidly in many instances. Is there room to accelerate? Yes. Setting up YouTube sites and a new way of how government interacts with the customer – is there a place for so there’s a new interaction with the citizen? Probably. Will it happen tomorrow? No. Will we be able to build it? Yes.”

McCluggage also revealed he has met with Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, to discuss the possibility of data sharing between agencies and departments. He said he was in favour of “appropriate, proportionate, sharing of information with a purpose that is registered.”

Addressing the opportunity for big data, he said: “I can see a need for it in Government to be be looked at and there’s not that much I’ve seen yet looking at that. There are some useful areas in agriculture and revenue. Justice is another area where I’m going to take a closer look.”

Closing his presentation, he quoted lines from one of his favourite movies, The Shawshank Redemption. “I guess it comes down to a simple choice: you get busy living, or you get busy dying. And I’m on the living side. I think big data is in that space where [we can] exploit it for economic benefit – Ireland’s got a fantastic place because of its energy, its companies, and I think we should get on being busy living rather than sitting back and waiting for this.”

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic