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IT profession urged to enter public debate on technology policy

Rebecca Thomson

The IT profession needs to play more of a role in national debate on technology policy, including ID cards and information sharing, said Michael Bichard, a former council chief and senior civil servant, who now chairs public sector strategy consultancy RSe Consulting.

Bichard, who directed the enquiry to police intelligence sharing following the Soham murders, urged IT professionals to speak out to help educate the public in technology issues.

"Government has done far too little to educate the public about why, for example, information does need to be shared, and what safeguards can be put in place which stop its being misused," he said speaking in Belfast at the local government IT directors association, SOCITIM, conference.

"The public are also still unaware of the dangers presented by fraud, ID theft and money laundering. These are not issues for the policy-making geeks or politicians. I would like to see IT professionals take part in more informed debate - because you know what you are talking about," he said,

He said that IT professionals were making progress in developing softer communication skills alongside their technical skills, but still had further to go.

"This has been a pretty good three years and there are grounds for optimism. But IT professionals still need to deliver key skills which will make people listen to them," he said.

The prevailing lack of softer skills in the IT profession meant that there were still not enough IT directors at board level

Research shows that IT workers are increasingly using business rather than technical language, but only 30% of IT chiefs sit on council boards. "Only 25% of business leaders thought the communication skills of IT professionals in this were good enough. So more needs to be done," he said.

Another major issue for local government IT directors is the need to redesign services. Transformational agendas will not work, Bichard said unless there is a total rethink with IT at the core of systems.

"Maybe we do not yet fully understand our customers. We do not know enough about them to know what they really want. Part of the answer is in looking again at the fundamental way that our services are designed.

"We can do that by focusing first and last on the customer, while integrating IT into the core design."

Michael Bichard based his speech on surveys done in 2004 and 2007 of chief executives and IT directors at about 80 local authorities.


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