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“The best leaders focus on empowering their people to perform at their best”: Meet the Irish IOC

By Mia Hunt on 05/26/2022 | Updated on 05/26/2022

Lowry, who was Director of Shared Services and ICT Strategy for the Northern Ireland Executive before becoming Chief Information Officer for the Republic of Ireland in 2016, talks to GGF about Ireland’s search app much-copied COVID contacts, of Estonia’s ‘quadruple matrix’, and its most prized possession

What attracted you to a career in public service?

I guess a more appropriate question would be what kept me in public service for so long! The answer is that the enormous scope of the civil service means that we are always working on something new and exciting. It’s also incredibly rewarding to see the positive impact your work has on the people you serve.

What have you accomplished in your career that you are most proud of?

As a “veteran” of public service, I can be proud of many things. I guess if I had to pick a few, he would be leading the build of IT Assist, the Northern Ireland Public Service ICT Shared Services Center which has been recognized as a role model by Gartner and has won many numerous awards, including an Ireland Quality Award and two Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For awards. More recently being part of Ireland’s pandemic response, in particular leading the development of our contact tracing app and digital COVID certificate system, has been exhausting but truly worthwhile; especially when Ireland topped the Bloomberg Covid Resilience Ranking in the fall of 2021.

If you could introduce one civil service reform, what would it be?

I think we need to be more like the private sector in terms of results orientation, management and reporting. In other words, we need to track the most important things we do for our audience and use innovation to constantly improve the quality and value for money they deliver. When I ran IT Assist, we had an ever-evolving service improvement plan and several measured outcomes to demonstrate how we are constantly improving our range of services, quality and responsiveness. Imagine if we applied such an approach to health, education, climate, etc.

Which official – past or present – ​​do you most admire and why?

My first boss, Jenny Johnston. Jenny taught me that the best leaders simply focus on inspiring and empowering their people to perform at their best. If you can make it the cultural engine of an organization, it can accomplish amazing things.

From which country does the civil service inspire you the most and why?

There are several but I think I would choose Estonia. I love the concept of a “quadruple matrix” where government, academia, business and society combine to drive deep digital transformation and Estonia, I think, is an example of that.

Are there any projects or innovations in Ireland that could be useful to your peers overseas?

We made it! Our contact tracing app has been adapted by several other countries, including Scotland, Gibraltar and New Zealand. Additionally, we have been invited by the OECD to speak to other countries about the work that Ireland has done in data governance and open data, which has resulted in us being recognized as one of the most avant-garde countries in terms of data transparency and reuse.

What attributes do you value most in people?

Integrity and dynamism, two essential elements for civil servants. I have been fortunate to work with many people, including government ministers, who have had both.

Which three famous people, living or dead, would you most like to invite to a dinner party?

I’m really interested in the role that personal values ​​can play in motivation, choice making and success. So my three guests would be CS Lewis, Martin Luther King and Margaret Thatcher. Mrs Thatcher would be a controversial choice, I suppose. I didn’t agree with a lot of the things she did but I was always intrigued by her utter conviction as to why she was doing them; so it would definitely be a lively conversation!

What is your most valuable asset?

My late father’s signet ring. He was someone who simply wanted to leave the world a better place than when he found it and all of his actions and behaviors towards friends, colleagues, family and others were consistent with that. He was a true hero to me and an inspiration to many.

What was the first piece of music you bought?

The first (which I own anyway) was The Slider by T. Rex. I still love him today. Music has always played a big part in my life and hardly a day goes by that I don’t listen to something on my commute, at the gym, or when I’m relaxing at home.

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