I closed my recent column Time for action with an analysis from the Institute for Government’s March report System Error – Fixing the Flaws in Government IT. It positions its argument for change in the government’s approach to delivering its ICT agenda around the two concepts of platform and agile.

I recently made presentations to three audiences. The first was a gathering of local government IT and procurement managers courtesy of the conference organisation Inside Government.

The second was to ICT vendors courtesy of the trade association Intellect, and the third to a senior team from a young outsourcing venture. The common issue with all three audiences was the real challenge of charting a practical course of action into this new world of platform and agile.

There is real confusion here, significantly increased by the marketing fraternity labelling almost anything that moves as The Cloud.

That there is now a great opportunity for positive change in how the ICT agenda is delivered is not in doubt — the case for sharply cutting operating costs (platform) and sharply increasing responsiveness (agile) is understood.

The enabling capabilities of technological virtualisation underwrite the new generation of high-productivity, low-cost service factories that support the platform (think Google Apps and Force.com) and allow the implementation of effective Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) that enable the agile.

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And the likes of Amazon and its Elastic Cloud have revolutionised commercial models in our industry with its ‘source on demand, pay for as consumed’ proposition.

But charting a practical course of action does require clear thinking.

A good starting point is an understanding of the transformational changes being wrought by the impact of the phenomenon of virtualisation on each of the three key ‘landscapes’ of our industry.

Firstly, the Technology Delivery Landscape. Virtualisation is transforming the modus operandi of technology delivery: where standardisation and automation are possible the new service factories are becoming the norm and feed a fast-developing market for Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service.

Effective operation in this universe of the virtual service requires new industry-wide standards (both open and proprietary) plus new operational approaches to delivering key aspects of assurance — in data management, security, continuity, service integration.