WB-40: Episode 3 – Digital Economies

In this third Episode of the WB-40 podcast series Chris and Matt looked at issues around the Digital Economy, including the bill currently going through parliament and how things like  “Government as a Platform” have fared in recent years.

The Digital Economy bill is a new piece of legislation proposed by the government that focuses on internet service provision, pushing for ‘high speed internet’ throughout the UK, age verification for pornographic web sites and the improved sharing of individuals’ information in government.  Maybe the reason it’s such a limited piece of work is that the previous Digital Economy Act ended up as a bit of a waste of effort, being pushed through at the end of the last Labour government, but never fully being enacted into law.  But the new bill does miss some opportunities to address some key areas for building true digital economy.  There is no mention, for example, of digital healthcare.  There are some truly innovative things happening in the health world in sharing and use of data, putting patients at the heart of decision making, that could be fostered and promoted by inclusion in such a bill.   It would also be good to see some thinking around how we create ‘digital citizens’ – providing skills that are useful to people coming into a 21st century workforce.

The data sharing aspect is also worrisome.  We’ve just seen the recent National Audit Office report into government data management which reports nearly 9000 data breaches in the last year by Whitehall departments.  Do we really want this bill, which has some very woolly definitions around how data can be used, to give government the green light to create huge aggregated data sets about individuals that then become lucrative targets for hackers when the NAO shows us that it’s not safe?  When you add in the ‘register of pornography users’ which is basically what an age verification system becomes, the prospect of Ashley Madison style data leaks becomes very real.

Chris spoke about the need to understand how we are going to manage our personal data and find ways of knowing who has accessed it and for what reason, before we stampede down the road of creating ever-richer data sets about private individuals.

Matt had been doing some work on government services, and whether Tim O’Reilly’s Government-as-a-Platform idea still had any legs. The idea of platforms has been around for some time, and government provides many of them, such as transport infrastructure, that others then utilise to build their enterprises or go about their lives.  Matt’s recent work in the legal sector had him finding that many organisations are very worried about the idea that they might ‘become a software company’ because sharing and utilising their customers’ data might need this kind of effort which would be seen as very ‘non-core’ to what their business is about.  Are they making a sensible call about their business or are they setting themselves up to be disrupted?

We finished with a loop back the the Digital Economy bill and wondering why the national infrastructure isn’t delivered as a Government service in line with something like Network Rail, and can the public sector become a force for building a digital platform for national competitiveness.  Big questions!

We will be talking about the future of work next week with Matt speaking at the Leading Edge Forum event, and we promise that we will get our sound levels in to some kind of shape!


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