Getting IT back on political agenda

Twenty-five years ago, IT was seen as the "meta-technology" of the future and punched well above its weight politically. Today, society is critically dependent on online systems, but the political influence of the IT community is negligible.

In 1982, more than 140 MPs attended an exhibition on computers in schools. More than 400 delegates attended a party conference on the importance of technology, and the event was backed up by an exhibition with stands from more than 20 suppliers.

Six weeks later, the prime minister addressed 1,400 delegates from all walks of life - not just the world of IT - on the same theme.

This year, the Labour Party had an excellent programme on the use of IT to help win elections, and the Conservative's policy for cybersecurity was well covered in a fringe meeting.

IT lacking representation

But few IT lobbyists attended the conferences, the suppliers had no stands, and there was no mention of the use of IT to help deliver benefits to citizens, only the now-customary jokes about failed projects.

The next election will be won or lost in 80 or so marginal seats where the MP has a majority less than the number of local jobs that will be put at risk if local employers move IT functions offshore or if confidence in the online world falters.

But who is addressing the issues of importance to voters whose jobs are at stake? And why are those issues not on the political agenda?

The reason is partly complacency. Our industry came to take its importance for granted, and focused on lobbying for government business, rather than policies to enable UK-based operations to flourish globally.

More dangerous, however, was the attitude that IT could do whatever politicians wanted. This was an abdication of the professional duty to manage user expectations.

Then came Y2K. Who would again believe promises from those who failed to predict the inevitable?

Today, more than 70% of the electorate is online, experiencing the joys and frustrations of the worldwide wait and the mix of patronisation and gobbledeygook that passes for user support.

A call to political action

We hear many calls for politicians to engage with the world of IT - usually from people who have little or no understanding of the world of politics. It is more important for those who work in the IT industry, for users as well as for suppliers, to be politically active.

My blog, "When IT Meets Politics",  will cover the issues that affect your future employability, how you are allowed to do business, and how we can regain respect by delivering systems that are fit for purpose and affordable.

Equally importantly, it will cover the opportunities for you to make your views known, including consultations by the political parties and think-tanks, as well as by UK government departments and agencies and the European Commission.

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This was first published in October 2007


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