He's a former executive from one of the largest IT firms in the world, and now he has one of the most crucial CIO jobs in the public sector. His boss, the head of one of the Western world's oldest and most important democracies, hopes his private-sector know-how and professionalism will rub off on the bureaucracies he is charged with running.

Most would assume we're talking about Mark Forman, the first e-government czar in the Bush administration, but the man in question is Ian Watmore, who since September 2004, has been the first CIO ever for the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Tony Blair officially named Watmore as such on May 25, 2004, to head the new e-Government Unit, which replaced the four-year-old Office of the e-Envoy. That office, under the direction of Andrew Pindar, was created to put the UK government online.

With that effort considered successfully completed, the door opened for a more strategic decision-making role to bolster government transformation using IT, Watmore explained during an interview in Washington, D.C. In town in June to meet with his American counterpart -- Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and IT -- and before heading to Ottawa to confer with Canada's acting CIO, Helen McDonald, Watmore added that he, like his North American colleagues, has been tasked with formulating IT policies and strategies which are governmentwide in scope, extract efficiencies through greater consolidation of IT services and align with government reforms.

But for Watmore, there's an even more fundamental task at hand. "The first thing I'm trying to do is get the term CIO properly understood," he said. "My position is helping board level executives make strategic decisions. I want to get the concept of the CIO established in the UK government. In some areas it's understood. In other areas, they are coming to realize the importance of the position."

Spending Big on IT

Watmore, 50, is quiet but confident, and was chief of operations for Accenture UK prior to his government appointment. Although his career has been in the private sector, he worked on government IT projects for nearly eight years, learning how the British public sector deployed and managed IT. The lessons he learned will go far as he assumes the responsibilities of one of the most IT-intensive public sectors in the world.

The UK government invests more in technology than any other European country, according to Kable, a British research firm. This year, the UK public sector will spend approximately $25.5 billion on IT, most of which will go toward e-government applications and back office infrastructure. The UK also spends far more on consulting and outsourcing -- 37 percent -- than does the rest of Europe -- 16 percent.

At first glance, the UK appears to have invested wisely, especially in terms of e-government. Accenture's global surveys of e-government have consistently put Britain in the top five. But as Watmore points out, his country's high scores have to do with the breadth of e-government services. "We score less well on depth," he said. The UK has some successful transactional services, such as online tax filings, which are now at a 20 percent adoption rate, and Londoners who have to pay the famous traffic congestion fee can also do so online.

To boost online service capabilities, the national government has launched DirectGov, which Watmore describes as a destination site for public-sector services, compared to America's federal government's FirstGov.gov, which acts more as a portal. DirectGov, which has received more than 1 million visitors since its launch in 2004, is based on what Watmore calls a franchise model, with self-services grouped around citizen needs, not government programs. But critics say far more must be done to encourage adoption.

Watmore acknowledges the problem and is focusing efforts on moving beyond critical mass to having a majority of citizens use