Users must speak with a single voice

When the Government wants to know what business thinks about IT and communications, who does it go to? The IT supply industry, of...

When the Government wants to know what business thinks about IT and communications, who does it go to? The IT supply industry, of course.

The CBI e-business umbrella group has shown what is possible. Now IT users need to unite

Not only do the IT giants have lines of communication to ministers as suppliers of major Whitehall-backed initiatives, they are also learning to speak with one voice.

The Alliance for Electronic Business (AEB) - formed by the CBI along with industry umbrella groups in software, electronics and marketing - has been increasingly effective in influencing the policy debate about e-business.

That is to be welcomed, since it demonstrates that the Government is at least listening to somebody.

But IT users - that is businesses and institutions in their role as the consumers of IT products and services - are nowhere near as well represented.

IT professionals are scattered horizontally across the UK economy in "service departments". Their professional association, the British Computer Society, has nothing like the political clout of, for example, the British Medical Association.

Then there are user groups, the ad-hoc bodies set up by communities of users of specific product suites. These vary in independence from the suppliers they are focused on. But even the most fiercely independent user groups could not hope to match the clout that the AEB is now wielding.

In addition, there are a number of cross-industry bodies which look like better candidates for the task of unifying the IT user voice. But their efforts may be hampered by the fact that, as they move into the paid-for information and services arena, they become commercial competitors.

But we urgently need a unified IT user voice.

Contrary to the dreams of some dotcoms, governments will play a major role in creating the standards and infrastructures that will shape the way firms use IT in the next 20 years.

Ministers and their civil servants rightly operate on the "keep it simple, stupid" principle: they do not want a cacophony of horizontally and vertically structured IT user groups and professional bodies. They barely recognise the concept of the "corporate IT user" as distinct from the software houses and outsourcing consultancies with whom they deal daily.

Computer Weekly exists to be the voice of the IT user - but we are never going to be a substitute for an industry body that brings together the key voices of the IT user community. That is why we need a pan-industry IT user group: from the RIP Act to the broadband debacle to the growing skills gap, IT users have urgent items for the government agenda.

To get them on that agenda, we need to start speaking with a single voice.

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