Is Big Data leakage the new Asbestosis: uninsurable? If so ....

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There is a growing gulf between those who think insurers should give discounts to those who  follow "best information security practice" (whatever that is) and underwriters who have been burned by breaches at US retailers (for example) with supposedly "mature" approaches to security. "Cyber" is now routinely deleted from mainstream theft, business continuity, libel or product, professional or director's liability insurance and underwriter are more concerned whether the operation is at risk of a sophisticated attack using insiders (innocent or otherwise) to bypass technology-based defences.
Most of the policies on offer cover only the cost of implementing a pre-agreed incident management plan: e.g. to minimise the damage when customer data, content and intellectual property right are compromised or a network or cloud goes off air, whether as a result of criminal activity, terrorism or digititis. The reason is the cost of recent US data breaches: $200 per record compromised: to notify those at risk, reissue credit cards and make the changes necessary to retain PCI-DSS status. There is also a test case which implies that, in the absence of evidence of actual financial loss, $1,000 (or pounds) is a reasonable figure for the hassle and distress to an individual whose personal information has been compromised. Now consider the potential cost of a data hack on an organisation where the identity of the users, let alone their credit cards, personal records or transactions is sensitive - such as : AshleyMaddison.

For all the talk of "Big Data" being the new "Oil" and "Cloud" being the way forward, it is now almost impossible to get insurance cover for the potential third party risk taken on by those who accept liability. And why should any of us trust those who do not .[Hence also the big question mark over the value, if any, of identities issued or recognised by government

Now let us take a quick look at the murky world of product liability where software has long been excluded as 'service" not a product" but is increasingly embedded in products. The well-publicised use of hacking into an in-car entertainment system to take charge of many of the controls illustrates the risks now being run with the world of interconnected (and insecure) everything. No wonder insurers are steering well clear.

Meanwhile the value of using "Big Data" to support the current surge in on-line advertising has been called in question by reports showing that almost half is blocked and three quarters is designed for PC users while well over half the target audiences already spend most of their time using smart phones. The backlash is under way.

That message has yet to spread from insurers to the world of "Big Data" enthusiasts, eager to collect everything possible about current or would-be customers. But the EURIM (now DPA) studies before the 2010 election on the Unlocking the Value of Information and Security by Design are now most apposite. The current DPA exercise on the use of data minimisation routines for Age Verification has strong government, as well as growing industry support: see the Hansard report of the ministerial response on the second reading of Baroness Howe's Online Safety Bill 2015

The good news is that players like IBM and BT are making massive investments in security training and services, not just security technology. The figures for IBM are not public but BT already employs six times as many full time security staff (3,300 in total, 1,700 the Security Division) in as Google (500) and its Security Academy (lead sponsor of the Cyber Security Challenge schools challenge) is by far the UK's biggest "cybersecurity" trainer outside GCHQ and the Defence Academy.

Hence the importance of the Long Finance "Cyber Catastrophe Reinsurance" study to the wider "Digital" Community, not just to the participating insurers and those who work with them to help manage and reduce risk - as opposed to those who merely sell cyber-security snake oil to the rest of us.

Minister urges business parks to bypass BT and organise their own broadband

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On July 13th the House of Commons had another Broadband Debate, this time introduced by Dan Poulter, on how BT was meeting the numbers in the BDUK targets for Suffolk, but leaving a wave of complaints, particularly across his constituency, because of how it was doing so. I recommend you read the full account in Hansard.  It again illustrates the shortcomings of using government money to simply fund the extension of BT's 21CN network (designed over 20 years ago when X25, not IP, was expected to be the "future") to meet the needs of those being excluded from the Internet Age. The way in which engineers were moved to other counties as  soon as the targets were being met was probably because BT was resource limited. If so, that opens up the question of whether others could have filled the gap then, or now. If BT is still resource strapped (finance as well as people), that adds another dimension to the Ofcom review and also the CMA review into the BT-EE and O2-3 mergers (submissions due by 25th July).

The report in Thinkbroadband on the Suffolk debate illustrates how Waveney benefited from the initiative led by Peter Aldous but his intervention in Hansard on July 13th showed how annoyed he is that some of those who attended the meeting in Beccles at which he launched his broadband campaign, back in April 2011, have still not benefited - even though the nominal targets have been met.     

One of the issues has been the treatment of business customers. The response of the Minister, which I have paraphrased in the heading to this blog was:
"Business parks and industrial estates are also an issue that we negotiate regularly with BT. Again, the issue is somewhat balanced. It surprises me sometimes that business parks do not take it into their own hands to provide superfast broadband for tenants. The market is replete with numerous business suppliers of broadband. As we found from our business voucher scheme, which has connected 25,000 businesses, we have more than 600 registered suppliers all over the country that are more than willing to provide superfast broadband. Business broadband is a different beast from residential broadband."

Those who disagree with his analysis should contact the many would-be suppliers to help them with evidence to the Ofcom review.

P.S. I have been told that the Corporation of London has just issued an invitation to tender for a wifi concession two months ahead of schedule but now expects to take nine months over the process. Meanwhile other London councils, whose processes took less than three, will have their services operational.  I am awaiting details, including why the City is so different.

P.P.S. The majority of stockbrokers still show BT as a "buy" and I am not selling mine yet. I estimate the break up value to be well above the current share price - even though I am not sure it would be in the national interest!  
The Executive Summary of the Discussion Document for the Ofcom Strategic Review is 20 pages long and omits a key phrase from the main paper regarding the impact of regulation on investment "Whatever approach is adopted, its success or failure depends significantly on the trust investors place in the regulator. Investors value predictable and stable policy interventions:significant and poorly signaled changes of policy can damage investor confidence, and may increase the risk associated with new investments". It then goes on to ask: "What might be the most appropriate regulatory approach to the pricing of wholesale access to new and risky investments in enduring bottlenecks in the future?"

Five years ago the lack of trust in the UK telecoms market was indeed such that fund managers were not interested in anything other than bottleneck removal with a payback in months rather than years. Over the past couple of years that appears to have changed. I therefore begin this digest with a consideration of how that lack of trust came about - before I digest the executive summary with that specific question in mind.

The Ofcom executive summary begins with a contrast between the scene today and that when Ofcom did its previous market review, a decade ago. This prepares the ground for a possible reversion for a return to the regulatory priorities set by Bryan Carsberg and dropped by Ed Richards (my convention in this article is to use the names used the decisions were taken, not those they subsequently received). We have moved from monopoly regulation in 1984, through encouraging duopoly (leading to infrastructure competition) in 1991 under Oftel , back via "access regulation" (alias local loop unbundling) to infrastructure monopoly under Ofcom and now to the beginnings (over the past year) of genuine infrastructure competition (as new players began to exploit the opportunities opened up by the run-down of BT's investment and maintenance programmes). 

Directors and investors would benefit from a quick and dirty digest of the effect of those transitions on BT's capital spend and share price. It is unclear whether any lessons have really been learned"when a cryptic comment in the Ofcom executive summary says that when the effectiveness of the attempt to encourage "end to end competition ...  was shown to be limited, the emphasis shifted again to access based competition".
The attempt failed because the Cable Companies ran out of cash while trying to fight planning permissions through local authority planning processes. Meanwhile BT was galloping ahead with an ambitious capital investment programme to provide "full motion video" (the original definition of broadband) to every home by 2002. Then came the switch to local loop unbundling  to protect the US bond-holders of the now bankrupt cable companies (NTL filed under US law) and the "redefinition" of broadband to include "125k always on internet", (all the cable companies could guarantee nationally).
The consequence was a collapse in BT's share price from a peak of £15 at the start of 2000 to a plateau of about £1.50 - 2.00 (from 2002 - 2012) with a trough of under £1.00 when Ben Vervaayen left and Ian Livingston announced plans to cut capital and operational spend by nearly 25% in the period  2008/9 to 2012/13. Michael Rake then oversaw the decision to invest management time and shareholders' funds into content (Quad Play) rather than infrastructure (alias utility) services because he could not see how BT could make money out of the latter without political and regulatory changes that were then unlikely.  The price has since recovered to over £4.50 but Openeach is a said to be still heavily cross-subsidising the entry into content markets..

We can see the effect in the steady run down of BT's annual capital spend (net of overseas spend and/or government subsidy): from £3 million in 1998 (when the BT share price rose from just under £5.00 to over £9.00), rising to over £4 million in 2001, falling back to £2.5 million in 2002 (after the share price tanked), rising again to £3.25 million in 2007-8 before being cut to £2.5 and then £2.25 from 2010 onwards. 

Meanwhile fund managers around the world (but not in the UK) increasingly saw the value of investment in broadband as a utility. The world's most active on-line retail market (using the cheap consumer broadband enabled by BT's past investment) is now dominated by US players using off-shore data centres and paying little, if any UK tax. Meanwhile many of their erstwhile UK competitors have been crippled by expensive and slow business connectivity (the leased line legacy).
BT now accounts for less than half the annual investment in communications infrastructure, fixed and mobile are converging and both are suffering from congestion and overload (back haul as well as local access) at peak times in hot spots and not spots. Meanwhile the problems with local planning have still not been properly sorted - although active local opposition is now considerably more muted than a few years ago, when I blogged on the Midsomer Broadband Murders.

The good news is that, at long last, we have a credible government strategy to encourage and support the investment that is so badly needed and action is under way to address the planning problems that caused the failure of the duopoly policy over 20 years ago.  

Now to the challenges and options on which Ofcom wishes to receive inputs.

It sees four strategic objectives, each of which pose challenges:

1)    Incentives for investment and innovation, delivering widespread availability of services with a need  to look at the evolving technology investment scene in the context of the "challenges" of:

Universal broadband: where the current perceived need is for about a reasonably reliable 10mbps, including at peak times,  "to benefit from the most popular on-line services" - not "up to 10 mbps, let alone up to 2mbps

Superfast broadband:  with claims of "availability", whatever that means,  by 2017 still leaving many gaps, especially for SMEs.

Ultrafast Broadband: where debate is muddled by BT's "announcement that it would deliver speeds of up to 500 mbps to most of the UK within a decade" - this is presumable a reference to a technology that is likely to deliver such speeds only to those linked to their local cabinet via less than 150 metres of high grade copper. Given that fibre is now cheaper than copper (and less attractive to thieves)  this is not a very credible way forward.

Mobile cover and quality of service: in practice the need for "fibre to the femto" to handle the volumes, plus the problems with inner city, let alone rural, not spots (particularly within office buildings using modern claddings that are "resistant" to radio waves), plus the massive rise in traffic volumes (e.g. over 5 million Sky Go customers already accessing TV on their smart phones) means that a transformation in back haul investment will also be needed.    

