James Governor's Monkchips

Sun, CSC, Fujitsu all question UK National ID Plans

Share via Twitter Share via Facebook Share via Linkedin Share via Reddit

We are well used to the tension between specification and implementation in our business.
Sadly the UK public sector, in its contracts with vendors, still struggles with this difference.
Governments, by definition, regularly change goal posts, especially governments that are press release, rather than outcomes, driven. Time after time we see central government introduce a change to a specification at the last minute, invariably allowing a service provider to escape a penalty for missing a service-level agreement. It is my understanding that this is an issue that we see in other geographies as well, not just the UK.
Think about it for a minute – this is going to be a huge money earner, yet respected voices are still willing to voice their concerns, and potentially damage relationships with the the Prime Minister, the Treasury and Inland Revenue in the process.
Let’s call it true corporate social responsibility, which goes beyond Annual Report-style CSR ticklists. How often today do you see publicly traded companies prepared to question the profit motive and concern themselves with the reality of a bad plan? 
I have already commended Microsoft for breaking cover on the issue, in a post entitled Earning A Place As A National Trusted Advisor.
Today I point to a piece in The Independent newspaper Sorry, Tony. The ID cards vote was the easy part, which argues that the date for implementation set by politicians can’t be met. We won’t have a national ID card scheme in place by 2008 whatever the politicians say: its a false deadline.
In honour of their work trying to bring some precision and clarity to the subject I would like to award You Got The Funk Awards to Robin Wilton, John Newton and Ian Williamson:
The Government has justified the scheme by claiming the biometric cards will tackle identity fraud, illegal immigration and terrorism. But Robin Wilton, corporate architect for “federated identity” at Sun Microsystems, says this is the wrong approach: “This will not make people trust the scheme or want to enrol. The Government should look for positive uses that will directly benefit users.”
Ian Williamson, vice-president of Computer Sciences Corporation in Europe, said: “The Government needs to ask if it is making life too complicated by requiring all 13 biometrics and storing a large amount of data about each citizen. The system has to be robust and fast.”
But however much is spent, ID cards can never be 100 per cent certain to work. As John Newton, government consultant for the electronics giant Fujitsu, warns: “It’s like saying it’s impossible for planes to crash.”
Understand that the UK government is determined to go ahead with its plans, with no formal specification or even clear view of outcomes in place, and yet these vendors are willing to argue we should err on the side of caution, avoiding the kind of big bang IT approach which has led to so many project failures and the destruction of billions of pounds of taxpayer value over the last 20 years. If we were shareholders we’d surely demand change.
Did I remember to say that this ID card legislation is being pushed through just months after the government admitted losing 1500 employee identities at the Department of Work and Pensions, because the database was insecure. You can’t make this stuff up.
Certainly CSC, Fujitsu, Microsoft, Sun, have all now clearly positioned themselves as stakeholders in the UK economy, rather than economic parasites, by questioning core assumptions of the ID plan. They are part of the reality-based community. I salute them for it. Bear in mind these are not “National Champion” IT Service providers, but publicly traded companies. Perhaps it will be vendors rather than governments that will put honesty and openness on the table, as per Tony Collins’ Computer Weekly editorial.
It will be interesting to see what the likes of EDS and IBM say on the subject.  I assume KPMG will be awarded a significant chunk of the final contract, given that its numbers were used to make the case. Maybe the UK should just give the contract to Kellog Brown and Root though: the firm is good at winning contingency management deals and is unlikely to criticise government plans.
Please take the time to read this article by Henry Porter from the Observer this weekend, which puts some of the recent legislation into context.
The Lords may offer some brief opposition, but it seems certain that Britons will be compulsorily required to hold an identity card and see 50 separate pieces of information, including biometric details, entered on a national database to which many arms of government, including MI5, will have access. The thought is chilling.

People insist that we are not living in a police state but perhaps that is rather a 20th-century notion. What we are pioneering in Britain is a 21st-century version of the police state – the controlled state.

I implore you to realise that the fight is on to save our society from this nightmare, to put your fears into perspective and to make every politician understand that this is something the people will not tolerate. There has not been a more important struggle in Britain in the past 50 years.

Perhaps I am a Cassandra, but at least i am not alone: its great to see vendor representatives doing the right thing. Transparency is also a good way to mitigate reputational risk.

Disclaimer: IBM, Microsoft and Sun are RedMonk clients.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *