Good news in the gloom

As the downturn continues, two developments announced this week brighten the outlook.

As the downturn continues, two developments announced this week brighten the outlook

Gartner's latest Symposium took place this week against the beguiling backdrop of Florence in spring; but not even this inspiring locale could spark predictions of green shoots of recovery. Instead, the talk in the piazzas and trattorias was of this being another bad year for IT spending, and of flat IT budgets into 2004. Given such projections of gloom, it was refreshing to hear of two good-news stories elsewhere in the sphere of IT this week.

First, there was the promising news of Rotherham Borough Council's 12-year, £150m joint venture with BT, which will see public sector know-how combine with private sector expertise to run all of the council's IT functions. The parties involved stress that this is not outsourcing; instead, Rotherham Council employees will be seconded to BT.

Liverpool City Council entered into a similar partnership with BT in 2001, and it has now established a consulting arm that is opening new revenue streams by offering products and services to other councils. Rotherham Council hopes to do the same - and also expects to make savings of £50m over the course of the joint-risk venture, which has already been sanctioned by the unions.

The joint venture could prove to be a compelling model for public-private partnerships, one which could help eradicate public sector IT failures. Better still, Rotherham Council's decision to learn a trick from a fellow council provides a welcome example of public sector IT learning from past experience and sharing best practice.

The other piece of positive news this week concerned the maturation of location-based services.

Given the unfulfilled promise of WAP, and the lack of real interest in 3G, most businesses are understandably wary of any new "watershed" in mobile technology. However, companies that have long been searching for a way to capitalise on the immense popularity of mobile phones in the UK will have been encouraged to see this week's launch of one of the first widespread uses of location-based services technology.

The service in question allows London taxi firms to locate mobile phone users and direct the nearest cab to them without any intermediary call centre.

Computer Weekly has been writing about the potential of location-based services, which use network operators' technology to locate mobile phone users by the nearest cell, for the past two years. Consumer surveys have consistently shown that mobile phone users would be prepared to pay for location-based services, provided they are useful. Only now are they graduating beyond the conceptual stage.

The ability to hail the nearest taxi with a single mobile phone call is clearly never going to be the killer app that kick-starts a fresh mobile revolution. Then again, as more location-based services become available, mobile phone users will become accustomed to using them, and momentum will surely gather.

Perhaps a new IT boom time could be in the offing, yet?

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