The booming UK housing market can teach the IT industry a lesson in mutual interest for the long-term benefit of society, says Colin Beveridge.
The UK housing market is booming, with rocketing house prices in many areas, fuelled by flocks of profit-hungry property investors.
Everywhere you look you can see clear evidence of dilapidated buildings being renovated or converted for residential use. It seems that anyone with cash to spare is putting it into bricks and mortar these days, rather than a pension fund or other variable return stock-market investment.
And the upshot of all this frantic activity is an overall improvement in the country’s housing stock, which I honestly believe benefits all of us in the long run, not just the individual property owners.
We all gain from the revitalisation of run-down neighbourhoods and the speculative investments of third parties often improve the general amenity of the surrounding community.
This makes me think that the current property market has a very powerful message for the various owners of IT systems - if we all do our own little bit, here and there, to renovate and improve our country’s technology stock, then we will all gain from the communal synergy generated, notwithstanding our own personal returns on investment.
Pretty quickly, this approach would do more than any other initiative to make the UK a much better place for electronic business, with tangible benefits to the economy.
But it will only happen if we radically change the way we think about how we build and manage our technology infrastructure.
We will need an unprecedented degree of philosophical and commercial maturity if we really want to get the best out of our IT and to develop a favourable technology environment.
In short, we will have to stop taking a blinkered, standalone, view of our own particular systems and put them squarely into a broader context.
This isn’t rocket science. In a truly connected world, just like the property market, the value of our own technology holdings will be subject to mutual trends and environmental effects. Sadly, in the present mind-set, we have no control or influence over the infrastructure beyond our own immediate boundaries.
The world beyond the corporate firewall is an increasingly hostile place and there is very little that we can do to compensate for its effects on our own investment. This inevitably means that we may spend millions on a new system but then find that its value can be severely devalued if it has to operate in an undernourished climate.
The world of real-estate property recognised this fundamental fact of mutual interest long ago and has developed some very effective defence mechanisms to defray any potential negative impacts.
For sure, an Englishman’s home may be his castle but at least there are whole rafts of property planning laws and regulations to protect the common interest and safety of neighbours from the less appealing whims of a headstrong property owner.
Likewise, every property, no matter how grand or humble, must fully comply with current safety guidelines and regulations before it can be connected to any of the utility networks that provide power and water.
These simple safeguards are common sense and widely recognised as such. They also protect the investment of property owners and thereby indirectly facilitate a booming property market. Whereas the national technology infrastructure is allowed to wander aimlessly, without let or hindrance, and nobody seems the least bit concerned about IT co-ordination and planning.
Where are the technology equivalents of town planners and motorway designers? Nowhere, is the short answer.
So, it’s no wonder then that UK IT is in such a sorry state. Maybe we should ask Tony Blair to appoint an IT tsar to look into the problem and to explain the issues in terms that even a politician can understand. I’m not holding my breath, though…
Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org