"On the outside you think government is slow" – What's it like being seconded to Whitehall from the private sector?

Beyond the comfort zone: Andrew Rogoyski, head of cyber security services at global IT supplier CGI, tells Civil Service World about an eye-opening secondment working on cyber security in the Cabinet Office

By Civil Service World

01 Oct 2015

While working as security sector lead at electronics engineering firm Roke Manor Research, Andrew Rogoyski was approached by his bosses. The firm realised that it needed to improve its understanding of how government worked. “The government might like to think it can influence the cyber world, but in reality, it is driven by the tech giants,” he says. “We wanted to contribute to that process.”

On moving to his new role – on secondment as senior policy adviser in the Cabinet Office’s Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance, Rogoyski was impressed – and more than a little surprised. “The thing that impressed me was the intellectual capacity I came across. There were some very clever people solving some extremely hard problems. That was an eye opener. Sometimes on the outside you think government is slow moving. To some extent that’s true, but I didn’t realise the extent of the pace and vigour that was going on.”

However, Rogoyski was less impressed by what he defines as a lack of understanding in Whitehall of how the private sector works. “You take a UK-centric view as a civil servant and assume you can influence companies dealing with information technology but don’t understand these firms are operating globally and have to balance the competing interests of many national governments. I had to explain that quite brutally – they had to understand how difficult it is for private sector to only care about one country’s views.”

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Happily, Rogoyski says his advice was taken on the chin, and a two-way flow of knowledge soon began. He says: “The relationship was very good-natured and respectful – the information I contributed was used in the office, and the things I learnt helped me in my role running the cyber group at industry group techUK.”

The experience has helped Rogoyski understand the challenges faced by civil servants and made him less quick to judge slow progress. “I think one of the things that struck home was that, from the outside, one can fall into the trap of thinking that governments are directive and what they say happens,” he says. “When you are in the inside, you see how much it has to be about influencing stakeholders and colleagues, rather than direction. On the outside it looked foot-dragging but you could see why things sometimes take a while.”

After a year in the role, Rogoyski was poached for a new position as vice president of cyber security services at his current employer, ICT supplier CGI UK. But he says he would be happy to return to the public sector if the right role ever became available. He says: “I genuinely would recommend more people do the exchange and that people in the private sector work in government for a while and then go back – and vice versa.”

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