What must be done to sustain UK competitiveness through to 2025? This was the subject of a recent BCS Thought Leadership Debate, which centred on the premise that competitive advantage is increasingly enabled by IT and the use of intellectual assets.
The senior IT leaders and academics at the debate agreed that, for UK plc to maintain its position in the global economy, universities and businesses need to work together more closely.
When management or political decisions create problems, the culprits often find a way to blame IT, the debate heard. The IT community is losing the propaganda war, and unless it fights back there will be under-investment, under-achievement and needless damage to the UK economy. One suggestion for how this could be addressed was for IT suppliers to work more closely with users.
It was also felt that the government should, and could, do more to encourage and support IT. By taking the lead, it could encourage businesses to do the same. Government also needs to show that it can make IT projects succeed, instead of failing and going over budget.
In terms of raising the profile of IT, many suggested that the IT industry should make focus on what it is good at, such as banking, the arts, media and culture. It was also said that in the UK we need to support innovators more than we do currently.
Most delegates felt that the biggest issue was education and how IT is taught. Debaters felt that teachers did not know enough about the IT industry. IT needs to be shown as useful and appealing, they said.
Being interested in IT is seen in a negative way and people are labelled as "techies", but IT skills are becoming increasingly important. IT should be shown to cross-over into many different areas rather than being isolated, the debate heard.
One idea was that businesses should work more closely with all levels of education, from schools to higher education, and enable more vocational courses.
As an offshoot from this, some felt that there was not enough investment in research, which is essential for future UK success. With a drop in investment, fewer people are going into research occupations and businesses tend to be reactive rather than proactive, which puts them at a disadvantage compared to other nations.
Some felt that chief executives need a better understanding of IT, and CIOs need a better grounding in business practices. In fact, many felt that CIOs could be the biggest obstacle to business competitiveness and that they need to change the most.
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