David Cameron called Labour's budget a missed opportunity, but those working in the technology sector may well be sitting back with a wry smile and a sense of optimism. Darling's budget opens a range of new doors for IT managers, CIOs and the directors of technology companies.
Technology was referenced as a high-growth target market for the UK economy throughout Darling's speech. This is reflected in the various initiatives announced. Four in particular will raise eyebrows for technology decision-makers:
- £750m for innovation-based businesses offers the IT sector an opportunity to grow and thrive. In the midst of a dwindling economy (set to shrink by 3.5% this year) this is an opportunity for technology companies to grow, develop and bring forward new ideas.
This fund is more than just capital - it is a demonstration of the government's commitment to supporting our digital economy, which can only be good news.
However, securing money from this fund will not be easy - the government is not about to use taxpayer money for risky bets.
It is imperative that applicants have a clear message about the economic return they offer. The government has to show that it can spend responsibly, so will no doubt tread cautiously.
- The promised £4bn of investment in renewable energy is also important. History shows that market success has a positive impact on supply chains. When we started drilling for oil in the North Sea the UK quickly became dominant in oil technologies.
Renewable energy sources, such as wind and tidal power, rely on technology, so increased funding means that technology development, implementation and ongoing management will also benefit from capital injections.
- £1.7bn is committed to keep young people in education and to help them secure training. IT managers across the UK should see this as a great opportunity to close the technology skills gap. Technology is highlighted as a sector expecting high growth so there is a real chance that some of this money could be channelled into technology training.
The community needs to lobby hard and make the economic case, but the jigsaw pieces are already laid out - we just need to put them together for the policy-makers.
- More than £9bn of potential savings has been identified by increasing efficiency processes across government departments.
£3.2bn will come from changing the way government approaches IT projects. There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is that for "more efficient" you can read "less, and standardised" so some companies will lose out. No doubt fewer contracts will be available.
The good news is that these changes may deliver a longer-term move towards greater IT success in the public sector. Government departments will have to increase their attention to detail at the planning stage. All projects over a certain financial threshold must now be reviewed by the government's CIO at the Treasury. All of this will slowly increase performance and quality, and address negative perceptions about IT projects bought with public money.
So for the technology sector, 2009's budget was less a missed opportunity and more a chance for growth and development. But nothing here is to be handed out on a plate. Above all else, the government wants to see progress based on sound economic decisions. The technology community must be wise to this and ensure it presents a solid economic case to take full advantage of everything that is on offer.
Matthew Poyiadgi is European vice-president of CompTIA