||Issue No. 137||24 May 2002|
An Aussie Icon
Interview: Just Done It?
Tribute: Lest We Forget
History: Solidarity Forever
Technology: Unblocking the Superhighway
International: Gloves Off
Unions: Out Of Work
Review: Strange Business
Poetry: The Lawyer's Lament
Satire: Government Mourns Loss Of Last Anzac
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Your Tools Page is Down
Big Dave Foster
Give Us a Click!
Will the Real Mark Latham Please Stand Up?
The Last Survivor
Not Hate Mail
Unblocking the Superhighway
What went wrong with the information revolution? Two years ago it seemed unstoppable - the world as we knew it was going to change. Industrial age institutions were going to wither, large corporates and governments were opening up and hierarchies were going to collapse. Why did it all go so horribly wrong?
The answers to this question are many and varied. Perhaps our na´ve optimism made us susceptible to the hype of the media, feeding wild expectations that would inevitably remain unfulfilled. This generated the perfect environment for charlatans like Jodee Rich and Brad Keeling to manipulate people, taking advantage of the optimistic environment to profiteer.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the early stages of the information revolution have been a failure because the technology was not able to live up to the rhetoric of those who promoted it. What has become clear is that the IT sector must get its house in order, if the promises of the prosperity of the information age are to be achieved.
The real story of the information revolution so far is that, as a society, we have invested billions in computer systems that rely on proprietary standards. Current IT systems are frequently unreliable, expensive, won't communicate with each other and leave us locked in with a single provider.
The big players, who have no interest in broadening the market or committing to common standards, hugely dominate information technology service provision. They have each developed their own standards and systems. This situation has suited them because once an organisation has sunk an initial investment into to particular system, then changing to a different provider means abandoning that investment.
The big players like Microsoft have avoided locking into common standards because they enjoy such a dominant position in the IT market that their own standards are often adopted as the universal standards anyway.
Other organisations, if they are to compete, must try to anticipate in which direction the big guys will move - but the wrong decision could send them under. Smaller organisations are therefore forced to follow - excluding them from competing in large sections of the market.
A big part of the solution is open standards. Currently independent international bodies are setting a range of standards in relations to information technology and the Internet. But if nobody adopts these standards then the big players will move in their own direction forcing everyone else to follow.
The questions for Labor is - what reforms are necessary to achieve a healthy and competitive IT sector and how can we create an environment that promotes these reforms. This means using the buying power of the government to drive open standards into the market of IT service provision.
Governments would benefit from policies supporting open standards because they would gain the benefits of interoperable systems, in addition to creating a marketplace for the contestable supply of IT services. In the longer term this would ensure that there are a range of IT providers that support open standards and are able to apply for tenders for such work in both the public and private sectors.
Such a policy would assist in creating a healthy IT culture in Australia by putting the smaller players on an equal footing with the Microsofts and the IBMs.
The New Zealand Government has already implemented such an agenda, setting out standards that are in line with international norms that it expects its agencies to comply with. The New Zealand government IT standards may be found on the Internet at http://www.e-government.govt.nz/docs/e-gif-v-0-9/index.html.
This weekend the annual conference of the NSW Branch of the ALP will debate a policy that would commit the NSW Labor Government to the development and support of open standards for all Government IT projects.
This is the first step in what in the long term should become the policy of the all Australian Governments.
The IT bubble burst for a whole range of reasons. Until we are able to work out why - and correct the problems of the past we will not be able to achieve the just and fair society that the Information Age offers - Open Standards is just one step along the way. As such, it is a worthy and timely policy for the labour movement to adopt.
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