There follows interesting sections on:

  • "Competition as a key enabler of investment and innovation with some contentious statements on the value of "access based competition" (e.g local loop unbundling and shared access dark fibre)  and "end to end competition  between telecom and cable operators operators in driving innovation and investment.
and on
  • "ensuring availability beyond commercial provision where it is unclear what role a regulator should play.
2)    Sustainable competition, delivering choice, quality and affordable prices

This is looked at under five headings

2.1) Promoting competition in fixed telecoms. Here the choices are perceived to be:

  • Continue with the current approach - i.e. evolving fudge as pressures change
  • Strengthen the current model of  functional separation - i.e. to better ensure that Openreach does not favour BT's content operations
  • Substantial deregulation and greater reliance on end-to-end competition  - hoping that head to head competition between quadplay operators and the grosing number of alternative network operators and shrinking number of resellers will not lead to a new set of customer lock-in and cartels
2.2) Sustaining effective competition in mobile

Ofcom, probably correctly, declines to comment on the impact of Gordon Browns's "removal" of £20 billion of potential investment funding from the industry (spectrum auctions) and the recent decisions of  Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom (EE) and Telefonica (O2) to withdraw from the UK market  when faced by the infrastructure investment needed to address urban and rural notspots  

2.3) Regulating to protect incentives for efficient investment

This section includes words on "risk adjusted rates of return" which are anathema to those of us who studied (albeit I did only subsidiary course at London Business School) regulatory economics under the late great Michael Beesley. Attempts to second guess incumbent players, let alone innovators, on "rates of return", acceptable or otherwise, are always doomed.  Meanwhile the rise and fall of BT's share price (and its current market valuation compared to those of, for example, Sky or ITV) indicates the views of the market.

2.4) Taking account of convergence

This section distinguishes  between:
  • different means of providing the same services
  • different types of network adopting a common architecture
  • different services collected together in the same retail bundle (e.g. TV content and fixed/mobile access) 
The regulation of abuse, to prevent players dominant in one sector (infrastructure, technology or content) from using that to leverage dominance in others as opposed to offering genuine choice, is probably Ofcom's greatest challenge over the next few years. That is particularly so given the fluidity and uncertainty of change across all three dimensions. 

2.5) Securing a sufficiency of service for consumers and business

Ofcom refers obliquely to the fall (after separation from the rest of BT) and subsequent rise (after the Olympics and associated restart of recruitment and training) of the quality of service provided by Openreach and asks some excellent questions.  Improving the measures of delivered quality, as perceived by users, is essential for a society that is increasingly dependent on its on-line connectivity. But the problems now appear more acute with regard to mobile. 

Is it really sufficient to say that "quality of service concerns in competitive markets ... may simply be because consumers and businesses are not willing to pay for higher quality of services"?

I am one of those who has long paid extra for BT (as opposed to unbundled) landlines and have mobiles on two different services (Vodafone and O2) while using Sky for TV. That is because of past personal experience (non- response as opposed to poor response) with other suppliers. I do not believe I am alone in wanting better access to reliable information on current service levels (including geographic cover) but have grave difficulty in finding out the truth, e.g. when seeking to help MPs faced by complaints from their voters. So do all those I know who are seeking to advise SMEs on the choices available to them.

I also hope that some readers may choose to comment on the role of Ofcom (as opposed to, for example CPNI) when it comes to reliability and resilience.  It was only recently that I learned the scale of unreliability (e.g. exchange, not just line, outages) across our creaking shared infrastructures.

3)    Empowered consumers and businesses, able to take advantage of competitive markets

The confusion of misleading information currently used in the marketing campaigns to persuade customers to switch supplier clearly needs to be addressed. That only 8% switch more than one service at a time is not in the least surprising given widespread hearsay of what happens when you try. "Better the devil you know".

This is clearly an area where Ofcom should be far more active, perhaps in co-operation with the Advertising Standards Authority. But I also look forward to seeing what groups like the FSB, Countryside Alliance and LEPs and Chambers of Commerce have to say about the information provided to SMEs. 

4)    Targeted regulation where necessary; deregulation elsewhere

The current regulatory regime has grown in response to consumer complaints and industry responses, without pruning as technology changes and legacy systems and services are run down or withdrawn.  Ofcom is therefore seeking inputs on issues associated with the transition to an all-IP phone (as well as data) network and the termination of copper and leased line services.

It is also looking for inputs with regard to opportunities for deregulation where end-to-end completion can be promoted or promoted, services can be delivered by different mechanisms or regulation can be focused on specific bottlenecks or geographic areas. Its example of the effect of deregulating leased lines in parts of London is not, however, necessarily a happy one.

The argument that "reducing intervention to promote competition ... could also risk resulting in higher prices for consumers" is also odd. That of greater inequality of service is rather less contentious.

The executive summary ends with "We welcome stakeholders' views on areas where there might be further scope for either deregulation or simplification". 

I now plan to make time to read the full paper  but my own immediate reactions are:

1)    Stop trying to measure return on investment. It is even less useful when technologies and markets are converging, diverging (in some cases) and evolving at unknown speed in uncertain directions.

2)    Focus on price, quality of service, clarity and accuracy of advertising claims and, above all, controlling predatory behaviour - particularly customer and technology/service lock-ins

3)    Pay equal attention to business and consumer needs because without the former the consumers will not have the jobs of the future to earn the money to spend on the services of the future    

BT declares war on Ofcom - your opportunity to help reset the UK regulatory landscape

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I  was intrigued by Gavin Patterson's reported attack on Ofcom for even raising the question of separating out Openreach. But for the "problems "of the BT pension fund and the block on foreign ownership of its surveillance operations, BT would probably have been broken up by its shareholders long ago. Today its share price is £4.50 (from a nadir of under £1.00 after a peak of £15.00) but a break up could be under way, before Ofcom completes its consultation, if it were to lose badly in the current battle to sign up those who want to watch TV over their smart phones (and Treasury and GCHQ were to remove their objections). Conversely, if BT wins well, it will need a massive rights issue to fund the extra investment in network capacity (EE as well as Openreach) to carry the explosion in mobile (even more than fixed) traffic under way.

The supposed threat to stand still on infrastructure investment because of uncertainty may prove to be a "Ratner gaffe" - especially if HMG reminds others of the availability of guarantees as used to underpin Virgin's £3 billion spend on upgrades and extensions. A whole new generation of competitors (City Fibre, Gigaclear, ITS etc.) have investor backing to build lower cost, higher speed all-fibre networks to fill the other gaps left by the run down of BT's 21CN investment programme (after local loop unbundling changed its core business model).  They would like BT to provide regional and national backhaul. But others are already stepping into this market too as sector regulators (e.g. for financial services) open up the market by demanding that payment systems (for example) have fall-back facilities over networks that are not critically dependent on each other.

The lack of investment in Openreach over the past decade (compared to period before local loop unbundling or the recent acceleration in infrastructure spend by its competitors) means that BT may lose its monopoly position across much of the UK before it is broken up - unless, of course, it responds positively to those shareholders who want it to lead that process. That leaves open, however, the question as to whether a break up would be good for stimulating competition, let alone investment. I suspect not.

You have until 8th October to help ensure that Ofcom becomes an effective competition regulator, helping re-create a globally competitive UK communications market in which customers (both residential and business)  have genuine choice and investors have confidence that the risks they take will not be compounded by political and regulatory uncertainty.

Do not waste that opportunity.

The discussion document for the Ofcom Strategic Review of Digital Communications  illustrates just how far thinking about the UK Broadband market has moved on since the consultation over the Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy was launched during the silly season last year, with almost no publicity. Readers may remember my exercise to overcome that lack of publicity, drum up responses from other than the usual suspects by pointing out what was at stake, organizing a round table of those considering responses and getting these into the public domain because DCMS had no plans to put the responses into the public domain until after it had responded. The full set of responses is now available and I very much hope that Ofcom will be using them as part of its input. It is not, however, obvious from its discussion document.
The document is hard going. Even the executive summary is nearly 20 pages and needs a "Director's Digest" to bring out the key points. But it has been released before the start of the silly season and the deadline for responses is not until after the end of the last party conference. 

I therefore strongly recommend reading it all, pondering the implications and responding accordingly.

I will post separately a copy of my own "dirty digest" to help readers understand the implications of some of the more measured language in the executive summary. I also strongly  recommending  reading Malcolm Corbett's excellent paper on why we should "Support the Digital Innovators"    and, if you can, attend the INCA meeting  on Financing Independent Networks on Wednesday  to get a better understanding of what has changed over the past year.

As part of the follow up to my first blog on the effects on Digital Skills of the Spring Budget I have been looking at some of the back up material. I began with "Fixing the Foundations" which contains excellent measures. The main ones include: 

  • "employer-routed funding reforms, such as the digital apprenticeships voucher, are putting control of funding directly into hands of employers
  • apprenticeships will be given equal legal treatment to degrees, to ensure that apprentices and employers can be given confidence in the brand
  •  the government will abolish employer NICs for almost all apprentices under the age of 25 from April 2016
  •  the government will set apprenticeship targets for public sector bodies"

It also says, albeit thinking mainly about the FE sector:

"The government wants strong local areas and employers to take a leading role in establishing a post 16 skills system that is responsive to local economic priorities ...the government will enable local involvement in the ongoing commissioning of provision, putting power in the hands of people who are best placed to tailor provision to local economic needs"

Then l took look at the "Fixing a broken system: the case for an apprenticeship levy". This  contains some excellent material but can also be seen as defence of formal apprenticeships (using off-the-job, FE-based modules, defined by Industry Training Boards), against the new world of flexible, workplace, on-line distance learning, using skills frameworks agreed by employer-led Sector Skills Councils (now "Partnerships"). It also implies that the use of apprenticeships to train older staff (as opposed to new teenage recruits) in the retail, hospitality and care industries is an "abuse" and not to be copied by others.

I think we need a more profound look at the role of FE in a digital world and look forward to helping publicise some of the initiatives to which I referred in my recent blog on how the "Creative Industries" are working with bottom up college-based consortia

Finally I took a look at the catchy titled: "The impact of University Degrees on the lifecycle of earnings: some further analysis". This is used to justify the claim that the Net Present Value of a degree is 170,000 for a man and 264,000 for a woman. I remember the controversy when it was first published. Table 16, Page 54 showed that social studies and arts/design had a negative value while Engineering/Tech had barely any value. Part of the reason was said to do with the methodology. This did not take into account the need for further qualifications (as with Medicine, Law and Accounting) or the way that earnings in design and engineering are affected by apprenticeships (which may be pre- or post- graduate and may, or may not, include a modular degree).

