A former IBM executive has been appointed to lead a new central digital and data office within UK government, with responsibility for 18,000 tech employees across Whitehall departments.

Joanna Davinson, who worked for the American tech giant for over 30 years, has been appointed executive director of the central digital and data office (CDDO), and will report directly to Alex Chisholm, chief operating officer for the Civil Service and permanent secretary for the Cabinet Office.

She will be responsible for setting the strategy and vision for digital and data as the country looks ahead to new opportunities, including tackling coronavirus and rebuilding the economy.

Paul Willmott, Chief Digital Adviser for LEGO Brands Group, one of the UK’s most experienced digital executives and thought leaders, takes up the role of chair of the new CDDO division whilst Tom Read, who has led the Ministry of Justice’s digital team, has been installed as the first permanent chief executive of the Government Digital Service (GDS) since Kevin Cunnington departed in July 2019.

Together, they will be responsible for shaping and delivering the government’s innovation and transformation strategies to overhaul legacy IT systems, strengthen cyber security, improve capability, and ensure the government can better leverage data and emerging technologies.

Davinson – who joined the Home Office as chief digital and data officer in 2017 after leaving IBM – said it is an “honour and a privilege to be chosen to lead the government DDaT profession and community, and to have the opportunity to shape government digital, data and technology on a national scale”.

She said: “I am looking forward to working with department chief digital information officers and their teams and with other colleagues across government, to develop and deliver the strategies and plans that enable the UK to lead the way in serving its citizens by being one of the most digitally advanced governments in the world.”

Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office, Julia Lopez MP said: “I’m delighted to announce these three impressive appointments, whose mix of skills and experience will enhance our digital, data and technology leadership capability and make real our ambition to deliver the public with better, more personalised public services that will enhance our reputation as the world’s most digitally-advanced government.

Paul Willmott said: “This is an exciting and important moment for digital government in the UK. There is a clear mission to establish the UK as global leader in digital government and to provide citizens with better services. The ambition and challenges are substantial but, from what I’ve seen, we have both the capabilities and determination to succeed. I’m delighted to be able to help.”

Tom Read added: “To have the opportunity to lead Government Digital Service into its next era is incredibly exciting and one that I cannot wait to get started on. Never has it been more important to build, deliver and support services that are fundamentally based on the needs of our users. I look forward to delivering a refreshed focus on the development and delivery of digital products and services underpinned by strong digital standards.”