IT at the Party Conferences - Post Mortem

Apart from bad jokes, in which IT was synonymous with failure and/or coplexity and unreliabilty, there was almost no mention at any of the Party Conferences of the technologies that now underpin society at every level. More-over almost no-one from the IT industry attended – even though it supposedly now employs nearly 5% of the work force. And most of those who did attend were careful not to mention their day jobs. Are you really so ashamed?

I was recently asked why there were no great IT success stories in the UK – complex systems brought in to time and budget. I mentioned the systems which handle real-time cross-charging between fixed and mobile phone-operators, the transition of UK credit and debit cards to chip and pin with access from every high street ATM, the upgrades last year to the VocaLink payment clearing services. No-one had heard of them. I realised that they were like the Victorians’ greatest engineering achievement – the water supply and sewage systems that prevented cholera and typhoid from stopping the industrial revolution dead in its tracks – invisible except for the traffic jams when roads had to be dug up.

Richard Sarson recently described the problems faced by those seeking to interest MPs in an excellent article in the Guardian. The players involved are summarised in “A Short “Guide to UK Political Players on the Information Society Political Scene” . Richard refers to the long-overdue merger of the Mobile, Telecoms and Internet groups to form the new All Party Communications Group (ApComms). Last week ApComms organised an all-day conference on Parliament and the Internet, in co-operation the other two main players, PITCOM and its arms-length off-spring, EURIM. As another part of the growing collaboration between the groups the forward timetable on the EURIM website now carries information on all the events that are targetted at informing politicans that are notified to it.

However, politicians will not attend events to tell them how important and wonderful we are, unless invited by those who employ voters in their constituency and/or invited by members of their local party. The Parliament and Internet event was attended by all the IT industry lobbyists who failed to attend the party conferences but only the MP enthusiasts named by Richard Sarson in his article.

EURIM is doing rather better with the invitations for its Transformational Government dialogues (starting on November 8th) with acceptances from those interested less in the technology than in its effective use to deliver better public services to their constituencies.

So what are YOU doing to help educate and interest YOUR MP in why the contribution of our industry to modern society is so important and in what they need to do to help ensure that boring things, like our communications infrastructure (as essential to the health and wealth of 21st century society as clean supply and efficient drains were to Victorian England) are fit for purpose, that policies on issues like Data Protection, Identity Management are based on practical experience not theoretical fantasy and that restrictions on civil liberties, like the extension of detention without trial, are not blamed on ICT (time to decrypt computer files) without evidence that the changes would make a commensurate difference to public safety.

Or are you too introverted or ashamed of your profession?