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July 12, 2022updated 09 Aug 2022 3:53am

New UK government CDO will have data sharing at the top of his agenda

The top digital post at Whitehall has been filled, and the new man will be busy when takes up the post.

By Matthew Gooding

The government has finally appointed a chief digital officer, with Mike Potter set to take up a position that was first advertised in 2019. Potter, who joins the civil service from Thames Water, will be tasked with overseeing the government’s digital ambitions and increasing the use of data to underpin decisions. Based on his previous experience, he is likely to be an advocate for sharing data between departments.

The UK government has appointed a new CDO after a three-year search. (Photo by georgeclerk/iStock)

Potter will start in his new post in the autumn, it was announced yesterday. He described being asked to take up the role as “an honour and privilege”, stating: “I’m delighted to be returning to public service at such an important time.

“I’m looking forward to working with colleagues across the civil service to continue to grow the digital skills we need for the future and deliver the roadmap for digital and data.”

The CDO role carries a salary of £190,000, and Potter will be responsible for a team of 200 civil servants at the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO).

“Mike will be harnessing the unprecedented opportunities for digital technologies and data across the Civil Service, strengthening UK government delivery both immediately and in the years to come,” said Alex Chisholm, Civil Service chief operating officer and permanent secretary for the Cabinet Office.

Who is the new UK government CDO?

Potter joins the CDDO from Thames Water, where he was most recently interim executive director for digital transformation and group CIO.

He previously worked in the public sector for 15 years, spanning roles at the Environment Agency, the NHS, the Cabinet Office and HM Revenue and Customs.

“He was very well respected at HMRC, and it was a bit of a surprise he wasn’t given the CDO role there,” says Rob Anderson, research director for public sector at GlobalData. “One of the interesting things is that he’s come from the private sector, stayed around in the public sector for a while, then he left and now he’s back again. That shows he’s committed to delivering public services.”

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What are the priorities for the new CDO?

The government has been on the lookout for a chief digital and information officer since 2019, with the job title subsequently being changed to CDO when the most recent search began earlier this year.

When unable to find a suitable candidate last year, the Cabinet Office set up the CDDO as a sub-division, to oversee government digital activities. It is chaired by Paul Willmott, chief digital adviser at Lego, and spearheaded on a day-to-day basis by Joanna Davinson, the former chief digital, data and technology officer at the Home Office. Davinson was appointed on an 18-month term and is expected to step down when Potter joins the team.

There have been “various guises of the role in the past,” Anderson says, “which will have made people outside of government uneasy to apply. It’s not an easy job because the Cabinet Office has often acted as if it has a mandate to make decisions on its own, but it can’t; it has to work by consensus.” He adds: “Mike has the experience in HMRC and the Cabinet Office, so he’s got the skills and the knowledge of how to do that.”

Anderson says that having buy-in at ministerial level will be key to how effective Potter can be in his new role. With a new prime minister to be appointed in September, it is likely a new cabinet will follow too.

The GlobalData analyst added that Potter is likely to prioritise greater data sharing when he takes up his position. “One of the most pressing issues he’ll want to look at is how data is shared cross-government and encouraging ways to do that,” he says. “That’s one of the themes that is already coming out of CDDO, and Mike was pushing the API agenda when he was at HMRC. So I think that will be very high on his agenda.”

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Read more: UX and data top the government’s digital transformation agenda

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