The weakness of the "premium" (alias NPV for the individual) for maths and computing degrees, (100,000 for a man and 243,000 for a woman)  is harder to explain, until one looks at the high average unemployment rates among computer science graduates. If fact this masks a range from under 2%, for the ITMB (I need to check whether this is included with Computer Science or Business and Management) to over 50% for some universities and course). 

Meanwhile the NPV for a History/Philosophy degree is 557,000 for a man but only 113 for a woman - hence the headline for this blog.

The message for me is the importance of one of the actions in "Fixing the Foundations" :

"The government will improve destination data to enable informed choices.  The government is supporting the development of online portals to present all post 16 learning options to young  people in a user-friendly way, and is strengthening the provision of destination and earnings data. The new careers and enterprise company will encourage greater collaboration between schools, colleges and employers, helping young people to access the best advice."

It will be hard enough for the Careers and Enterprise company to achieve its current objectives (which appear focused on FE choices)  but we also need to ensure much better advice for those deciding whether to incur 50,000 of debt for an uncertain return or to enter into an apprenticeship contract, perhaps one which includes a modular degree, with a local employer, or one who will provide (or offer help with)  accommodation that is a least as good as that they might expect at "Uni".    

The recent tax changes to reduce the cost of employing apprentices deserved an unequivocal welcome . The reintroduction of training levies and grants, albeit confined to apprenticeships, does not. But the devil will be in the detail.

After the repeating the commitment "to significantly increase the quantity and quality of apprenticeships in England to 3 million starts this Parliament, putting control in the hands of employers" (Para 1.269)  the Budget Report says "This goal will require funding from employers. In recognition of this, the government will introduce a levy on large UK employers to fund the new apprenticeships. This approach will reverse the long term trend of employer underinvestment in training, which has seen the number of employees who attend a training course away from the workplace fall from 141,000 in 1995 to 18,000 in 2014." Para 1.270)

The UK has a serious problem with under-investment in training but the figures quoted are for "No. of people in employment whose actual hours worked was less than usual hours because of training course (sic) away from the workplace". Does this mean that the aim of the apprentice levies are to bring about a return to off-site "chalk and talk" and to reverse the rise in supervised and monitored on-line learning at the place of work that has transformed skills acquisition over the past 20 years. Is the aim really to encourage UK employers and training providers to shun the rise of globally recognized technical and professional qualifications and modular degrees, with on-line materials interspersed with webinars, MOOCs and awaydays which do not eat into "usual hours worked".
One can understand why the Government is seeking means of funding the recommendations of the recent review of the remaining Industry Training Boards but the volume of "off-site" training (or even the time spent using on-line learning material and simulations at the place of work) is not a good proxy for  investment in the changing demand for digital skills. The case for the levy was made in a paper by Professor Alison Wolf which makes some excellent points, including about use of the current government supported apprentice programmes by the retail, hospitality and care industries to cut the cost of retraining older workers. But the main cost of a digital apprenticeship is the time of those providing supervised work experience and mentoring. This is rarely measured, let alone reimbursed in Government supported programmes. Cutting the cost of off-site course modules and accreditation will have little effect. If these are to included then the levy required will not be "modest" and could serve to further encourage the outsourcing and off-shoring of jobs.  Also is the retraining of older workers to be condemned as an abuse or welcomed? 

We need to encourage large private sector employers to train (and not just first entry apprentices) rather than poach from those who do. Nowhere is the problem more serious than with regard to the information security skills crisis, on which I have blogged regularly over the past few years  I summarised the wider issues in my evidence to the recent House of Lords Digital skills report - page 1057 (go to the back a scroll forward!), The problems are not new  but universal broadband that is fit purpose makes it easier to break out of Groundhog Day and use on-line delivery to help slash the cost and time of workplace trainin. Meanwhile while training contacts (where the law was well summarized thirty years ago in Strathclyde Regional Council v. Neal) remain a more effective means of deterring poaching than levies and grants ("job creation programmes for personnel officers"). Those who use contracts to reinforce loyalty tend not, however, to publicise the fact. Also they do not deter the import of supposedly skilled immigrants  or the off-shoring of tasks,  including to meet public sector needs, any more than would a levy and grant regime.

If the aim is to encourage those bidding for public sector business to train UK youngsters
, rather than import supposedly skilled graduates from overseas  then the Chancellor should improve "guidance" on the use of the Social Values Act to cover the public and systematic  weighting of public sector outsourcing procurements in favour of those who take on UK apprentices. There is also a good case for supplementary "apprenticeship levies" on those who recruit off-shore or otherwise export jobs..

On a wider front the Chancellor needs to also address the behavior of Central Government itself - where in-house training appears to have collapsed since the introduction of Civil Service Learning and the termination of all courses that the main contractor cannot provide from its own product line or profitably subcontract. I have blogged on the consequences of this before.  It would be wrong to condemn the analysis that led to the recommendation in para 1.271 as one such consequence, but confining apprentice levies to private sector employers would be a mistake. It is therefore hoped that the Government will not only set apprenticeship targets for public sector bodies (para 3.5 of "Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation" published in parallel with the Summer Budget) but will include then in levy and grant systems, including any levies on those who outsource jobs in order to avoid the need to train their own staff.  

I am indebted to David Pitcher for an advance sight of the material he plans to present to MPs at the event on the 9th July to recruit "Digital Ambassadors" to help get the skills and jobs of the future for their constituencies.

It illustrates just how much is being done to turn FE Colleges into learning hubs helping employers, large and small, develop the skills of the future locally with no need to offshore tasks along uncertain supply chains to locations with no protection for IPR or Data, or to import "skilled consultants" whose qualifications may be worth little more than the paper they are not printed on,  even if you knew how to check them).

The main report on "Colleges and Employers working together to to create a highly skills workforce " can be found on the Association of Colleges Website.

Computer Weekly readers looking for digital skills within a creative context should read the report and then follow the links within David's paper (see below) before calling a recruitment consultant. They would then do well to call one of those who helps identify and recruit potential apprentices (of all ages), because they are increasingly unlikely to find the mix of skills they are seeking on the open market, let alone at an affordable price.  


"A strong and growing economy is in all of our interests, and colleges play a central role in sustaining the recovery - they are the skills powerhouses that drive the local and national economy. Further education colleges across England make sure future workers have the skills employers require, and provide young people with the education and training they need to succeed.

Some of Britain's most respected companies, such as Mulberry, BAE Systems and the Met Office, want their staff to have appropriate skills and work with colleges to ensure this. This is achieved in two ways - through designing qualifications specifically for the employer and through businesses working with colleges to inspire students. This relationship boosts aspirations, highlights the importance of employability skills and promotes the different roles available in a range of industries.

For smaller employers the Creative Industry has addressed the skills gap in the industry during the last five years through an established network of FE and education partners delivering apprenticeships where there are local skills gaps.

Creative and Cultural Skills promotes and drives industry skills and employment needs to its founder college network (46 providers) and also engages smaller SME's (which is most of the industry) in training,  development and partnership with colleges. It has a multitude of success stories with regard to improving Industry/education links in order to make a difference

Two new Apprenticeship frameworks at Level 3 and 4 developed via a consortium of eight FE colleges have now been running for a year. The aim of the frameworks is twofold; first to enable students to understand instructional design in an education context, supporting FE to develop its own digital capability and deliver FELTAG targets for online learning and second to develop local skills hubs to supply digital capability to small businesses.

There are currently ten colleges across the UK delivering Design e-Learn

The Education Foundation's report, "Digital Colleges- The Journey So Far" was an outcome of research across the FE sector identifying the current state of whole college digital resource, infrastructure and teaching and learning. The Education Foundation in partnership with Digital Business Britain, IBM and the Association of Colleges (AoC) launched the new report on the future of the digital agenda within the Further education and skills (FES) sector."

Broadband Competition spreads from Shropshire to Shoreditch: Results: BT - 1, Gigaclear - 1, Split - 2 Rematches - 1.

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We can now see the result of last year's change of policy and leadership at BDUK accompanied by rediscovery by Ofcom to its duties as a competition regulator. Those Counties which held out from pledging everything in support of extending BT's twenty year-old 21CN infrastructure appear now to be getting rather better offers. Sometimes BT wins the Phase 2 BDUK contracts, as in West Yorkshire or Shropshire. Sometimes Gigaclear wins, as with Gloucestershire . Sometimes the business is split (as in Essex or Berkshire). It will be interesting to see what happens next in Shropshire where the Council is co-operating with INCA on an event to help local businesses look at using the voucher programme to meet their needs. Shropshire is, arguably, one of the most difficult counties to serve using anything other than a mix of satellite and terrestrial radio. I do not therefore envy the council the task it faces in getting value for money - other than from mixing an extension of the current BT network with radical alternatives - perhaps it needs the local equivalent of B4RN (*).

Meanwhile Devon and Somerset has decided on a rematch, having failed to get a sufficiently attractive bid from BT.  As with most (but not all) other rural areas, it may not be practical to have a commercially viable service without council money to help prevent social and geographic exclusions - but competition between suppliers for the public funds available, perhaps leading to a mix and match of suppliers and technologies, is more likely to be able to serve ALL residents and businesses, at affordable cost, than the simple extension of a legacy network (likely to be obsolete within the decade as the end-game for IPV4 spreads from the Pacific to the USA and the main Internet players accelerate their transitions to IPV6 accordingly).

At this point the BT response varies. At its best, (when faced by well-advised Councils who are serious about value for money) it produces imaginative new solutions involving a mix of technologies and business models, as in Glasgow (using the infrastructure investment for the wifi for the Commonwealth Games to provide supported access via community centres) or in Cornwall (using wireless and satellite to achieve its targets for cover).  

At its worst ... you can read Hansard for the complaints about attempts to stop councils from comparing notes (I still do not understand how "commercial in confidence" can be applied to services in receipt of "state aid") or doing joint deals to get better value for money than any silo-based Whitehall procurement.

Meanwhile when it comes to urban broadband we can see City Fibre, HyperOptic and ITS expanding the number of locations to which they offer true fibre while Manchester is about to benefit from head-to-head competition between Virgin and BT. We should also not that   Wimax has shown its potential when everything goes pear-shaped   At a recent event on cyber-insurance I asked whether dropping bombs down a manhole cover to set off all the alarms in the area so that you could rob a safety deposit company counted as a cyber-crime. On that note (and the implications for those who are more concerned with reliability and resilience than raw speed) I will stop.

(*) I remind readers that I am not only a shareholder in B4RN but am looking forward to receiving a dividend cheque - much earlier than I expected - although I confess I will probably frame it rather than drink it. I do, however, also declare an interest in the choices available  to GigaplusArgyll . I used to be able to download e-mails, albeit very slowly, using the 2G signal from a mast the other side of Loch Scridain. Now thanks to modern bloatware I can barely get the headings before losing the signal. The absence of reliable communications also adds an extra frisson to the organisation of the Isle of Mull Rally


Redeploying welfare funding to support 3 million new apprenticeships was one of David Cameron's most highly publicized election pledges. We can expect to hear more in the budget this week. Meanwhile every survey of employers' current and expected problems, for well over a decade, has flagged shortages of digital skills.

