Good Governance - Effective use of IT

Written evidence submitted by Communications Management Association (IT 45)

About CMA

CMA is an association of ICT professionals from the business community who have a professional interest in communications, in both private and public sectors. It is a registered charity 50 years old, totally independent and without supplier bias. It is run by the members, for the members and aims to influence regulation and legislation, provide education and training and disseminate knowledge and information, for the public good. CMA’s contribution to public consultations is generated via the process described in the Footnote to this response. (www.thecma.com)

Business Impact Statement

To the business community, "IT" does not just mean computers on desks. No computer terminal can be fully effective unless it is part of a communications network that connects it to a wider community – hence the broadly accepted terminology of ‘ICT’, adopted to counter the earlier tendency to overlook the essential communications component of systems.

During the past decade the business community has increasingly focused its "ICT" strategies on connecting with its customers. Unfortunately, while (as the PASC inquiry asserts) "IT is ubiquitous", that cannot be said of the underlying communications infrastructure that, in the national sense, should provide the means of reaching out to a mass market and enable a

vast range of innovative services and products. This infrastructure investment point (along with its societal implications) was well made in President Obama’s inaugural speech where alongside concern for roads, rail and bridges he recognised the vital role of ‘the digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together’.

Therefore, while the primary thrust of the questions posed by the inquiry appears to be aimed at the acquisition and use of government computers on government desks, CMA is clear that the success of government ICT programmes is increasingly dependent on these systems’ interactions with businesses of all sizes and the customers of these businesses, the citizen-consumer.

To achieve that (ubiquitous) interconnection requires an understanding, across all Departments, of the importance of ubiquitous communications. Regrettably, we find that such understanding in government appears limited to a few pockets of expertise and that there seems little appreciation at other levels of the need to pay equal attention to communications infrastructure and its design qualities. Indeed, the prevailing – perhaps unthinking and potentially mistaken - view appears to be that "BT will provide".

Summary

CMA has chosen to provide a response only to Question 1: "How well is technology policy co-ordinated across Government?"

We use, as examples rather than exemplars, recent policy documents produced by government and we express the view that unless there is better understanding and better coordination between Departments it is unlikely that UKplc (and therefore its customers) will benefit to the full extent possible from government investment in the national communications infrastructure.

Detail

Whether the need is reflected in government papers

Government attitudes to the relevance of communications for the broader context of policy and administration are deep-seated. Despite ‘market’ reviews (Caio and Carter) the underlying policy view reveals a disconnect between ‘internal’ administrative needs and ‘external’ market-driven regulation. In general terms the relative administrative ignorance of the interdependency of administrative needs and the national infrastructure can be revealed by analysis of official statements that might reasonably be expected to make that connection.

Whilst CMA recognises that the coalition government affords an opportunity to adopt fresh perspectives it is inevitable that it also inherits a continuity of established policy and practice – so in this analysis it is worthwhile reviewing the evolution of attitudes over the past 3-4 years, sufficient to illustrate the long-term view.

A useful starting point is the Comprehensive Spending Review of 2007 – completed just prior to the last phase of the previous government. This CSR created clarity around departmental objectives and designated leadership and subordinate responsibilities for achievement of policy objectives. Particular attention was given to the necessity of encouraging ‘sub-national economic growth and regional development’.

The Treasury paper of July 2007 was focused on correcting the recognised over-dependence of the economy on the City of London and the relatively prosperous South East. In that paper the word ‘network’ was used many times but never in the context of either communications or broadband. It highlighted interworking between government departments, local administrations, the value of transport networks but not once did the paper consider digital networks as relevant to either economic growth or societal development despite significant evidence of this in countries where this was already evident at that time.

This ‘disconnect’ was equally apparent in the follow-up 2008 paper ‘Prosperous Place’ where analysis of the ‘network’ count again shows recognition of interconnectedness of administrative, enterprise and private/public life but no recognition of the need to ensure or demand provision a digital infrastructure to support that increasingly apparent component of economic policy. At that time public commentary from the UK’s primary provider suggested that advanced broadband was not very much in demand and that the country could get by with gradual upgrades (mainly in urban/city areas) to copper-based local networks.

By 2009 this position began to change following Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report and all three main parties headed towards the 2010 election with at least some half-hearted recognition of the significance of broadband for citizen-consumer markets. The focus on localism led to hopes of an understanding of the economic value of locally-managed infrastructure overhaul but subsequent statements from both BIS and CLG (often as one) have failed to identify digital infrastructure as a key enabler of employment and local services innovation. The enthusiasm for localised TV stations failed to embrace the notion of all-IP technology and remained mired in the economics of broadcasting to mass markets. The papers for Local Enterprise Partnerships have, similarly, little to say on the relevance of local access networks.

BT meanwhile has at last acknowledged that in some areas its fibre-to-the-cabinet plans are not fit for purpose and should be replaced by fibre-to-the-premises but their plans still do not embrace the opportunities for local innovative and societally-cohesive services at a level affordable within Big Society initiatives dependent to a large part on community endeavour. It is this arena that local government (with overt support from Whitehall) can play a significant role. In other countries, local investment in replacement networks (this is not an upgrade but a total transformation) has been assured by advance commitment to switch to the new networks. Such a move does not imply a change in supply arrangements for Services – merely a determination that those services are delivered across a network that is fit for purpose – for government, for local enterprise and for wider societal use.

Most recently, we have seen the DCLG paper "A plain English Guide to the Localism Bill", published earlier this month. It is full of fine words but no mention of telecoms, broadband or fibre and the only network is transport.

Footnote - CMA’s Internal Consultation Process on Regulatory Issues

Any consultation document (condoc) received by or notified to CMA is analysed initially by the appropriate Forum Leader for its relevance to business users based in the UK. (The majority of CMA’s members are based in this country, with a third of them having responsibility for their employers’ international networks and systems).

If the document is considered to be relevant to CMA, it is passed, with initial comments, to members of both the appropriate Forum and the 20 or so members of CMA’s "Regulatory

College" – ie: those members who have experience in regulatory issues, either with their current employer, or previously with a supplier. The CMA Chairman is also a member of the College. The detailed comments from the College are collated by the Forum Leader in the form of a draft response to the condoc. Note: if the condoc has significant international import, the views of the international user community are likely to be sought. This is done through the International Telecoms User Group (INTUG).

Time permitting, the draft response is sent to all members of the Association, with a request for comment. Comments received are used to modify the initial draft. The final version is cleared with members of the appropriate Forum and Regulatory College (and, if the subject of the consultation is sufficiently weighty, with the CMA Board). The cleared response is sent by the CMA Secretariat to the originating authority. It might be signed off by the Leader of CMA’s Regulatory Forum, and/or by the CMA Chairman.

January 2011