Yesterday's decision by the government to appoint a "Digital Envoy" got a lukewarm reception from an Internet community confused by the job's role.
Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson told the House of Commons that a Net czar will lead Britain in what he termed the "new industrial revolution". Mandelson, a self-confessed technophile, shared his vision of a new knowledge-based economy with Britain as an electronic commerce leader. "The Digital Envoy will spearhead the government's drive to make that vision a reality," Mandelson said.
Typically ambiguous, the statements have left the online community unclear as to what the Net czar will actually be doing. What is known is that the appointed individual will develop a government strategy for e-commerce. Specifics were unavailable.
According to a DTI spokesman, the job's focus will depend on how e-commerce develops although the Envoy will be involved in taxation, regulation and consumer protection. The spokesman was quick to point out that any regulatory activity will be "with a light touch" to avoid interfering with the fledgling technology.
IDC analyst, Phil Fersht was hesitant about the appointment: "It all depends on who they appoint and how much power they are given," he said. "The job will need someone with a personality who will get up on a pedestal and shout about the issues. Someone who will get their face in the paper. Maybe a high profile MP?" Dusan Rnic, marketing manager for Netscape agrees that the job needs an "industry heavyweight" to make an impact.
Whoever is appointed Fersht believes the first task should be to consult with the industry, find out how much business is going on over the Internet and come up with ways to regulate the development of e-commerce. If the Envoy becomes just "an adviser to Mandelson" then it will mean "absolutely nothing", he said.
According to IDC figures, the number of PC's in UK companies is set to double this year but although two thirds of European companies are connected to the Web, only one quarter of these are involved in e-commerce.