After accepting an invite to the House of Lords I would expect more than just a press release; thankfully I did get a little more than that yesterday morning. Micro Focus used the Cholmondeley Room on Westminster Terrace to launch its Technology Manifesto. Focused directly on the UK market with the catch line 'Making BrITain Great Again', the company used this meeting to talk about what it describes as the much needed shake up the UK IT sector requires. The discussion was also focused on the reinvigoration we need to ensure that the next generation of IT professionals come out of college with productive computer science skills.
Normally I’d expect Micro Focus to talk about enterprise application management and modernisation solutions, such as its ReUZE product, which it released last week at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. The company usually waxes lyrical about its products’ ability to bring mainframe application functionality into Windows environments and the .NET framework. But not this week – this week we were ‘treated’ to a panel including the Rt Hon Lord Young of Graffham, Lord Razzal CBE and Lord Harris of Haringey, plus of course Micro Focus CEO Stephen Kelly.
Lord Young started off by saying, “It's not our job to score political points, we are here to try and influence decision makers in government to make decisions to encourage entrepreneurs.” He held a mostly captive audience each time he spoke, but lost several hearts and minds including my own towards the end when he called for the reintroduction of Polytechnics. According to this Tory peer, we need Polys back to skill up vocational engineers. Actually Lord Young, I attended Wolverhampton Polytechnic to gain a pure-play social sciences degree in Economics and I can’t re-fit a CPU to save my life – so I am reasonably offended by your comments even if I did take on your wider point about skills.
Lord Harris called for a general endorsement by all political parties of the manifesto itself, saying also that, “We are not valuing the IT sector in terms of inspiring and educating young people. There has been a mismatch in terms of available skills and what is actually needed for economic scalability.”
Micro Focus CEO Stephen Kelly detailed the manifesto’s three key areas of concern for UK plc IT growth by spelling out the need for focus on, “Entrepreneurship; academic connections with industry; and a consistent fiscal framework for growth and prosperity.”
Lord 'Tim' Razzall Lib Dem spokesman for trade and industry also spoke and was by far the most ‘human’ of the peers tabled. He told us that, “If you look at IT and the intellectual property that drives it right now it is clearly a key industry to invest in. If any MP were to suggest investing in banking right now I think they would be laughed off the premises. The key thing about the IT industry is that it is characterised by its 'bottom up' nature i.e. it is not created by government – the question now being, how does government take the correct ‘top down’ approach and support and invest in IT appropriately.”
I went to this event with open eyes and a keen ear. This is despite once having worked for a communications supplier to the government's UK Trade & Investment division back in 2003. I say 'despite' because I was appalled to see from the inside the poor use of public funds to create lacklustre publicity at all levels. At first glance, the Micro Focus, does appear to have the same overly-macroeconomic broad brush approach. It's a cruel observation perhaps; I suppose it is hard to talk about countrywide IT initiatives without being macroeconomic.
Digging deeper though – and with a specific eye on the software industry as is my usual beat – there are some interesting comments in the manifesto regarding Micro Focus’ proposed initiatives. You can find them on page 07 of the document, which is page 2 of the pdf downloadable from the above live link. The company has called for a tech entrepreneur advice hub based on Web 2.0 technologies; a government-sponsored programme to twin proven technology entrepreneurs and technology business leaders; and investment in Silicon Valley study tours to enable leaders to learn about how the world’s global IT leaders run their businesses. WebMission is already running tours of this type, sponsored by UK Trade and Investment. So maybe they are getting better.
To be fair and afford Micro Focus a direct voice in this blog, Stephen Kelly went on record to say that, “Now more than ever, is the time for business, politics and academia to create more UK jobs by joining forces to implement a plan which fosters talent, encourages fiscal support and inward investment to produce a world class IP-rich technology industry which can truly make Britain great again.”