Thought for the day: Casualties of war

As the cost of being a coalition member escalates, Simon Moores asks who is going to foot the bill for the government's IT...

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As the cost of being a coalition member escalates, Simon Moores asks who is going to foot the bill for the government's IT projects.

 

 

 

"Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" This question spelled the end of Thomas Beckett, an archbishop who was too free and independent with his opinions.

You might imagine US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld making a similar remark about the Quatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel or even the BBC.

The recent and unsuccessful attempts to knock Iraqi television off the air illustrates just how difficult suppressing the media can be, even with the help of cruise missiles.

However, websites aren't such a heavyweight challenge as aljazeera.net dropped off the internet quite suddenly last week, its DNS records having mysteriously disappeared.

Before this war started, I warned that government's digital Britain programme might become a casualty if it wasn't over quickly.

Today, we're facing the growing prospect of a lengthy, bloody and very expensive campaign.

In addition to the escalating cost of being a coalition member, our stock market is shaky and Nigerian and Venezuelan oil supply problems are, with the suspension of Iraqi exports, contributing to rising energy prices.

As a matter of interest, 2006, the year we are supposed to have achieved 100% e-government, is also the year that some analysts are predicting that our own North Sea oil fields will fall into decline.

This will signal the end of the UK's position as a net oil exporter and with it, the income stream that made a strong contribution to our economic growth over the past 20 years.

Contrast the writing on the economic wall with the investment that government plans in IT. Let us not forget the defence IT modernisation programme worth an estimated £5bn over 10 years, the National Health Service's £2.3bn IT modernisation and my own "guesstimate" of £500m to finish the UK Online programme.

This is wonderful news for IT companies involved with government, and at the other end of the spectrum, there's the small change projects running between £1m and £10m, such as £1.1m to create the UK's first internet-based equipment service for disabled people.

The eWorld Technology Investment Survey (www.eworld-uk.com/government.html), based on interviews with 600 senior business decision-makers predicts annual IT budgets would increase in 2003.

In addition, eGov monitor reports a total of 48 projects that will be taken forward through local and national partnerships have secured funding under the latest round of the Treasury's "Invest to Save Budget" (ISB) programme.

But can anyone tell me who is going to pay for all this progress, if, in addition to the costs of fighting a prolonged war, we have to contribute a significant proportion to the reconstruction of Iraq?

Digital Britain is, increasingly, an aspiration as targets are missed, but completion, "joined-up government" and the vision that accompanies this demands an investment of public money, which may no longer be available.

Truth may be the first casualty of war, but IT projects may come a close second.

What do you think?

Will IT become a casualty of war?  Tell us in an e-mail >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

This was last published in April 2003

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