Opinion: Tif sets out IT wish list for new government

Synergy is a much abused term in business, but there is an opportunity for more of it, and better when it comes to central government and the large IT organisations of the UK

Synergy is a much abused term in business, but there is an opportunity for more of it, and better when it comes to central government and the large IT organisations of the UK, writes David Roberts, executive director at the Corporate IT Forum.

The Corporate IT Forum's members' businesses employ an average of 20,000 people each. Looking across that membership, I can see very senior IT managers who could counsel hard-pressed large IT project leaders in government. They could play a role akin to that of a non-executive director of a company.

While only a hypothesis at this stage, we think something has to be done to support senior IT professionals in government beset by well-intentioned projects that border on the naïve.

One recent example of misguided government techno-enthusiasm was Gordon Brown's statement that open source technology is "freely available". According to a survey of Corporate IT Forum members on open source matters, "open" does not mean free. It is not plug-and-play. It is not self-documenting, it does not self-maintain and interfaces need customising.

In our view, the three priorities of the new government, of whatever hue, are: combating e-crime against corporate organisations and, ultimately their customers; achieving excellence in broadband; and strengthening the skills of all IT business decision makers.

Cybercrime

We remain concerned at the underfunding of the war against cybercrime. The £7m funding provided for the Police Central E-Crime Unit was welcome, but slender and short-term in relation to the cost of e-criminality to our economy. Admittedly, these are hard to quantify, but indicative is the finding of the 2008 BERR Information Security Breaches Survey, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, that the average cost of the worst incident experienced by very large companies was between £1m and £2m.

The Corporate IT Forum's 2009 e-crime survey, conducted among 58 organisations with significant enterprise-level IT estates, found that nearly 40% had seen an increase in deliberate e-crime, compared with 2008.

On the upside, though, there was a significant increase in those organisations who "always report" incidents to the police - from 4% in 2008 to 26% in 2009. This may be plausibly attributed to the advent of the Police Central E-Crime Unit, launched in October 2008, and we would like to see its hand - and/or that of similar agencies - strengthened by the new government.

Broadband

We also have concerns about a lack of coherent planning and bold ambition around broadband roll out across the whole of the UK. Can it really be good enough to neglect wireless and to aim for a meagre two megabits per second? And then leave delivery of countrywide connectivity to BT and a tightly competitive mobile sector?

The government needs to deliver an infrastructure beneficial to business and rural communities; to enable flexible corporate working practices; and to aid overseas promotion of inward investment into the UK.

Skills

On the issue of e-skills, our main interest would be in promoting lifelong learning for senior business and IT professionals. In a global market we should aim to develop the capability to develop and export high level expertise, not to over emphasise commodity skills.

We accept that there are likely to be significant cuts in spending on major IT projects. All the more reason, then, to get the risk assessment of large scale government IT projects right. Again, this is a question of bringing into play seasoned corporate IT expertise.

We should not have to wait until something goes drastically wrong to take the full measure of the security side of IT. The "lost discs" fiasco of 2007 is the defining security breach of the past five years. It should not have been so.

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