It is often said that "there is no shortage of digital skills (e.g. cyber, design, etc., pick your definition), only of employers who recruit trainees and retrain their existing staff".

That is, however, not strictly true. 

There is also a shortage of employers willing and able to work with local schools and colleges to help educate and motivate the next generation (digital natives/millennials), re-motivate the "lost generation" (digital neets) and offer "back into employment opportunities" for the "other half" (including returners with family responsibilities). Every skill in short supply now has a digital component and employers want evolving mixes of skills that do not fit traditional qualifications.

Meeting the objectives set by the Prime Minister, let alone the evolving skills needs of industry, will not be easy but the glass is also half full. We need to publicise, build on and replicate success. Failure to do so risks iniativitis, fragmentation of effort and the replication of that which does not work.

One past success was "Make IT Happy", the brainchild of Andrew Miller MP when, as  Chairman of PITCOM (subsequently transmogrified into PICTFOR) he secured agreement to use its reserves to underpin the launch of a series of competitions to improve links between MPs and the schools in their constituencies. A result was that e-Skills, now the Tech Partnership acquired 25 Parliamentary "Digital Skills Ambassadors", willing to help support and publicise local schools activities.

The Digital Policy Alliance (which has an MoU with PICTFOR but is not bound by the rules of the All-Party groups) has organized an event on the afternoon of 9th July to help the Tech Partnership recruit new "Skills Ambassadors" to help publicise the full range of activities now available (or planned) to help their voters and their voters' children and grandchildren to acquire the skills of the future and to help employers (large and small) create the jobs of future in their constituencies

The second objective is to identify those MPs who wish to help ensure that the promises of today are turned into action plans that will produce results by the time they stand for re-election in 2020. My own (third) objective is to encourage MPs to ask employers who complain about skills shortages, what they are doing to help. I would also like to see more MPs publicly praise those who are already helping - particularly those in their own constituencies.

The result should be a set of symbiotic relationships that make the target of 3 million additional apprenticeships by 2020 look not only achievable, but modest.  . 

The good news is that the time is finally ripe for breaking out of Groundhog Day. The bandwagon has started to roll.

Over 500 employers, large and small, are now supporting existing programmes via the new Tech Partnership (successor to e-Skills) and there is an impressive portfolio of new programmes for launch over the next few months and during the run-up to the party conferences in the Autumn.

In parallel, City and Guilds, the only globally recognised skills brand the UK still possesses, is looking at how to enable employers to embed digital into traditional skills, including to meet the skills needs of the City of London as the world's main Fintech centre.
Across the UK a growing number of FE Colleges, individually or in bottom-up consortia are working together to re-create community skills hubs, supporting employers who are too small to organise in-house apprentice programmes . Click here for more detail, including links to case studies of success. .

We have a growing number of services to publicise apprenticeship opportunities and/or help employees find suitable (motivation as much as innate aptitude) recruits. Some are focused on organising events to promote what is happening regionally or nationally, such as Apprenticeships4England . Some are embedded in national careers advice services for young people unable or unwilling to incur student debt, such as notgoingtouni. Some are specific to digital, such as wearedotdotdot. Some are geographically specific, such as the Good Careers Guide "brokerage" pilot. Others are embedded in mainstream job search serves such as Total Jobs . We should also include programmes such as "Young Enterprise" and some of the more successful "welfare to work" contractors whose "graduates" are now recruiting apprentices of their own or helping others to do so in areas of extreme shortage, such as information security  

There is a wealth of relevant careers and learning material on-line and the regional "grids for learning" (linked nationally via JANET) could enable most schools and libraries to operate as on-line local skills, careers and learning hubs, networked to colleges, schools, universities and education and training providers around the world, not just in the UK.

Most of the main professional bodies and trade associations are looking to provide support for skills programmes and apprenticeships via their local branches and activists. Those serving the digital world range from the umbrella bodies like the British Computer Society to specialist international bodies like ISACA (which bridges the world of audit and information security and has a strong UK chapter).

On the 9th July the aim is to provide succinct introductions for MPs and their research assistants to what is already happening or planned at the national or international level and to the opportunities to support local action to help meet the needs of their voters (and their voters children and grandchildren) and get the jobs and skills the future to their constituencies.

We also aim to provide platforms for:
  • MPs to publicly support (quotes for press releases etc.) what is already happening or planned in their own constituencies and
  • Employers to state what they are doing with their local MPs.
Please  email me , copy to the DPA Office, if you would like to participate in the follow up.

[This blog will be updated at periodic intervals between now and the 9th July]

Over 30 MPs contribute to debate on Broadband: the pressure for change is clear.

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I strongly recommend reading the contributions made during the debate on Superfast Broadband on Wednesday 24th June. 26 MP were named as down to speak. I have counted contributions from over 30, including all of those to whom I sent links to my previous posting.

I will not try to summarise all the points made but three main themes seem to emerge:

1) Overall BT is delivering more and faster than contracted but local performance varies and appears proportional to the determination of the local Council to get value from its contribution. Those which not only publicise who is to be served and publicly monitor and report performance, but help promote take-up as soon as areas go live, get much better service. Actively promoting take-up delivers a win:win.BT commonly increases its investment as revenues begin to come in - and is also liable to give a pay back that the Council can use for those hardest to reach.

2) The approach of encouraging BT to extend its legacy 21CN network, beginning with those who are easiest to serve, has deepened geographic and social divides, making it harder to serve "not spots", including those area which are "descoped" when they prove harder to serve than expected. The next phase of funding should copy the Gloucester approach where the council has listed the properties to be served and Gigaclear consequently won the contract in a head to head competition with BT.    

3) It is impractical and immoral for Government to penalise taxpayers and benefits claimants for not submitting returns and claims on-line when they do not have reliable access, either at home or via a local community centre or library, particularly during the evenings or at week-ends when most small firms and self-employed do their paperwork.

I spent yesterday at the Digital Leaders conference, addressed by Ed Vaizey and Matt Hancock. I spent part of the time with some of those organising services for residents of social housing. The problems faced by those they are seeking to help, because of the lack of affordable and reliable access to services that are fit to use, was a major issue. The personal benefits to be gained and public sector savings to be made from providing fibre to the home (or the "7 - 11 library or community centre supported drop in centre") are obvious.

There was a common call, among the "Digital leaders" for a responsible Minister in the Cabinet. I thought back to when Kenneth Baker became Minister for IT (I was the dissenting voice in the policy troika referred to by Adrian Norman in the blog to which this links). Government policy for its own use of IT became fragmented as the departmental silos fought back. CCTA (which had co-ordinated policy) was emasculated - with teh results we have seen since. I was not around myself when Alexander Pope wrote "For forms of government let fools contest ...". (or for John Adams counter-attack) but subsequent history shows that John Adams was an optimist.

I think we are more likely to get progress if the 30 of so MPs who spoke in the debate on Wednesday form into hunting packs and demand quarterly progress reviews, via joined up Select Committee Enquiries and coerce the Silos of State into taking seriously the need for  co-operation across departmental boundaries - perhaps even organising shared training programmes to provide Civil Servants with the skills to plan, organise and monitor the delivery of joined-up policies and services that are fit for purpose.  

Points to bear in mind when MPs debate broadband, including the deepening digital divides, on June 24th

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The summary produced to help MPs contributing to the Westminster Hall debate on Superfast Broadband roll-out helps explain why debate is so confused and bitter. The  Librarians of the House of Commons preface a summary of the official sources (particularly the Ofcom "European Scorecard") with links to recent articles which call in question the methodologies used in those sources.    

Those who say that the UK is lagging behind commonly quote the services available across Scandinavia, the Netherlands, parts of Eastern Europe and the tiger economies of the Far East. The Ofcom Scorecard compares our performance with France, Germany, Italy and Spain - where the incumbent operators are doing no better than their UK equivalent - BT. Those in the lead have competitive markets with varying mixes of private sector and community (including municipal)  enterprise.providing more modern local services.

Then there is the measurement of speed - beginning with the meaning of 2Mbs. Is this a guarantee of 2 Mbs minimum speed or a circuit rated at "up to 2Mbs": i.e. a supposed average of  2Mbs over the course of 24hours: faster when no-one else in the neighbourhood is on-line but slower, sometimes below 50kbs, during peak periods. Given that "up to 8Mbs" may well deliver well below 2Mbs during peak periods we can see why DEFRA would probably have had to abandon the on-line Farm Payments system, even if the system had been otherwise fit for purpose.

Page 16 onwards of the summary produced by the House of Commons library quotes Ofcom data indicating a 21% increase in average speed over the past year but this is for urban areas served by fibre services but suburban and rural areas have seen little or no change. The Ofcom release only quotes variations around the average for a few high speed services(e.g 96% of those receiving the Sky "up to 38 Mbps" service receive at least 90% of their maximum speed at peak times while only 7% of EE customers do so). I have been told (by sources other than Ofcom) that the omission is because the service used does not work reliably at lower speeds, such as the "up to 8 Mbps" common in rural areas.

I hope that the debate will focus on the present and the future, not who is to blame for the past, because the world has moved on since Rory Stewart fired the starting gun for the Great Rural Broadband race, in Reghed in 2010. At one end of the spectrum, the local community champion B4RN now provides fibre to over 1,000 premises, is in the process of launching subsidiaries to serve additional communities, and is about to pay its first dividend (albeit I will probably frame my cheque rather than cash it). At the other end HM Treasury has agreed to underwrite 3 bIllion of investment to enable Virgin to restart its roll-out to cover those areas abandoned when Telewest and NTL went all but broke. We can argue whether national progress would have been faster had DCMS officials not insisted  on providing "guidance" to local authorities and hired consultants who understood neither telecoms nor state aid rules, while BT focused on delivering the infrastructure for the Olympics instead of the rest of the UK. [P.S. Wapping still appears stuck with 8 Mbs]

The roll out is now accelerating as BT discovers that it cannot sell its sports content to those served only by long lines of crapband (Copper, Rust, Aluminium and other Pollutants from the cabinet to the home). Meanwhile previously docile local authorities are considering whether to produce guidance on how to copy those who have done deals with its competitors (from Cities like York and counties like Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire ) in order to prevent the jobs of the future migrating elsewhere.

Meanwhile the new team at Ofcom looks set to restore its role, as a competition regulator, using realistic measures of price, performance and behaviour instead of playing regulatory games over cost of capital and return on investments, with all-too-predictable results.

