TechnologyProfile: Ian Watmore, new head of e-government

Profile: Ian Watmore, new head of e-government

When Ian Watmore, managing director of Accenture, the highest profile management consultants in the world, was appointed head of e-government last week, the first question that sprang to mind is what music would be a fitting accompaniment to the new job.

He may have chosen to play Pink Floyd’s A momentary lapse of reason, but that might not put him in the best frame of mind to face the job.

A self-confessed punk during his time at Trinity College, Cambridge, and an acknowledged fan of the Floyd, Watmore has revealed as much about his musical tastes as his work when giving newspaper interviews.

But perhaps what that really uncovers, is that Watmore knows how to relax, and finding relaxation will be crucial once he takes up the new post.

Not that the old one was any easier. As UK MD of Accenture, he was part of the leadership that headed the business as it acrimoniously split from Arthur Andersen to go through one of the biggest rebranding projects in corporate history, and if that wasn’t enough, go public with a launch on the New York Stock Exchange.

Exhausted? The Accenture executives must be, and it is no wonder Watmore wanted a change. But it’s unlikely he will have time to relax. Head of e-government looks on the surface like a poisoned chalice. Prestigious – but almost guaranteed to provide a bumpy ride, if not the prospect of outright disaster and failure.

Watmore, though, must be one of the most qualified people for the post.

Accenture, and its previous guise Andersen Consulting, has been closely involved in government IT projects for years. Indeed Accenture recently won a £2bn contract to install and run electronic patient records for the NHS. But the company has also had its trials with government, and on that note it’s worth mentioning the irony that is the infamous national insurance recording system project.

Countless House of Commons committees slated the project as it ran behind time and over budget. In a 2002 interview with Accountancy Age, Watmore acknowledged that the job had been ‘difficult’. But crucially he added: ‘We’ve turned a difficult contract into a real value-added contract for both sides.’ Accenture took three years of losses, but believes it now has systems it can roll out across Whitehall.

So what Watmore has in spades is knowledge of how Whitehall works – quite simply because he’s been watching it for years. And of course he has private sector experience of managing big IT projects – a factor which fulfils the government’s current preference for corporate leaders.

But don’t expect him to stick around for long. Pay levels for his new job reach only £190,000 – far less than he can earn in the private sector.

In a Guardian interview, he said: ‘When a piece of work is finished you want to move on and allow it to stand up to scrutiny. That’s when the value can be seen. If you stay too long it can all come back to haunt you.’

Presumably then, there will come a time when he will be playing the Floyd hit Run like hell.

Email Gavin_Hinks@vnu.co.uk.

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