It’s insecure, it’s flaky… it’s government IT policy!I picked up on this article in The Register a couple of days ago, where Tom Watson MP had asked UK government departments when they intended to upgrade their browsers from Internet Explorer (IE6). It didn’t really surprise me that Tom Watson had raised this issue since I know he’s an advocate for modernising government through better use of technology, he’s a prolific blogger in his own right http://www.tom-watson.co.uk/ and was the primary driver in setting up the Power of Information Taskforce.Tom Watson told the Reg:
“I’ve asked the questions because I feel sorry for the thousands of civil servants using the Austin Allegro of web browsers when they can have newer, faster alternatives. I want government CIOs to pull their fingers out.”
You can read the full article for yourselves, but I’ve abstracted the key points below:
- The Department of Justice and Foreign Office are in the process of upgrading
- The Department of Culture, Media and Sport expects to complete its move to IE7 by the end of August 2009.
- The Home Office quoted February 2010
- The Department of Health has no plans to upgrade
- The MOD currently has no plans to upgrade.
A pretty mixed bag then and pretty depressing reading on behalf of couple of departments. It also occurred to me why there isn’t an overarching strategy for web browsers across government. After all, isn’t this a key and fundamental component for doing ANY work on the intranet or the internet? And aren’t most staff in these departments dependent on being on-line as part of their daily routines?I’d like to see this same question being asked of local government, where I suspect a similar pattern of complacency will emerge. In a strange paradox, government (central and local) put a high premium on security and accessibility for any new web services or technology procurement, but once vendors have jumped through all the appropriate hoops, a coach and horses can be driven through the whole process by insisting that the product or service will work with IE6 browsers. This places a huge burden on vendors who must ensure all features are backwards compatible with a browser that doesn’t comply with W3C standards and is full of security holes.I know for a fact (given I am the business lead for the product) that a significant part of the development budget for the local government community of practice platform goes into ensuring that all the features work with IE6. I estimate that at least 20% savings could be made if backward compatibility extended only as far as IE7 – which does at least comply with most of the W3C standards.The latest information on IE6 market share is just over 12%. I’m betting that a good proportion of this 12% is public sector workers who continue to be poorly served by their IT departments and CIOs who don’t see the browser as being an important component in improving user productivity.I’d like to see a campaign similar to the one started by Mash the State (Twitter: http://twitter.com/mashthestate) which aims to get more councils to use RSS feeds, but this time to get central and local government to kick the IE6 habit – and quickly. My preference would be to give some choice to users on the browsers they use (I use Firefox because of the huge number of productivity plug-ins I can use), but I suspect this may be too ambitious. Let’s at least provide civil servants with a standards compatible browser that is more secure than IE6, offers some productivity enhancements and requires less development effort to make it work with standards-compliant web services.Anyone up for getting a campaign started?