Glossy and glorious - but out of touch

Despite the regular appearances of the e-minister Patricia Hewitt and e-envoy Alex Allan at recent e-commerce-related events, the Government is in danger of substituting quantity for quality



David Bicknell

E-business

Despite the regular appearances of the e-minister Patricia Hewitt and e-envoy Alex Allan at recent e-commerce-related events, the Government is in danger of substituting quantity for quality in its efforts to create an e-business culture in the UK.

A month from now, we will see the publication of the Government's first e-commerce progress report, a year on from the report from the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit. It will no doubt say, in glowing terms, how well the Government has done, and portray the UK as a world leader in e-commerce.

The reality will be somewhat different. Look beyond the froth of First Tuesday, which has been enormously successful in raising e-commerce awareness and creating a forum for entrepreneurs, and you find worrying signs.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP)legislation promises to be an unmitigated disaster, shoved through the Commons with a huge majority, with, apparently, little or no thought for how business would cope with it.

Only a belated fuss caused by business managed to untie the victim lying on the tracks - but still too late to prevent the victim - British business - suffering multiple injuries from which it may not recover.

CBI director-general Digby Jones' open letter to the Government over the latest problems with the RIP Act - business worries over the woefully short period for responses (in the middle of August - holiday season) regarding the rights of the company and the individual over e-mail - should have been unnecessary.

Government should have seen business worries coming. That it didn't demonstrates a lack of joined-up thinking within government over e-business issues.

When Allan and Hewitt were appointed, there was the hope that they would provide a government for e-business.

I expected more - an approach to e-commerce and e-business that reflected understanding of how companies were implementing e-business, right down to the role of the e-business director, the IT director, and the corporate liabilities over issues such as security and privacy.

And if that meant a few arguments over e-business in the corridors of power, over the effects of government policy on UK business, then so much the better.

So far, it would appear on the basis of the evidence, there haven't been any.

Sadly, there doesn't seem to be much of evidence of the Government's e-thinkers being on the same wavelength as UK business. Or maybe they are just not thumping the table loudly.

My hope is that when the Government's e-commerce Report Card comes out, it will reflect the real picture. That is, continued concern over small/medium-sized business take-up of e-commerce; consumer fears over security and privacy that have not been allayed by the recent online banking foul-ups; business fears that the Home Office has driven through RIP without anywhere near enough thought as to its effects; and fears that US e-commerce is ready and able to swoop into Europe - even with its numerous cultures and languages - and clean up.

My fear is that the report will be glossy and glorious - but hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Time for the government to take off its rose-tinted e-commerce spectacles, and start seeing the real world through the eyes of a business community that must surely be starting to despair.

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