The Bloor Perspective: Qualcomm rides with Ford, EU oversees Oftel and BT, and a big job in IT

In this week's assessment of three key stories, Robin Bloor and his colleagues look at in-car technology, the influence of Oftel and the EU on BT and heading up a superpower's IT.

In this week's assessment of three key stories, Robin Bloor and his colleagues look at in-car technology, the influence of Oftel and the EU on BT and heading up a superpower's IT.

General Motors has, for some time, had a system called OnStar, which provides Cadillac drivers with directions and travel information, as well as the ability to access roadside assistance and emergency services. However, availability has been limited to its top-end Cadillacs. Now the company has announced plans to introduce an internet-enabled vehicle. This is expected by year's end and may include voice-activated access to email and other web content. In addition, the company is moving OnStar down its product line and marketing the product to other motor manufacturers. Two further announcements last week pushed this concept higher up the agenda. One came from Toad, the UK car radio and alarms group, which recently launched an in-car TV that plugs into a car's cigarette lighter. While the company expects 'tremendous growth' in sales of that product, perhaps the more interesting announcement from the company was that it plans to launch an in-car internet service later this year. Whether this will mean making its TVs interactive was not mentioned but it is obviously a possibility. Finally, Ford Motor Company has created a joint venture with communications company Qualcomm. The gist of the announcement is that the two companies have formed a third company - Wingcast - to provide wireless voice, entertainment and internet applications to Ford vehicles. However, like GM, Wingcast is also marketing outside its native milieu and has already signed up Nissan. In addition, Wingcast's services will extend beyond the car so information may be accessed from a compatible mobile device or PC. However, Ford is some way behind GM, as its products are not expected to be available until the end of 2001. These will be based on cdmaOne wireless digital network technology. It appears we will no longer be limited to motoring-specific information in our cars. We will have voice-activated browsers and Ananova reading us the latest business news, not to mention our emails. The car will become even more of an extension of the office. Yeuch! *EU to push Oftel* At last Oftel has published draft guidelines on how it plans to implement local loop unbundling provisions contained within BT's licence. Unfortunately the guidelines look to be so weak that they give the European Union (EU) a unique chance to fill the role of hero. BT has a near monopoly on local loop provision in the UK, but recently Oftel was charged with allowing other operators access to the loop to provide high-speed connections. To this end, Oftel has produced guidelines that might well have been written by BT. Any operator wishing to access the local loop simply has to apply but BT will not be accepting any applications until September at the earliest. And Oftel will allow BT up to four months to install the equipment which probably takes us up to the end of December - which just about meets the EU demands. Well, maybe. The Oftel guidelines will allow BT several escape clauses such as inadequate security, ventilation or lack of space. Given these, it would not be surprising if BT manages to avoid practical local loop unbundling until the middle of next year - say July 2001 - exactly the date that it said would be possible to meet earlier this year. Strangely, this is around the time that BT expects to have its new super infrastructure in place and ready to provide high-speed services to customers. This new infrastructure is not covered by the local loop regulations. Yet again BT has managed to get everything it requires. This is not the fault of BT. It has a duty, as would any business, to protect its income by any legal means. It was the job of Oftel to force through change, a task at which it has failed. BT's revenue stream in this area now appears secure from outside competition until it has a successor system in place. However, there still remains the threat from the EU. The EU has the chance to be seen to be the hero and force BT to comply with European legislation this year, thus bypassing Oftel's wishy-washy guidelines. For once, everyone (BT excepted) might raise a cheer for the EU. *The scariest job in IT?* It's a funny old game this IT director lark. There you are, stuck between a rock - the board - and a hard place - the IT department. You juggle your life, your work, your understanding and your energy between technology, innovation, business, strategy, HR issues, deal-making, project management etc.. But frankly, you've probably got it easy. According to reports, last week a US congressman in the state of Virginia proposed what could well be the worst IT director role in history. He wants to create a role to oversee the IT infrastructure and operations for the entire federal government in the US. At present there is no such person overseeing the nation's governmental IT. Instead the country has opted to spread the responsibility and effort across relevant departments. But it seems that is unsatisfactory. In order to fill the rather large gap the congressman has suggested employing a person to head up the Office of Information Policy with direct responsibility to the President himself. Now, not getting too cynical about this, let's just look at this proposition in some depth. First, it would seem this one person would have ultimate responsibility for co-ordinating the federal policy on IT. This alone is obviously an enormous task and more than likely one that very few people would want to get into. However, added to the fact that the co-ordination efforts alone could well be one of the dirtiest jobs in the history of technology, is the issue of reporting to the President of the most powerful country in the world. Tempted? You shouldn't be. Just think how tough and tiresome it is reporting to directors that know very little about technology and who can sack you at a moment's notice if you fail. Then consider how IT literate the President of the US probably isn't, and how demanding the US government is. And finally give some serious thought to the idea that not only can the President sack you for bad performance, he can black mark you, extradite you and probably ensure that you never work again - and that's before we even start considering the various FBI options at his disposal. ** For more research, see http://www.it-director.com