I therefore hope that the debate will focus on what is happening now needs to happen now and that the Minister's response will cover not just how to get better value from the state aid to BT, but what is being done to encourage fund managers to invest in British Broadband infrastructures (to collectively form an ubiquitous, reliable, resilient, inter-operable fixed and mobile mesh) that is fit for the future - and not follow the shareholders of O2 and EE in selling out to put their funds elsewhere.

It may be that he cannot comment (in advance of the budget) on how the next phase of state aid will used, but I hope that he will be able to reassure those who voted for his new Secretary of State (MP for Malden) and his ministerial colleagues with even less well served seats (from West Dorset to Westminster),  as well as new Chairmen of the Public Accounts Committee (MP for Shoreditch), of the DCMS Select Committee (MP for Herefordshire) and of the DEFRA Select Committee that genuine progress is being made, not just in the Northern Power House (with bandwidth hungry players moving from Soho and Shoreditch to Manchester), even if the Chancellor intends to take most of the credit.    


Enforcing Magna Carta in the age of Cyberwarfare, Surveillance and Electronic Impersonation

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All roads round Runnymede will be closed on 15th June as the Queen, the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Master of the Rolls commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta at Runnymede. Sunday Worship on BBC4 on 14th came from Odiham, whence King John had set out to meet his Barons. It featured a splendid address from The Master of the Temple where the Barons, including 7 Bishops, had plotted their tactics). He reminded us of the background, particularly the role of Stephen Langton, (the Archbishop King John never wanted). Langton believed that laws came from God, not the King. He not only helped with the drafting, he arranged for Magna Carta and the more significant revised versions under Henry III, to be copied and "published" across the Kingdom via the Church - to prevent the Monarch/State from backtracking. Today some would argue that the occupants of Buckingham and St James's palaces have joined those of Lambeth Palace among the defenders of civil liberties against threats from those who now occupy the site of the Palace of Whitehall and their allies and accomplices in the Palace of Westminster.

I have blogged in the past on the tension between those who believe that the laws come from God and those who believe in the divine right of the State including with regard to identity policy  Those who rabbit on about trust and identity in on the on-line world might do well to remember that the main Western world's main service for checking identities, the Notaries, until recently reported to God, via the Archbishop of Canterbury (in Common Law Countries) and the Pope (in Roman law Countries). For high level global trade the Scriveners provide the underpinning, (e.g which version of which e-mail, between whom and in which language was the contract) for the services provided via operations like Lloyds Register and DNV, Meanwhile surveys as to who is trusted with our identities and personal information in on-line world show that on-line retailers and internet service providers have "earned" approximately the same level of trust as journalists and politicians. They come below government (central or local) and well below the banks.

When Sir Tim Berners Lee, the Stephen Langton of the Internet, received the freedom of the City of London his address to the Common Council on the role of the City in creating and preserving the rule of law instead of the state led through to the potential role of London in the on-line world. His calls for a global on-line On-line Bills of Rights have been well covered by others. I would, however, argue that it is not only impossible to achieve in practice, but a red herring. We need "merely" to apply the same law on-line as off-line.

That does, however, require abiding by the spirit, not just the letter, of Magna Carta. That means looking at the theological basis of what Stephen Langton was trying to achieve. We also need to remember that the current threats to civil liberties are very similar to those that led up to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James II had lost the popularity he had won by taking charge of the efforts to put out the Great Fire (blamed at the time of the terrorists of the day) and had put down the original London-wide Penny Post (supposedly used for scandalous letters between lovers as well as for business), because his men could not steam open the letters.

In a modern secular society I doubt that most of the population would be happy with the Archbishop of Canterbury as the prime guardian of Civil Liberties against the state, but the fourth key player in the celebrations at Runnymede is the Master of the Rolls, the third most senior Judge in Britain. Past readers will have noted that I have called in the past for the oversight of privacy and surveillance in the UK to be properly resourced and report via the Master of the Rolls, That leaves open the question as to whom the Master should be responsible (other than God). At the end of the final discussion paper of the 2003 -5 EURIM - IPPR study into Partnership Policing for the Information Society , I tentatively suggested that the ultimate oversight for the policing should be a committee of both House of Parliament.  

The Home Secretary's statement to parliament on David Anderson's report into the practical working of the UK's surveillance law, published a week before the Magna Carta celebrations, should be the starting gun for an open and constructive debate. The overall objective should be to better reconcile the protection of the public from fear and abuse (whether from on-line stalkers or those planning terrorism) with the protection of "peaceful dissidents" and whistle-blowers from action supposedly designed to address organised crime or threats to society as a whole. We should also remember that most of the public wants more, not less surveillance (including for the reasons well-illustrated in the current Channel 5, Caught on Camera, series).

The arguments should not, therefore be less about the degree of surveillance that is reasonable or acceptable. They should be more about the accountability of those organising it or demanding access to the results.

We should also remember Archbishop Langton's mistrust of the draftsmen in the royal chancery, without which Magna Carta would probably not have been drafted, let alone distributed (by the Church not the Sheriffs) and thus remembered.

Those who understand how modern legislation is negotiated, drafted and implemented might reflect how little has changed in 800 years.

Are the gloves about to come off in the war against on-line crime?

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I read Warwick Ashford's article on the Drivers and Inhibitors of Cyber Security Evolution after attending a number of thought provoking meetings during the week of Infosec. The study he quotes should be juxtaposed with an excellent Washington Post "history" of how the Internet became so insecure and with Warwick's more recent article on how co-operation is driving the fight against e-Crime. Comments by  Adrian Leppard, also covered by Warwick, a couple of weeks ago  help put these into current context.

The overall cost of computer-assisted fraud (about the same as the current UK fiscal deficit) is causing HM Treasury to take a cool look at the competition between those bidding for funding to address cyber-warfare, anti-terrorism, internet "safety" and e-crime. Meanwhile a number of cyber-risks have become almost uninsurable - but main boards have yet to appreciate the consequences of the deletion of "cyber" from their mainstream business continuity cover. Instead we have the growth of policies to cover the cost of implementing incident response plans which include action (cross-border as necessary) to identify who organised the attack (and who aided and abetted them) so as to mount "asset recovery" exercises (under a mix of criminal and civil law) in parallel with damage limitation exercises (including to protect customers who data may have been compromised). Those incident response plans include retainers with cross-cutting teams drawn from the accounting, law, forensic, security and public affairs practices who are making recruitment firms rich as they compete the expertise they will need. A deliberate "side-effect" of such policies is that those with them are less likely to be attacked because of the known threat of retaliation.

That which was forecast a decade ago (see the EURIM-IPPR studies into Partnership Policing for the Information Society) is therefore finally coming to pass, as the government, law enforcement and industry finally come to appreciate that they need to be at least as good at partnership as organised crime. They should, however, have the advantage that the lack of trust between criminals is even greater than that between the agencies of law enforcement and security and the various cultural and professional tribes of "industry".        

Time has moved on since the EURIM-IPPR study. Some of the findings need updating but some of the most important do not. Law enforcement has not, and never will have, the resources (quality and quantity) to do more than a fraction of what is necessary. The need is for much better frameworks for co-operation with those in industry who do have these.

In looking at forthcoming legislation to update current law on surveillance powers and access to communications data we should give priority to governance structures for voluntary co-operation, under evolving mixtures of civil and criminal law, including internationally. We might also take a good look at legislation and regulation which limits the civil liability of those who fail to take "reasonable" action to protect their customers from abuse. The background work for the DPA exercise on Age Verification indicates that what is 'reasonable" depends on the perspective of the viewer and also changes over time. It is therefore important that debate is as public and open as practical. Those how say it is too complicated for voters to understand should be trusted as much (or as little) as those who say it is too secret to be openly discussed in public.     

The election of a Government with a working majority, however modest, reduces the pressure for narrow nationalism when it comes to skills policy but we should take good note of the difference between promises and reality and the pressure from voters to bridge the gap. A recurrent theme during the election was the need to address the pressures on housing, schools, the NHS and wages from "uncontrolled immigration". This was close coupled to  pressures to better educate and train British workers rather than import supposedly skilled staff from overseas, whether from Eastern Europe or Asia. The Prime Minister began his post election speeches and letter of thanks to supporters with the promise of  3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. In the Queen's Speech the Government adopted the Labour pledge to make it an offence for businesses and recruitment agencies to hire from abroad without advertising in the UK and announced plans for higher visa charges for supposedly skilled workers. 

Those who wish to continue to be able to attract and retain world class talent, so that they can offer globally competitive services from UK-based hubs, should be looking at how to help achieve those objectives in ways that also meet their own needs to improve quality and reduce vulnerability to insider fraud and abuse. They risk yet more bureaucratic controls which will continue to fail to address the known problems, if they just bleat about cost. They should, instead, be seen to be helping improve the quality of their existing workforce and of potential local recruits, by co-operating with those seeking to improve the relevance of our fragmented and sclerotic (albeit with pockets of excellence) vocational education and training system. That co-operation should include helping to publicise, promote and expand that which helps meet their own needs. 

Somewhere over 200,000 employers already take on apprentices but last year there were over ten times as many applicants as opportunities. For all its talk of future skills needs the ICT sector was in the forefront of neither demand nor supply and does not appear to feature prominently in the mainstream promotion of apprenticeships. And it is not just the private sector that appears to give preference to immigrants. Local Authorities have come under flak for taking a lead in advertising jobs on pan-EU on-line services but not making serious efforts via local newspapers and recruitment agencies. Meanwhile NHS trusts are accused of prefering to send teams to trawl the Far East for Nurses and Care Staff rather than open up routines for returners and mature entrants to be employed locally on flexible contracts.  

Narrowing the issues to ICT skills, the Tech Partnership (formerly e-Skills) has some excellent programmes to encourage and support employers who take on apprentices and trainees of all ages but has limited funds to advertise and promote these. The lack of support for promotion helps avoid the need for rationing. But it is not in the best national interest, if the objective is to tackle skills shortages - not merely to be able to announce successful pilots. Meanwhile, those who bleat about ICT skills shortages and have not yet joined the Tech Partnership and started working with their peers to organise programmes to address those shortages, have only themselves to blame. Like many other players, it can only achieve what its participants resource it to achieve. So join and put up - or shut up.

Similarly, pressures from major employers to make it easier to import supposedly skilled staff are irresponsible, unless accompanied by realistic proposals to address long standing quality problems, akin to those which equally plagued the NHS and are finally beginning to attract serious publicity. The issues of fraudulent documentation with regard to those with supposed IT skills was illustrated (but subsequently well covered up) when the escort failed to arrive to collect five illiterate, but according to their documentation highly qualified, systems analysts at Heathrow. It should also be noted that a large proportion of the rising tide of e-Crime, including impersonation can be linked directly to the sale of personal information from overseas call centres and information handling operations (many in locations with no computer misuse or data protection legislation, to back up outsourcing contracts with security and privacy clauses worth the paper they are not printed on).  

