Public Services

Changing times at HMRC

David Bicknell Published 15 September 2017

Mike Potter may have missed out on the permanent CDIO role at HMRC. But he leaves having achieved much, only losing out to Jacky Wright whose strong GE CIO background says as much about her as her Microsoft label


I was at a social event about six months ago and got talking to one of the attendees, who worked in the higher echelons of Whitehall.

We discussed forthcoming vacancies in government departments and considered the forthcoming vacancy for a Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO) at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

"You should keep your eye on Mike Potter," he told me. "He's highly regarded. Very highly regarded."

Yesterday, I was thinking of that when I watched Potter make an excellent keynote presentation at techUK's PS2030 event in London. If he was nervous - and given subsequent events during the day, it was understandable - it didn't show.

At that stage, Potter was still interim CDIO and no decision on the job's new "permanent" holder had yet (publicly) been made, though it was clear one was imminent. By around 2pm, it had emerged that, just like his predecessor as an interim CDIO at HMRC, Mark Hall, Potter was not going to be confirmed in the job, and the new CDIO turned out to be someone not so much out of left field, but more like three left fields away. It seems the interim CDIO at HMRC never gets to wear the crown.

The initial reaction after the techUK event was surprise that HMRC's new CDIO, Jacky Wright, currently works for a vendor, and one of the largest at that: Microsoft. What does that mean for HMRC's strategy and for other suppliers' prospects, they wondered.

But look behind the vendor connection and you can see that Wright has a very strong chief information officer (CIO) background at some of the world's most influential industrial organisations.

Prior to joining Microsoft as VP for IT Strategic Services, Wright was a VP/CIO functions at BP for three years. Before that, she spent 21 months as CIO at Momentive Performance Materials, formerly GE Advanced Materials, and subsequent to that, CIO of Advanced Materials within GE, and also four years at GSS Industrial.

In other words, she has a long track record as a CIO at GE, one of the highest profile and successful industrial companies in the world. Oh, and she's also spent the last seven years at Microsoft in Seattle. That looks like a pretty impressive CV, and Wright obviously struck a chord with the recruiters and top management at HMRC.

A couple of fair-minded vendors I spoke to earlier put Wright's recent Microsoft background into context. They stressed that while it might be a concern when a department appoints a senior official who has been recently employed by a vendor with whom they will (inevitably) hold large contracts, any civil servant has to follow the Civil Service Code and integrity and impartiality is at the heart of that.

Another pointed out that in every organisation there are people who have to work for a competitor and have changed company. But they arrived offering balanced, pragmatic views, with the best interests of their new employer at heart.

Another vendor argued out that although there could be concerns about a Microsoft executive coming into a government department, there are probably more upsides as it could drive accelerated levels of innovation and transformation which would be good news for all suppliers.

That said, it was also suggested some could take a dim view were the so-called "exam question" involve Microsoft and Wright's solution to any legacy issue be, for example, Azure.

Wright starts her new role on October 16 and her early moves will be eagerly scrutinised. There will no doubt be a well-worn path of public sector IT show organisers beating a path to HMRC's door, all keen to bag Wright's first 'keynote'. Meanwhile, Mike Potter will look forward to his new role as Director for Future Borders, working to Karen Wheeler with Jon Thompson's plaudits ringing his ears.

Thompson said, "I want to take this opportunity to thank Mike Potter for the invaluable contribution he has made, as interim CDIO and ExCom member for the past year. Among many other achievements, Mike successfully led the conclusion of the transition to exit the £10bn Aspire IT contract, building on the work of Mark Dearnley. This has been a hugely successful achievement which has brought us back control of our many IT services, as well as the skills needed to lead them.

"Far from standing still over the last 12 months, under Mike's leadership we have made fantastic progress towards our digital transformation ambition: we have our first regional centre in Croydon fully kitted out and ready for business; we are rolling out our internal digital strategy, recruiting digital ambassadors and our people can access a much-improved SAP service. We've also seen the value that Mike's team has brought recently in supporting the VOA to deliver their Check, Challenge and Appeal system -- all part of our commitment to providing individuals and businesses with top-notch digital services."

That's quite a "delivered" list. Over to you, Jacky!


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