CBI smoothes the digital path

IT Week: How does the Confederation of British Industry promote ebusiness?

Jeremy Beale: We are focusing our efforts on the contribution that ebusiness can make to the productivity and competitiveness of companies. During the dotcom boom, many companies thought that they had to be experimental and identify new revenue streams through ebusiness. These same companies are much more circumspect now.

We are also looking to achieve insights into best practice though case studies, because most companies tend to develop knowledge not from outside experts but through their peers.

What about the issue of security?

The government has launched the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, but this is currently stretched for resources. There is a global shortage of people who have digital security skills.

Even though companies take individual responsibility for their information security, there are industry-wide discussions concerning schemes where companies share information on a confidential basis about security breaches to enable them to be better prepared for threats. The CBI supports this kind of initiative.

What can firms do to protect themselves?

A growing number are taking out insurance to cover digital assets. The difficult part of this process is placing a value on the assets, and this is still the subject of vigorous discussion between the industry and insurance companies.

How are the government’s anti-terrorism measures affecting firms?

The CBI was involved in vetting draft anti-terrorism measures regarding data retention. And we have been working with the government to get a scheme that’s workable, effective and will not penalise companies’ finances.

We said that the government needed a more focused approach because the original proposals on data retention extended to any criminal activity rather than being limited to those concerning national security.

While many of our members were happy to help, they believe that the cost should be fielded by the government as it is the role of the state to guard national security. A number of our suggestions were adopted by government.

Do you have the ear of the government?

I think that you would be better off asking the government to find out whether they think we have a voice worth listening to. This government is good at listening to what business is saying in many respects. When business points out problems they do seem to listen to what we are saying.

What challenges lie ahead in the further development of ebusiness?

I think that companies need to take a really hard-headed approach towards the development of their ebusiness strategies in terms of cost and ambition. In general, businesses need to do a lot more for themselves and government needs to do a lot less.

The rate of technical innovation is unique, and the government is not capable of keeping up in terms of legislation, so further deregulation is crucial to create a self-regulating market.

What about the UK’s chronic lack of broadband infrastructure?

We have called on the government to lead by example here. The government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the UK and should work to develop broadband facilities for its own needs.

In this way the government would create the critical mass that is needed, and would make it profitable for other operators to build broadband centres for greater access in areas that they would have otherwise neglected.

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