Modern society is critically dependent on reliable local access to efficient online systems in both the public and private sectors, writes Philip Virgo, secretary general, The Information Society Alliance (Eurim). Moreover, the headline promises of all the major parties depend on the use of information systems to target services and cut costs. The problem is a collapse of political confidence in the ICT industry's ability to deliver results and a consequent view that the IT budget should be among the first targets for cuts.
Two years ago, Eurim drew up a three-year plan looking at the challenges that would have to be addressed during the run-up to, and aftermath of, the 2010 election. The plan had all-party buy-in and the objectives still look good as headlines for an election "manifesto". They are:
• Foster, attract and retain knowledge-based business operations that could be based anywhere in the world and/or could move at short notice.
• Rebuild trust that the ICT industry (users as well as suppliers) can work in partnership with government and the public sector to reliably and securely deliver effective, socially inclusive, joined-up public services and ensure the effective monitoring (including political) of policy formation and implementation with regard to citizen-centric services, including performance monitoring based on the front-line experiences of both deliverers and recipients.
• Rebuild confidence in the competence of the public, private and voluntary sectors to securely manage the sharing of identity and information services and support the creation and enforcement of relevant professional codes of practice.
• Create and maintain a globally competitive workforce at all levels, from basic technical and linguistic competence through system specification, development, integration and operation, to product and service research, design, development and implementation.
• Create a national strategic e-crime reduction partnership to: cut online crime and nuisance; reduce risk and increase awareness; and increase UK business and consumer confidence in the safety and security of the on-line world. The aim is to establish UK leadership in internet policing/governance in line with London's position as the leading global hub for international financial services, trade, commerce and disputes.
• Create world-class, secure, resilient, universally available, affordable fixed and mobile broadband access connecting businesses, citizens and consumers - plus democratically accountable, technology-neutral and light-touch regulatory frameworks that encourage competition, innovation and quality of service in both infrastructure and services, in line with customer - both business and consumer - priorities.
The issue is not whether these are worthy goals, but how they are to be achieved, given the people, funds and time now available. Whether the answer is centrally planned or devolved, success will rely on rebuilding the government's in-house skills as an intelligent customer, able to follow good practice in planning, procurement and customer-supplier relations. Those same skills will also be needed for policy advisers, officials and regulators to understand what can and cannot be left to market forces in the wider policy areas.