What's the future of the UK IT industry?
My concern with all this stuff about entrepreneurial investment in intangibles is, how do we actually measure the value of the intellectual property we are accumulating? We can agree on metrics for TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) but if we don't have good generally agreed (or understood) metrics for Total Value of Ownership, surely this investment will be hard to manage and estimates of ROI etc in danger of being seriously skewed? I raised this question and was told that we have really good metrics for brand value, which isn't quite the point. As Meyer also told us that great marketing always trumps great technology, I was left somewhat uneasy about the solidity of the underpinnings of this emerging intangibles economy.
On the other hand, I was impressed by Ian Brinkley, director of the knowledge economy programme at the Eork Foundation, as he based his talk on real metrics.
His message is that the facts don't actually support the messages of doom we sometimes here. For example, job losses due to the (real) rise in "offshoring" services are actually quite small in the bigger scheme of things (around five per cent of job losses in the EU generally).
We're actually doing quite well at "services", which represent over three per cent of GDP here, as opposed to around 0.5 per cent in the USA. The issue is, perhaps, that the losers in globalisation (which this is all part of) are very visible, while the winners, of which there are many (including software developers), are less so.
And Dr Andrew Tuson of City University forecast a fundamental change in what software developers will be expected to develop "dependable socio-technical systems" (i.e. holistic people-oriented systems with underlying automation – that just work) and how they'll do it: not "specify then develop" but "discover requirements and integrate services that satisfy them".
Another high spot for me was Mike Rodd (director - Learned Society & External Relations at the British Computer Society), who closed the conference and talked about Professionalism in IT (a useful complement to earlier speakers on IT Education).
We seem to be the only profession left (outside of the obvious one) with no formal qualifications for entry and no customer protection from "professional" gurus that screw up. In the future, I'd expect an IT professional to have something like "hartered IT Professional" status (which will only have any real meaning when it has to be renewed every few years and can be taken away if you misbehave) and to carry professional indemnity insurance. There'll be things about this change we won't like, but if we want to drive flash cars like the accountants do, there'll soon be dues to pay.
On the women in IT issue, Rodd commented to me after the presentation that there were plenty of women in some of the more exotic and cutting-edge areas of IT. It was just the easy, conventional [but well paid] areas that seemed not to employ women. He mentioned also an IT management course for SMEs with "just enough" IT for BCS accreditation – which managed to attract some 40 per cent wimmin. So there is hope.
Futurology is a funny old game. Adapting something Matthew Locke (commissioning editor for education and new media at Channel 4) said at the launch, if journalism is all about reporting, the visions spun in the air by vendors in the light of what happens in the real world (which is why solid metrics are so important), reporting futurology is all about interpreting these castles in the air in the light of things that haven't happened yet.
However, just as if those that don't know history are condemned to repeat it, it's equally true those that don't contemplate futures often find themselves where they don't want to be – and with no idea of how they got there. There's not enough room to cover this report in detail, but some of it makes thought-provoking reading here (pdf). ®