Search for a government CTO ‘a right mess,’ Hudson says

Ian Apperley says “The thing that disturbed me about the job description was that it didn’t have the feel of independence."

Communications Minister Clare Curran’s bid to hire a chief technology officer (CTO) for the nation started with a lot of fanfare and happy tweets featuring Rod Drury.

But it has devolved into what National’s communications spokesman, Brett Hudson, calls “a right mess.”

Certainly, it’s become difficult to discern how the process will pan out, or even when.

No deadline
Earlier today, Ms Curran’s office told NBR there was now no deadline for releasing a shortlist of candidates for the position, which will pay $400,000 per year, plus $100,000 in expenses.

On February 12, the industry had been expecting a shortlist.

Instead, Ms Curran dropped the bombshell that none of the 60 candidates had been successful. The search would be widened, which most in the industry saw as code for “start looking at offshore candidates.”

It became something of a dismal parlour game to guess who had applied, only to learn they hadn't made the cut (NBR only found two who would cheerfully admit it).

“The minister is focused on recruiting a trophy role and not taking real action to remove constraints to success for the industry,” Mr Hudson says.

Whether you think the government needs a CTO or not – and it’s notable National also went into the last election with a Rod Drury-infused policy to recruit a GCTO – “the recruitment for it has appeared a right mess,” Mr Hudson says.

“The minister doesn’t appear to have undertaken any sort of market test to determine if there are people suitably qualified and interested in the role.

“As a result, she effectively told 60 of our top ICT professionals that they aren’t up to the job. Meanwhile, no one whom she believes is capable of the job appears to want it. That might say more about ICT industry and general business support for the role than Chris Hipkins rattling off a few names.”

Question Time stoush
That Chris Hipkins reference refers to a stoush in Parliament, as Mr Hudson quoted an NBR op-ed by NBR contributor Ian Apperley (Mr Hipkins was standing in for Ms Curran, who was absent from the House), and pressed for detail on the GCTO search.

Whether the National MP was making a frank attempt to glean more information on the hiring process, or simply looking to embarrass the government is in the eye of the beholder (see the video and Hansard transcript below).

Certainly, the exchange is not that illuminating. Mr Hudson takes a cheeky dig at Ms Curran by asking if she discussed the CTO role with Carol Hirschfeld. Mr Hipkins’ list of people he says would disagree with Mr Hudson includes the mysterious “Chris Kiehl.”

'A status quo role'
For his part, Mr Apperley says the government should have been able to find a qualified local candidate in its first round of searching.

The failure to do so points to a process that was too vague – perhaps because the government is unsure itself what it wants – or that a job description that was not worded to attract the right candidate.

Mr Apperley did not apply.

But he did take a look at the job description, and says, “The thing that disturbed me about the job description was that it didn’t have the feel of independence. The person in that role had to talk to every man and his dog before making statements. That would not work for me."

It has more of a feel of a status quo role than agent provocateur position, he says.

So, even if the government does find the right candidate, there's no guarantee they will actually be able to effect any change. And exhibit A here has to be chief science officer Sir Peter Gluckman, who reports directly to the prime minister but has seen his views on everything from overweight kids to climate change politely acknowledged, then ignored.

Asked for an update on the hiring process today, Ms Curran said, “There’s always progress being made but nothing newsworthy at this stage.”

RAW DATA: Hudson v Hipkins (Question Time, April 10, via Hansard)

11. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister for Government Digital Services: Does she agree with the comment made by ICT veteran and expert in the industry, Ian Apperley, who said "when you read the Government's chief technology officer job description it occurs to me that making the role effective is probably impossible. It is largely waffly which means the Government may not know what it wants"; if not, why not?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister for Government Digital Services [Clare Curran]: No, because the Government has clearly articulated what it expects from the chief technology officer.

Brett Hudson: Does she agree with the comments of Mr Apperley, who said, "Creating an environment where the industry can flourish is simple: normalise the procurement processes, speed up the legislative process, open overseas markets, stop thinking you know best, stop thinking you're the leader, and start thinking about how to create an environment in which the technology business can flourish—and we don't need a $500,000 person to tell us that."?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No. The Government does believe that there is a role for leadership in this space, and that is why we're employing a chief technology officer.

Brett Hudson: If she doesn't agree with the comments of Mr Apperley, a 25-year veteran of the industry, can she confirm that she is now holding meetings, both formal and informal, that could be construed as the Minister headhunting for this position?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In respect to the first part of the question I can say that there are a number of people who would disagree, including Rod Drury, who's made comments in favour of it; Don Christie, who's made comments in favour of it; the McGuiness Institute; Chris Kiehl; Craig Walker; and many others who are in favour of the Government's decision to employ a chief technology officer. I also note that a previous Minister proposed a chief technology officer role: that was one Simon Bridges.

Brett Hudson: Has she held any meetings, formal or informal, breakfast or otherwise, with Carol Hirschfeld regarding the position?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Clearly, no.

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