However, not all supposed abuses are evidence of malpractice.

The claim that the system is failing and being abused because barely 25% of apprenticeships go to those aged under 19, even though they make up half of all applicants and that those aged over 25 fill 37% of programmes could be seen as evidence that enlightened employers are using higher level apprenticeships to address the backlog of skills among their current workforce. The Tech Partnership Programmes to meet half the cost of modular training for existing employees are an example of one of the best of such programmes. Another welcome development is the way that some recruitment agencies are exploring commercially viable ways of providing mature and well motivated staff with the skills in current demand from their clients and/or helping clients provide cross-training for users with the aptitudes, attitudes and experience required to avoid relying on outsiders for major projects or those information security roles that need individuals of known provenance and loyalty.

Finally we should remember that "freedom of movement" within the EU is freedom to take up a job offer, not to live off a more favourable benefits regime while looking for work. The growing groundswell against immigration implies that the UK public sector will soon give priority to taking on trainees from the local unemployed or to reskilling existing employees rather than advertising for skilled staff in other member states. There is no need for treaty change, only a need to use the Social Values Act (which embeds up-to-date EU thinking on "intelligent procurement" to ensure that this is actively taken into account when drawing up and adjudicating invitations to tender.

The industry response to such pressures will separate those who wish to maintain global career paths from those who merely wish to import cheaper contractors.

I therefore much prefer the slogans "Help train British workers for Global Jobs" or "Help make Britain the Training Hub for the Digital World" to "Train English Workers for English Jobs". I fear , however,that unless we are serious about the former, we will get the latter.

I am particularly concerned about the way the UK funding councils hamstring those in receipt of their funds, mandating outdated business models based on the development of competing qualifications and materials from which royalties can be recouped. We need, instead, to encourage them to participate in the various global consortia which are transforming the acquisition of digital learning and skills at all levels, from University organised MOOCs (plus high-added value residential modules) to Supplier Funded Virtual Academies (and their local delivery partners) and cross-cutting Corporate Virtual Universities (plus networks of local workplace and/or "open" learning centres).

I also very concerned over the provision of digital careers advice. Most is at best misleading and at worst counter-productive: driving away those we need while attracting those for whom we have limited need. Hence the reason "The IT Crowd" live in the basement.

I could bore for Britain on IT Skills issues but the core question is, perhaps, not "How do we break out of Groundhog Day?" but "Who really wants to break out of Groundhog Day?".    


How the UK Election may have transformed the prospects for "reform" of the EU: including the Digital Single Market

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David Cameron has not yet fleshed out his "red lines" for the EU reforms he is seeking before putting UK membership to an in-out referendum. It is therefore unclear which of the reforms being called for actually will need Treaty Changes. For example: does cutting access to UK tax credits for immigrant workers to below those on offer in Germany really require a Treaty change? Or does it "merely" require changes to the UK tax credit system which are likely anyway as this  is "incrementally folded" into the Universal Credit: once the pilots with "real" human beings have been shown to work and to be usable by ministers.

Similarly, is a Treaty change needed to require new benefits claimants (including for access to the NHS, Education or Social Housing) to use Government "Verify" (i.e. have a UK digital footprint going back X years) or to have a current electronic identity from another member state (e-IDAS regulation)? Or will we "merely" copy existing practice in Germany, Holland or Denmark (who effectively block those without a job and tax-paying footprint as a local resident from access to almost anything). I suspect that we will soon see pan-European agreement that claimants will, in any case, be entitled only to the "lower" of their "home" or "resident" state benefits - without any need for treaty change..

Enforcing such changes will, however, require making a reality of pan-EU data and identity exchange in the public sector. The implementation of the eIDAS "regulation" has become bogged down with issues that were predicted by those with experience of a century (or so) of electronic identity and access management (the first test case for an electronic signature was 1867 for a cable authentication) and the millennium (or so) with identity arbitrage (which has underpinned correspondence banking since before the time of the Knights Templars and their ID codes and passwords). Hence the problems that both the pan-EU eIDAS team and the UK Cabinet Office 'Verify' team are having engaging interest from the banking and finance private sector (other than to sell their own services to the public sector). [I commend the EEMA/e-IDAS briefing in London on June 5th to those in financial services who are looking at the business case for getting involved).

We should also note the rising pressure to tax and regulate on-line transactions in the country of delivery and, at the same time, end attempts to block cross-border purchases of digital content (e.g. subscriptions to TV channels) in ways that have been illegal in the off-line market for decades

The tide for pan-EU co-operation to enforce taxation in the country of destination (as opposed to the Irish Republic Luxembourg, Malta or an external tax haven) is well under way . Once again there appears to be no need for Treaty Change, albeit the former Luxembourg Prime Minister who helped create some of the most egregious of the loopholes may claim differently. The pressure for equality of tax treatment between the on-line and offline worlds (see section 2.5 of the Digital Single Market Strategy  will be followed by pressure to apply the same rules with regard to cross border pricing and product availability (sections 2.3 and 2.4).

It is over twenty years since attempts to stop us traveling to another country to buy the same model of car at a lower price were outlawed, yet today we have discriminatory on-line pricing and access according to our supposed location when ordering on-line. The digital rights management techniques, including to track the location of the device used to make the transaction or receive the content, serve to undermine "the innocent carrier" defence in general, including when it comes to data protection; where we have a slew of laws which may allow organisations to tick boxes but do little, if anything, to protect individuals. One can sympathise with Facebook, faced by a dozen or so regulators now seeking to outdo each other , but the answer is not complicated. Now that the industry has shown, by its copyright policing and advertising tracking services, that it can (within "reasonable" margin of error)  usually identify where the content is being accessed: it is either country of destination or a pan-EU regulator. And if that gets in the way of current business models and fancy share prices ... [DISCUSS ... as the examination question says]       

An open and honest debate about "Making a reality of the Digital Single Market" exposes nearly as many hidden conflicts of interest as does any debate on "Net Neutrality". If the UK were to draw a red-line in favour of regulation in the country of destination but with a genuine open market in terms of content access and pricing, we would find most Commissioners and MEPs on the same side as ourselves. Meanwhile we should also note what is happening in the US as it finally begins to address its problems with IPR trolls and also look at the Commission plans for copyright reform
I will blog separately regarding the Commission plans for Digital Skills, Illegal Content, a partnership approach to Cybersecurity and a review of the Audio Visual Media Services Directive and "the free-flow of data" - but the timetable for the "Roadmap for completing the digital single market" has all these completed before the expected date of the UK In-Out referendum.   

Hence the importance of the work that Malcolm Harbour, former chairman of the Internal Market Committee is organising within the Digital Policy Alliance. The DPA co-operation with the European Internet Foundation, on its planned study tour for look at what is happening in the UK regarding Fintech, Digital Skills and the removal of regulatory barriers, may prove to be a critical point of leverage - particularly if the preparations for the briefing are used to also "educate" UK and Commission officials on the current and emerging issues that must be addressed for the EU, not "just" the UK to remain globally competitive.

Those who wish to see the UK remain within a reformed EU have to work together to help bring about that reform - not simply carp or bleat from the sidelines.    

Finally we should remember that "freedom of movement" within the EU is freedom to take up a job offer, not to live off a more favourable benefits regime while looking for work. The growing groundswell against immigration implies that the UK public sector will soon give priority to taking on trainees from the local unemployed or to reskilling existing employees rather than advertising for skilled staff in other member states. Once again there is no need for treaty change, only a need to use the Social Values Act (which embeds up-to-date EU thinking on "intelligent procurement" to ensure that this is actively taken into account when drawing up and adjudicating invitations to tender. The industry response to such pressures will separate those who wish to maintain global career paths from those who merely wish to import cheaper contractors. The changed climate for IT skills after the election, with a  need to take apprenticeship programmes (for all ages) much more seriously also merits a separate blog. I would prefer the slogan "Train British workers for Global Jobs" or "Educating and Training the workers of the world" to that of "Train English Workers for English Jobs"  but I fear that unless we are serious about the former, we will get the latter           

What difference will the election make to Central and Local Government IT?

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Now that the ministerial appointments have been made we can make a reasonable forecast of what is likely to happen to central and local government IT over the 18 months. That is the period the new government has in order to deliver results that will enable to Prime Minister to go out on a high, having agreed devo-max for Scotland, won the EU referendum (on the back of an agreed  tax and regulation reform package) and been seen to have set the UK finances and economy on the path to permanent recovery.

Bryan Glick is likely to be disappointed in his recent forecast.  If ministers are successful, the surprise with regard to central government IT will be a lack of surprises. The current big contracts are unlikely to be replaced by new big contracts. Instead HMRC and DWP will quietly continue rebuilding their in-house expertise to enable the incremental rationalisation and consolidation of both tax and benefits systems, without complex inflexible outsource contracts getting in the way. One of the lessons that John Manzoni (to whom GDS et al report) learned from his time at BP was that risk cannot be outsourced.  Now that all Central Government 'Senior Responsible Owners' are expected to have passed through the Major Projects Leadership  Academy  there is likely to be an incremental trend towards 'rightsourcing', bringing control of strategic planning, procurement and 'architecture' back in house. The measure of success will be that used by Richard Holway: 'boring' - a steady lack of surprises while delivering value for money, quality of service, shareholder value etc. etc. . In other words the flow of project bidding and contract award, let alone 'bad news', stories for Computer Weekly to cover should begin to dry up.

The Matt Hancock's IT background may have been limited to a spell in the family software house (how times have changed that you can say that of a minister) but his work at BIS on upgrading the quality, not just quantity,  of apprenticeship programmes was impressive. We can expect a strong drive to improve the in-house skills of the civil service at all levels. We can also expect a quiet tapering away of the 'semi-automatic' extension and renewal  of current outsourcing contracts and framework. The GDS will, hopefully, morph into a competent 21st century equivalent of the CCTA in its heyday, policing procurements and contracts rather than trying to deliver them itself, providing support services only for those departments too small to merit professional in-house IT of their own, using these to also develop and maintain the technical skills that it needs to do planning and monitoring.  The sorry saga at Defra means, however, that attempts to take responsibility for serious, time-critical, operational systems, of any size, are likely to be avoided for the next year or so.

I hope that rumours of a watering down of the Osborne requirement that the responsible minister, not just 'a senior official' be able to use a system before it goes live with end users are untrue. The pressure for watering down is supposedly a result of having to involve a Defra minister in iterative hands-on testing earlier this year. There may well be a need to refine the approach, e.g. with senior officials involved in beta testing, engaging ministers only when they are asked to approve roll-out. It is, however, a long overdue discipline. If ministers lack the time, perhaps they might be allowed to invite members of the Select Committee monitoring their department to deputise for them, rather than risk signing off yet another system, or website, that is unfit for use by its target audience.          

