ACT poaches Kiwi for new chief digital officer role

By Stephen Easton

Monday July 13, 2015

The ACT government is bringing over New Zealander Jon Cumming to be its new chief digital officer next month, while elsewhere in Canberra, six federal agencies search for CIOs.

Cumming will report directly to the head of the territory’s public service, Kathy Leigh, and brings experience as an ICT leader both in private sector firms and the New Zealand government, where he is currently CIO at the Department of Corrections.

In an email on Friday, Leigh told public servants the new CDO would work in co-operation with the ACTPS Strategic Board on a “vision” for the future of ICT in the government, covering policy change, investment decisions and capacity building.

“As Chief Digital Officer, Jon will drive our digital agenda and lead the whole-of-government digital strategic direction to ensure that our ACT Public Service is digitally innovative, dynamic and capable in its service to the community,” said Leigh, in words echoing those of chief minister Andrew Barr.

The newly created role is also expected to strengthen Canberra’s digital economy by promoting digital skills, digital arts and “digital spaces” in the community.

Cumming said he was keen to find opportunities for collaboration with his counterparts in other jurisdictions and the federal government’s new Digital Transformation Office boss, Paul Shetler, who comes to his new job from the United Kingdom. The clever Kiwi also focused on what he could do for citizens:

“The ACT Government is already creating a leading digital city that is proactively embracing technology as a way to improve the lives of its citizens. I am looking forward to the opportunity to bring my experience to Canberra, to help shape and deliver on the key priorities of the ACT Digital Strategy.

“The digital revolution can make people’s lives better. My role as CDO is to facilitate the community’s digital knowledge, to take them on a journey and change mindsets about the infinite possibilities, wonderment and experiences that a truly connected city and world offers.”

When he starts on August 17, Cumming will work within the central Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, which is run by Leigh and also houses the Government Information Office, formerly headed up by Michael Chisnall, who left in February and is now consulting and undertaking doctoral research in “socio-technology” at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.

It’s not clear at this stage how the new CDO’s role will click together with the GIO, which was established in 2011 to “provide across-government advice and coordin­a­tion on ICT issues and release of gov­ern­ment inform­a­tion” according to its website, or even if the GIO is still in operation. The GIO website, which remains online but looks abandoned, adds:

“The Government Information Office plays an import­ant role in Whole of Government ICT/IM strategy, eGov­ern­ment, in help­ing real­ise the ACT Government’s com­mit­ment to Open Government and to sup­port­ing innov­a­tion in the use of web 2.0 tech­no­lo­gies across the government.”

The ACT’s CDO appointment follows the Western Australian government’s move to create a whole-of-government CIO earlier this year. Former Department of State Development director-general Giles Nunis is acting in the position while a permanent CIO is found.

February saw the departure of the South Australian government’s last whole-of-government CIO Bret Morris amid a major purge of senior public servants, and the re-styling of his position within the premier’s department as “director of digital government” at a slightly lower level.

While the federal government found Shetler in the UK, where he was a senior executive at the Government Digital Service that inspired the DTO, and the ACT’s search for a CDO took it across the Tasman, six other Canberra-based agencies are still in the process of finding the right candidates for their own key ICT jobs.

The Attorney-General’s Department, Australian Taxation Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Department of Immigration and Border Protection and Australian Crime Commission are all looking for permanent CIOs at the moment.

Correction: This article originally said Michael Chisnall headed up the ACT Government Information Office, based on an ACT government website, but this was incorrect. He left the position in February. 

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