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UKCloud poaches National Crime Agency CIO Gerry Cantwell

The National Crime Agency’s (NCA) chief information officer, Gerry Cantwell, has become the latest government IT director to join UKCloud.

Cantwell joins the service provider as the chief technology officer of its defence and national security division, following a 34-year-stint as a civil servant. Cantwell worked at GCHQ for 26 years, before joining the Ministry of Defence as director of information systems in 2013 and then moving to the NCA in 2015.

In his new role, Cantwell has been tasked with overseeing the defence and national security product and services team. The appointment comes as UKCloud, which specialises in public sector technology, attempts to expand its work at the “secure end” of government.

Speaking to NS Tech, Cantwell acknowledged that the security services have traditionally been eager to retain sensitive data on premises and in some cases behind armed guards. “Although there are some risks,” he said, “there are some real advantages of moving to the cloud [in terms of security]. The time between a vulnerability being known to a vendor and it being patched is much faster.”

Reports emerged earlier this year that the Government Digital Service was planning to roll back its “cloud first” policy. But Cantwell said the plans had not yet had a material impact: “The move to the cloud is at the forefront of most CIOs’ agendas, alongside a bunch of other things. It is certainly one of those directions of travel that most public sector organisations are heading in.”

Cantwell is just the latest government IT director to move to UKCloud, which has grown significantly as Whitehall has attempted to transform how it buys technology through the creation of national frameworks such as G Cloud and Spark.

Over the last two years, UKCloud has hired several technology directors from the Government Digital Service and NHS Digital. There are strict rules governing the movement of civil servants to the private sector. A key concern is that suppliers could use job offers to bribe buyers into signing contracts; Cantwell confirmed he had not worked with UKCloud in any of his previous roles.

The public sector has also been on a hire spree for industry executives. “When you get to senior levels in HMG there is a trend at the moment to be looking outside for CIOs,” Cantwell said. “So if you look at most of the big government departments, they have recruited from industry rather than internally from the public sector. I knew that was a trend and my next step was probably outside.”

According to the former civil servant, there is a need in government to have a blend of the “different ways of working”. Hiring people who operate at the pace of the private sector can be beneficial, he added, so long as they don’t “bash up against the system”, and expect it to be “much more flexible than it is”.

“There are good examples of people taking the time to understand the system and how to work within the system and how to influence it and make best use of it.”