When it comes to the impact of the election on local government IT we need to look at the appointments at DCLG. All but one  of the new ministerial team have been local government councilors and three (out of five) are former council leaders.  We can expect the devolution of authority and responsibility to local government to gather pace, not just to those areas which choose to elect mayors.  Given that, on average, Local Government spends less than half that spent by central government for equivalent IT products and services, we can expect them to give short shrift to proposals to enhance the role of Cabinet Office vis a vis their systems.  We can, however, also expect no let up on the pressure to use bottom up cross-boundary co-operation to deliver more and better for less. Here I would like to make a modest proposal, not in any previous policy papers: that central government  IT operations and their contractors (including any framework deals) be required to join the relevant SOCITM benchmarking operations and explain their performance to the National Audit Office.

The future of local government IT will depend in large part on the availability of broadband that is fit for purpose. That entails ubiquitous access to cloud-based services by those delivering front-line services: from carers and community nurses to property maintenance and environmental services. The appointment of the long-serving chairman of the DCMS Select Committee to Secretary of State was inspired. Not only can we soon expect the BBC to be subjected to the tender regulatory mercies of an Ofcom chaired by some-one who knows well both its strengths  and weaknesses  we can also expect a robust review of the performance of BDUK from the MP for Maldon , where none of the exchanges currently offers more than 'up to 8 mbps' and mobile cover is little better than that in West Dorset, whose MP  once complained to me that 'the whole of my constituency is a not spot'.  That review will be all the better because of the experience, sometimes very painful, that Ed Vaizey has acquired in observing how how ministerial wishes can be interpreted in such a way as to achieve almost the opposite of what was intended. The good new is ministers and officials now appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet and to have a clear way forward in mind.  

It was no coincidence that immediately after the election it was announced that Gigaclear (who already operate 23 rural networks and are building 31 more) was to receive a further 30 million in funding from the City. We can expect more such announcements to come now that the climate for Plan B is ripe.  

What difference will the election result make to the Digital World?

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The first and most obvious difference that the election has made is that sterling and the stock market have both risen: with telecoms (BT and Colt) and outsourcing companies (Capita, MITIE and Serco) rising above the trend. The general rise indicates that the pressure on public finances is unlikely to be worse than that predicted in the budget - i.e. the pre-election "strike" of overseas investors, caused by the prospect of the SNP holding the balance of power, is unlikely to continue. Government borrowing costs will not therefore rise in the short term.The  current 'austerity' is therefore unlikely to get worse, be compounded by stagflation or be further prolonged - as those voters who changed their minds after talking to the pollsters clearly feared.

A general rise in the value of outsourcing companies is, however, not rational. If  'Lord Maude of Horsham' returns to continue his unfinished business we can expect central government framework contracts which have failed to produce competition, improve quality of service or deliver value for money, such as Civil Service Learning,  to come under much sharper scrutiny than if there had been no majority government. Meanwhile the programmes of DWP and HMRC to rebuild their in-house skills in order to enable incremental change (as with the Universal Credit) appear to be gathering pace. We may well therefore be seeing the start of a general trend towards 'right sourcing' with a new generation of more broadly based framework procurement contracts, designed to make it practical for SMEs to actually win profitable business, not just break their hearts with futile bids.

The area where share price rises might well be justified is with regard to those who have structured their cloud-based offerings in such a way as to help local authorities make incremental savings on positive cash flow. I met several just before the election, at the SOCITM Spring conference, as well as some of those looking to use 4G mobiles (accessing cloud-based services) to strip out further layers of cost while delivering better front-line services. The success of those, like Capita, who are helping organise lower cost, shared services across local authorities, also makes them more attractive to investors.

The rise in the share price of BT after the election also appears odd. I would expect ministers to wish to collect their pound of flesh after the earfuls they have received during the election campaign over the performance of BDUK - with MPs standing for re-election also well aware that the service gap between rural Conservative constituencies and Labour urban seats has widened over the past year. We can therefore expect to see local authorities encouraged to enforce the small print of the BDUK contracts and perhaps even co-operate with the EU regarding the potential claw back of 'state aid' if BT does not "up its game".

We can also expect action to expedite the implementation of Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy. The "map" of national networks, released at the same time,  should be seen as indicating those publicly funded networks which central government would like to put in play to help pull through investment in the inter-operable, next generation, IPV6/5G networks (local as well as regional and national) that need to be ubiquitous within the decade if the UK is to be a globally competitive player in the on-line world. Virgin has already benefited from HMG underwriting for its investment plans and we should expect a repeat of the invitation to others to apply, as part of the plans to use infrastructure investment to help pull through recovery while neither increasing public sector borrowing nor mortgaging the future with more PFIs. The reference to 5G standards in the Conservative Manifesto is also most apposite.

BT's share price rose after it reported rising profits on falling turnover before jumping again after the election result. A quick look at BT's accounts shows that over the past three years capital investment has been static with revenues falling faster than volumes are rising in all areas, except for its Broadband TV business. The profit rise is because of overall efficiency improvements but most particularly because operations and maintenance costs fall as fibre (even if only to the cabinet) replaces crap (copper, rust and associated pollutants).

But BT has barely begun the transition from its thirty year old 21CN (fibre to the cabinet) architecture and is stuck with a mortgaged exchange network. Unless it changes strategy, to actively collaborate with those planning next generation "community" networks (all sizes from hamlets, through business parks and commercial centres to whole cities), it is likely to come under serious competitive pressure, with revenues ebbing away as others leapfrog it, providing better cheaper services, using different investment models.

Hence plan Plan B, which I presented to the SOCITM Spring Conference a couple of weeks ago. I did, however, say afterwards that within 5 - 10 years I would expect most of the community networks to not only feed into BT but be operated by BT, just as Stokab is now run by the Swedish incumbent. For that happen the netowrks must, however, have been built to the latest "futureproof" international standards. That is not difficult because the necessary equipment and training are now globally available, unlike that to maintain some of the legacy networks still operated by BT.      

There are welcome signs that BT it gearing up for the scale of change necessary over the next few years. Not only are its attitudes towards working with local authorities beginning to change (with a variety of pilot offerings of support) but the scale and nature of its apprentice (including and post-graduate apprentice) intake is impressive. So too is the content of that training. For example, BT is now probably the largest UK trainer of information and network security technicians and professionals outside GCHQ and has overhauled the security training it provides to ALL staff.

That leads me into one of the most public changes that I expect as a result of the election result. David Cameron's "thank you' e-mail to supporters begins with a reference  '3 million apprenticeships", before mentioning childcare, cutting taxes, building homes and a referendum on our future in Europe. Giving our children the skills they need for the jobs of future emerged as a key theme during the campaign, perhaps second only to affordable housing. The idea that we should import skills and talent because we have not properly educated our own children and retrained our own workforce went down like a lead balloon on the doorstep. The universities who depend on overseas students, as well as those tech companies who operate global career paths, have to find ways of better leveling the playing field and preventing abuse. If not, they will be caught in the middle as government acts to fulfill the commitments that have been made with regard to getting immigration under control.

During the run up to the election we also saw some very public commitments regarding the need to level the tax playing field between the on-line world and the 'real' world. Well known technology players have been named alongside bankers and non-doms as tax avoiders. We can therefore expect concerted action, in co-operation with the rest of the G20, against those who route their UK sales through Luxembourg or Ireland in order to reduce tax, It is too soon to tell whether this will be linked to a rationalisation of regulation in time to preserve the UK Fintech industry. Hopefully the threat that HSBC might leave the UK, almost certainly to be followed by Standard Chartered and others,has helped concentrate minds on the choice between maximising net tax take and gesture politics.

That rationalisation needs to include making it easier for those based in the UK to take action against on-line impersonation and other on-line abuse. This could turn out to be a critical factor in persuading some major financial services players to remain based in London. As yet, has been neglected in debates over 'Internet Governance' that have been dominated by those whose objective is to make money by selling internet addresses at the highest price. The pressures for action to protect the vulnerable came out very clearly during the election. The patronising response to those who raise such issues is beginning to put on-line revenues at risk, as the CEOs of major advertisers start asking awkward questions.   

Finally there is the question of Europe, to be more precise for this audience, the question of the Digital Single Market. The consultations over the practical implementation of the Commission Strategy, published the day before the election, offer an opportunity to help bring about some of the reforms necessary to help ensure a 'Yes" vote in the referendum that has been promised. Many of areas where action is proposed by the Commission should have common support across the IT industry. But some are deeply divisive - such as action on geo-blocking and on copyright reform.

The call for action to reduce 'the VAT related burden' will, in practice, link tightly to the 'Action Plan on a renewed approach for corporate taxation in the Single Market" - aka the EU implementation of actions agreed at the G20 (which i mentioned above). Effective action in this area is likely to be electorally popular, particularly among the millions of SMEs and those working in traditional businesses, who feel they are carrying a disproportionate tax burden, while major on-line and outsourcing players are seen to pay little or no UK tax.
I took time out of electioneering to attend a Digital Policy Alliance DSM Group meeting, chaired by Malcolm Harbour on the morning that the final (as opposed to draft) Commission Communication was published. The report of that meeting will be published soon on the DPA website. The group agreed to focus on those areas where members could agree to work together, including a couple where there appear to be vacuums in the Commission thinking. One of the latter is skills. This is a "national competence' but the Commission could exercise practical thought leadership to help led our digital skills debates out of ground hog day  and gain a popularity with voters that is sadly lacking.         

This leads me back to the answer to the question in the heading.

The biggest difference the election result will make is that we will not have a short term government funding and sterling crisis. We therefore have time for innovative IT players to make viable businesses out of using inter-operable cloud-based services to help public sector organisations bring about incremental change, on positive cash flow.  Those who were still hoping for a return to the world of PFI based outsourcing and consultant planned, delayed big-bang projects, will have had their hopes dashed.

But cloud-based operations depend on ubiquitous broadband that is fit for purpose. Hence the importance of locally driven variations on Plan B ... read on for a the slide presentation on this to SOCITM, whose members will have a critical role in helping bring the change about - so that they can, in turn, use the results to achieve their own objectives as well as help pull through local prosperity and jobs.  

The Gulf between the people and the techies: IT Professionals ARE indeed different

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Thank you to Computer Weekly for enabling me to download the pcl report "Made to Measure: Intelligent Personality Assessment - inside the mind of IT Professionals". I remember when the British Computer Society wanted a soap opera to promote IT careers. We got "The IT Crowd". The diagram on page 18  of the pcl report, summarising the average personality and competence profiles of different professionals  shows how accurate it was. The IT professionals come top in studiousness and bottom in sociability, assertiveness, compliance and composure. They also perform poorly on perfectionism (which might come as a surprise to some, but not to others!) and on sensitivity (no great surprise).

