The government is quick to recognise the economic necessity of air travel, yet seems prepared to shoot itself in the foot where the UK's IT infrastructure is concerned, says Colin Beveridge.
Well, folks, it looks like we only have to wait another 40 years until the UK government takes information technology seriously. After all, the computer industry hasn’t even reached its 60th birthday yet, and any new-fangled technology has to be at least 100 years old before it gets onto the real political agenda.
It was ironic that the centenary of the first manned flight, by Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kittyhawk, fell in the same week as people in Essex expressed their fury at the approval of a new runway at London Stansted airport.
I’ll bet those pioneering aviators struggling to break away from the shackles of gravity could never have remotely envisaged the tremendous commercial and political fallout that would be the legacy of their endeavours.
Manned flight has come a long way in a century and the government readily recognises the economic necessity of satisfying the demands of the travelling public, who now hop on and off planes faster than you can say Stelios Haji-Ioannou. Which is why the government now intervenes directly in such important decisions about where and how the UK’s airport infrastructure is developed.
It’s a pity, though, that the politicos don’t apply the same worthy principles to the UK’s information technology infrastructure. Unlike the more mature technologies, such as rail, road and air networks, we cannot expect any official funding, assistance or intervention. It is down to those of us in the industry to create the digital arteries, veins and nervous system of the infrastructure.
Our present government ministers are definitely much more like Pontius Pilate than the pioneering pilots of Kittyhawk.
The evidence for this can be found in another two news stories this week.
An international survey has shown that the UK has fallen further down the technology take-up league table despite Tony Blair’s strident personal commitment of only a few years ago that the government would make the UK the best country in the world for doing e-business.
However, the reality is not fulfilling the prime minister’s dream and it seems that we are steadily losing ground in the global technology race.
So much for being world leaders. We are struggling to be also-rans.
And, finally, we have lost the services of Mr Blair’s much-vaunted e-envoy, the government e-vangelist initially charged with dragging the country’s technical infrastructure, alive and kicking, into the 21st century. A poisoned chalice if ever there was.
The government’s vision of a brave new e-world never had any substance, beyond a few brave words and a few relatively minor token stunts, such as the e-government initiative and the third-generation mobile telephony licence auction.
The truth is that politicians do not understand new technology and don’t want to get involved with it for at least 100 years. So, by my reckoning, we can expect to see the first credible government technology strategy emerging in the late 2040s, or early 2050s.
Unless, of course, the politicians find a way of taxing IT sooner…
What do you think?
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Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at [email protected]