Why don’t we invest in a British Success – IT?

In the UK we seem still to have an immature attitude to IT that veers between mockery and fear.   It really ‘gets my goat’ as my Nanna used to say when senior politicians, senior business leaders and senior civil servants say: “I can’t do this technology stuff – I leave it to my kids”, or even worse: “I leave the IT nonsense to the IT geeks and saddos on Facebook or Twitter….”

Well – speaking as ‘a geek on Twitter’ – they should know better.  You would not get away with this sort of talk in Palo Alto or Boston or Bangalore.  Such people wouldn’t dare admit to not being able to read a balance sheet – and they even try and bluff their way about who’s on Britain’s Got Talent – so surely they can make the small effort to understand what IT and telecomms do, and what they can do for them?

I am not asking for Java coders here – I can’t do that and that’s not what you need to exploit IT.  But I am demanding that our leaders make the effort to understand how technology makes our economy and society work – and, of course, now – play.

e-SkillsUK – whose CIO Board I am privileged to chair – last week published a report predicting that the IT workforce in the UK will grow four times faster than the general UK workforce over the next decade:  http://www.e-skills.com/cgi-bin/go.pl/newscentre/news/news.html?uid=1055

Before anyone pours scorn on this prediction, remember that the number of people employed in IT grew at twice the average UK employment rate over the past 8 years, and is now all-in more than 1.1 million.   Despite the Recession, some IT professional skills are hard to find.

So IT is going to matter for us in the UK as an engine of prosperity, growth and employment.   IT is still a UK success story and it offers growth.   Something will have to take up the slack from financial services, if we are to maintain our living standards and economic standing in the World.

IT underlies almost every thing we do these days – and I am not simply talking here about the IT sector itself or telecomms, but about financial services, pharmaceuticals, media, retail, consultancy, fashion – you name it.  Certainly, most of what we do in British Airways is supported or enabled by technology.

This means that IT professionals are crucially important to our future in the UK.  So we must invest in them and their skills, both as a country and as businesses.  The new National IT Skills Academy we are opening later this year should make a real difference here.

So to any of our leaders who are tempted to make a cheap joke about not understanding this IT nonsense – invest in a “Bluff your Way in IT” manual.  Even ask your kids for a tutorial. After all, as a CIO, bluffing your way in technology is the core skill……just kidding!

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

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