ICS CIO Profile - Barry Lowry, Irish Government CIO

This month we've been speaking to Barry Lowry about his role as the Irish Government's Chief Information Officer.

Lowry is a Fellow of the Irish Computer Society and a member of the ICS CIO Advisory Board.

Name:  Barry Lowry, CIO, Irish Government
Bio:  Barry has spent over thirty five years working in ICT. He started as a Trainee Programmer in the Northern Ireland Civil Service and progressed through various roles to eventually become the Director of ICT Shared Services and Strategy for the NI Government.

Barry has been CIO for the Irish Government since April 2016 with the primary task of taking forward the Public Service ICT and eGovernment Strategies. These set out ambitions for developing the use of shared services, digital services and data to better serve the people of Ireland and ensure that Ireland is well-placed to benefit from European initiatives such as the Digital Single Market.

Barry is a Fellow of the Irish and British Computer Societies and is a former winner of the BCS Northern Ireland IT Professional of the Year. He was awarded an O.B.E. for services to the Northern Ireland Government and the Northern Ireland Computer Industry in 2017.

“It’s a bit of a cliché but being an IT leader genuinely is about making a difference,” said Lowry. “When you hear an MEP talk up one of your systems or sit in a room with ICT apprentices that your efforts have helped to recruit, it really keeps you passionate and motivated.

“I have been fortunate to be involved in a host of challenging ICT projects and initiatives including the first Northern Ireland Driver Licensing and Planning Application computer systems, the NI Animal and Public Health Information System and the creation of IT Assist, the award-winning ICT shared service centre.

“As Government CIO, I have been delighted with the ongoing successful implementation of the Public Service ICT and eGovernment Strategies, particularly the passing into law of the Data Sharing and Governance Bill, the Government’s sign-off of the Data Strategy, the growth of OGCIO’s Build to Share (Shared Services) initiative, the publication of the ICT Professionalisation Strategy and the recruitment of the first 34 Government ICT Apprentices. 

“I can attribute success I’ve had in my career to great mentoring and deciding to train in complementary skills that really broadened my confidence and capability; for example Occupational Psychology, Marketing, Accounting & Finance, and Social Sciences.

“The challenges that I have faced are the same as any CIO will face, i.e. it is not about the technology, it is about people, processes and culture – get those right and the technical part of business transformation is relatively easy.”

Leading the Government’s IT strategy

“Governments all around the world actually face the same challenges so our Public Service ICT Strategy is far from unique. In short it is about providing people with the (digital) services they need, in a safe and transparent way, at the time and place that suits them and using their device of choice. 

“To achieve that, and align with what the rest of Europe/the World are doing, there are plans to join up data, provide strong authentication, establish a single access portal, share more resources, build capability and get the appropriate governance and legislation in place.”

“It is virtually impossible to try things that might fail”

“There are several different challenges facing IT departments in the public sector compared with the private sector,” Lowry began. “Firstly, we have more legacy systems because throwing things away and starting again is not acceptable. Secondly, we have a much larger and more diverse customer base, including those with language difficulties and those who have not the technology nor the confidence to ‘go digital’. Consequently, genuine inclusivity is a key part of our plans. Thirdly, everything we do is subjected to so much scrutiny. It is virtually impossible to try things that might fail – which is often a key aspect of innovation. Finally, everything that Government does has an implication somewhere, which then needs to be managed, often politically; for example the implications of our plans for digital post on An Post revenue.”

When asked how return on investment of IT investments is measured in the public sector, Lowry said: “Government digital projects are underpinned by robust business cases, which are pored over by skilled economists, so we all have to be aware of why we are doing what we do.”

ICT-led business transformation

“The big driver that underpins everything is often improving service quality and convenience while reducing the costs of administration of services, if we do it right of course. Reducing the usage of ‘traditional’ face-to-face services gives us an opportunity to also re-think those services and do them even better if we can – hence my previous point about the focus on inclusivity.

“For our staff, we have developed a professionalisation strategy which tries to develop and evolve ICT skills but also enhances those skills with competences in leadership, business, project management, communication skills, among others. In government we are seeking to not just have IT experts, but experts in ICT-led business transformation.”

To be a CIO, develop your empathy and communication skills

As advice for those seeking to become a CIO, Lowry said: “If your prospective employer is seeking a CIO to manage tin and software licences, look elsewhere! Seriously, digital transformation is about culture. Changing culture is about being able to work with people right across the organisation and co-develop solutions and then articulate the change roadmap to the Board and other stakeholders. To do that, an aspiring CIO needs to develop their empathy, listening and communications skills. You also need to be aware of and accept that your technical competence will be less about depth and more about breadth.”

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