Has RBS put the Information Society back 5 Years or saved us from worse?

As detail emerges to confirm the scale, nature and source of the problems faced by RBS and the impact on its customers we an begin to ponder the consequences, including for HMG  aspirations to move its dealings with the most vulnerable in society not only on-line, but reliant on call centres and support staff based on the other side of the world. 

Cabinet Office is in the process of organising the frameworks under which the next generation of central government services will be procured. Some have been announced, others are just going out to tender. But what will be the effect on public confidence of last weeks public and small business experience, if the industry closes ranks professionally and says “it was just one of those things that happen in todays complex on-line world”.  

Last week I agreed to help organise an exercise on the nature of trust in the on-line world.

That exercise has just become a lot more urgent. It may also have, paradoxically, become  very much easier. This may be one of those moments, like the Tay Bridge Disaster, when an industry is forced to grow up. The failings of cast iron bridges had been shown over 30 years earlier when the Dee Bridge fell down  The basic disciplines of systems engineering for systems to support remote on-line transaction processing are also over 30 years old. That has not prevented each new generation of supposed “computer professionals” from having to relearn the mistakes of their predecessors. The mixing of executable code and data was a firing offence for my generation. It is now deemed “essential” to get the throughput needed.   

The enquiry into the Tay Bridge Disaster, when the Admirality Commissioner of Wrecks over-rode the excuses of the most eminent engineers of the day (including his assessors), changed professional attitudes for ever – albeit not necessarily for good. 

Is this a Tay Bridge moment?

Probably not. Not enough people are dead – although if RBS has to be put down as its customers walk away and the rest of us go back to carrying cash reserves in case our Cards stop working … 

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