Given that the industry has long used psychometric tests in its recruitment processes this raise the interesting question of whether the nerdish profile is the result of nature, nurture or is a side effect of the industry's selection processes. At any rate, it does not augur well for the production of more successful systems in the future.   

At any rate, it helps explain what I reported in my last blog entry - that there is a wide and growing gulf between the priorities of the IT industry and its lobbyists and the rest of the electorate.

If we really do want to change the profile of the industry and deliver more successful and reliable systems we have to begin by rewriting our careers material - to attract sociable, sensitive and imaginative perfectionists as opposed to studious, rebellious (i.e. low on compliance) introverts. 

Now back to the pavement, meeting 'real' people.  

When politics meets IT: the gulf between the people and the techies

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The technical press and industry lobbyists appear to be living on a different planet to most voters when it comes to assessing what the election will mean for on-line services and technology related jobs. The views of mainstream voters may come as nasty shock to those who have grown used to believing their own propaganda and expect end-users to be grateful for what they receive. The gulf of misunderstanding is likely to have significant implications, particularly if the next government is unstable and has to cope with a collapse of sterling and a sharp rise in public sector borrowing costs - leading to a choice between stagflation and yet more austerity - with cuts in public sector IT spend seen as preferable to cuts in those delivering front-line services.

There appear to be three main technology areas which voters wish to discuss. These appear taboo among technical circles - perhaps because credible responses involve taking on interest groups on whose goodwill the trade associations and professional bodies rely. The main IT and Communications suppliers will, however, have to find constructive ways of addressing them if they are not to be hit hard, where it hurts, in the wallet, with a mix of taxation and regulation. At the same time public sector spend on outside suppliers (except where the latter help local authorities get rapid payback from instant savings) is likely to shrink - leading to further cutbacks on the part of those most dependent on taxpayer funded business.   

No-one has referred to the EU Digital Single Market reform strategy (whether in the UK technical press or elsewhere during the campaign), despite the widespread leak of the main draft and supporting "evidence". This should be of serious concern to those who think that the "real" decisions are being taken in Brussels. The only group reviewing that strategy and organising inputs in time to have effect is the DPA Digital Single Market Group, chaired by Malcolm Harbour. My own review of the section on digital skills has just been circulated to the group for comment and may already have been "leaked" to the Commission in advance of the publication of their "final" draft - due next week.

But back to the technology concerns of UK voters:
1) The first area on which voters (particularly those employed in the public sector) often have strong views is the perceived poor quality of service from outsourced public sector operations. The public is no longer willing to accept that this is because of "cuts". They are beginning to blame (rightly or wrongly) "multi-national suppliers who take profits overseas" and cut their own costs by employing immigrant contractors or exporting jobs to maintain inflexible legacy contracts.

2) The second area which voters (from those affected by the abuse of family members to those running small businesses) often have strong views concerns the safety, security, privacy and reliability of on-line services run by those who do not pay their fair share of taxes. Almost all have had personal experience of abuse and or fraud (usually trivial amounts which have been refunded). The patronising attitudes of those they go to for help mean that global ISPs are now about as popular as Banks. The list of those voters want targeted for tax avoidance tends to begin with well-known technology companies and on-line retailers - alongside Greek Shipowners and Russian oligarchs.

3) The third is broadband, where small firms in urban areas are making common cause with rural activists and those who have slow or unreliable landline services at home or work or are plagued with notspots or roaming charges when they travel. 
There is no credible red blood, blue water or yellow bile between the parties on broadband policy but the views expressed by voters, and the comments candidates are having to make at local hustings. will almost certainly come back to haunt the new intake of MPs when they stand for election again with a year or so - after the widely expected hung parliament has led to a replay.

We can, therefore, begin to predict what will happen after the election - who-ever (if anyone) is in power. 

1) Anger with public service delivery - leading to devolution and "right sourcing"

Most voters take for granted those systems and services that work reliably and are easy to use. But they increasingly dislike those who provide them, from outsource suppliers to Internet Service Providers, usually because of the patronising and unhelpful responses they get when things go wrong. That is especially so when those pressing for change are told that the service is working well, in line with procurement or framework contracts, the details of which are "commercial in confidence".

I spent nearly half a hour on one doorstep (I "waste" time because I am actually interested in what people think) listening to a social worker complaining about the fragmented benefit and welfare services that condemned those she served to poverty and unemployment, because they could not afford to take the work available and thus begin the climb back into "society". She had chapter and verse on the traps and the nature of the work available locally (plenty of it but nearly all temporary and transitory), was IT literate (more up-to-date than me in contrasting the software used in the public and private sectors for end-user support systems) and was a great fan of Ian Duncan Smith's insistence that the Universal Benefit systems be tested with real people before being rolled out. She also thought that the government should be able to reduce welfare spend by far more than 12 billion from welfare by helping her clients (and their peers) into work - if only they stopped using expensive, contract driven, proprietary services from outsource suppliers who took their profits overseas and took the work back in house! She also named the suppliers and consultants she thought were to blame.

Such attitudes (and inside knowledge) are not unusual.

A couple of nights ago I was at a crowded hustings meeting (standing room only) where the rise in demand for foodbanks from those whose benefits had been delayed was directly blamed on an named outsource provider. There was applause from the floor when it was said that the contractor, originally appointed by the previous government, had been fired and service was now improving. The reality is more complex - but I am reporting what I heard - not what I believe to be correct.

Who-ever is in power after the election we can expect a more "robust" approach to negotiations with suppliers and an increasing willingness of ministers to devolve responsibility to local government - so that some-one else can be blamed. Those suppliers who help groups of local authorities to work together across boundaries to use cloud over broadband to deliver more and better for less look set to inherit the market - especially when they support incremental change on positive cash flow. I am pleased to say that I had a very positive response from some of the Cloud Suppliers at the SOCITM Spring Conference where I presented "Plan B". They are already working on the opportunity.

2) "Something must be done" about the Internet

The time has passed when the Internet was "special" and it was OK for suppliers to provide "free" services in return for harvesting our personal data (to use how they wished) while avoiding responsibility for helping take action when other users did "bad" things. Unfortunately current debate about that "something" that "must be done" is incoherent. But those who claim that "nothing" should be done, because of that incoherence, risk bringing about the worst of all worlds. Once again, realistic progress will be incremental: hence the importance of well-targeted initiatives like the DPA Age Verification Group, focused on harnessing existing technologies to improve customer confidence at the same time as making it very much easier to meet regulatory requirements around the world, not just in the UK.

That is, however, but one small shuffle in a long march. During the campaign I have heard a number of well-informed views from small businesses, including one who was incandescent about the way that the name to which they thought they should be entitled had been sold to some-one with a fictional address on the other side of the world. It was being used for fraud which was being blamed on him. He had been deeply unimpressed by the process for halting the abuse. Having observed the actions of the lawyers working on behalf of their clients to prevent the reforms that would help greatly reduce the risk in this area, I said as little as possible. I look forward, however, to the build up of an unstoppable campaign for change.

I would, however, far prefer to see those who have good business reasons for working together to improve confidence in the Internet working through the IETF, ICANN and ISOC (as well as the regional and national registration supply chain) to produce rather better "solutions" than the politicians would.

3) We have to enable those who will benefit most to help pull through investment in Ubiquitous Broadband           

I do not believe the headline that claims broadband will influence one in five voters but it is easy to see why Conservatives representing rural constituencies are very much more concerned about the issues than Labour MPs representing urban constituencies . We need to see an end to policies based on protecting BT's past investment and subsidising extensions of its legacy networks while BT focuses its own efforts on a quad play business model..Earlier this this week I was privileged to go direct from an IIC Meeting on funding the transition from copper to fibre to a London Business School Alumni event at which Sir Michael Rake talked about the task of turning round BT after its business model and share price had been destroyed by Ofcom. I attended LBS in the early 1970s when Michael Beasley taught us regulatory economics, The way in which regulation then supported the ossification of the AT&T monopoly was one of his case studies. His thinking lay behind the creation of Oftel in such a way as to incentive the incumbent to invest and innovate. The way Ofcom subsequently removed those incentives and BT responded in order to survive, would make a great case study for future LBS students.

We have to make it more attractive for those who have a choice to invest in UK infrastructure than that of the North or South America. We also have to allow enable those who have no choice, (householders, landlords, small firms and local government), to pool their budgets and use municipal enterprise to make the difference - hence Plan B to pull through the F plan. The location of our current high tech hubs is no accident - they cluster where there is good broadband and gravitate to where there needs are taken seriously. It is similarly no accident that INCAs next Smart City event is in Bristol where the Council is looking to pool budgets to attract serious infrastructure players to help its growth plans.  . 

Meanwhile remember the motto for our postal voting system that would disgrace a banana republic - vote early, vote often. 

I forget a key component when I used the analogy of the construction of the railways and canals in my blog yesterday on the means of implementing the Digital Communications Infrastucture Strategy and making a reality of Martha Lane Fox's vision for "Dot Everyone".
The success of both canals and railways depended on standards.

Unless we take action soon we will face the Internet equivalent of the battle of the gauges within a few years.

The rest of the world is going IPV6.

The cost of transition is relatively trivial for those who plan in advance. It will not be so for those left behind. Internet innovators who cannot develop and test for an IPV6 world, because they lack on-line "native" access, are at an increasing disadvantage.

Verizon, the largest US network operator, transitioned its core network nearly a decade ago. It mandated IPV6 for its linked mobile operators as long ago as 2009. In 2010 the US Federal Government set deadlines of 2012 to convert all public facing Federal Applications to support IPV6 and 2014 for all internal applications. In consequneces almost all mainstream communications equipment installed over the past five years, anywhere in the world, including in the UK supports IPV6.

But the facilities have not yet been "switched on" by most UK national networks because of problems with their legacy equipment. In consequence, if you wish to develop products and services for the IPV6 world (e.g. for "Smart Buildings" or the "Internet of Things") you can be at a severe disadvantage unless you can get space in an innovation centre linked direct to JANET - the only UK network that has fully transitioned. Hence another of the reasons for the rental differential between those on opposite sides of the road in Shoreditch.   

Were HMG to copy the US Federal Government in mandating IPV6 compliance for PSN2 and all forward taxpayer funded projects that situation would change very rapidly - although it there would be opposition  - as there was when the Inland Revenue Service tried to ignore the US Presidential Order five years ago.

I have therfre edited the blog entry on Plan B to include reference to IPV6 - and apoligise to thsoe readers who forcefully pointed out the ommission.

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