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Gadget envy

I shouldn’t rise to the Taxpayers’ Alliance. I really shouldn’t.

Ok, perhaps just this once.

We see outrage this week that a Council–a publicly-funded service commissioner and provider, mark you–has taken the desperate and profligate step of installing iPads into its bin lorries. You know, using technology to improve the way it does business, and communicates with its residents? Remember, like that Conservative Tech Manifesto said we should see more of?

How can it be, fulminate the TPA, and the local Conservative MP, that a toy, A TOY, is being used like this?

A pencil and paper would be better, surely, for recording information? Well, yes, if you are happy with delays and transcription errors. But it is possible, just possible, that cruder forms of non-digital recording have been tried and found wanting. Really.

I mean you could, possibly, conceivably, trust the people who’ve thought through better ways to improve their service. Who’ve had to justify every penny of expenditure to armies of auditors, scrutineers, members, and the general public. Who are making this investment decision in the face of dire cuts to other services, having to prioritise carefully. Because THAT IS THEIR JOB.

None of that thought appears. None. Because the iPad is a toy. We’ve seen similar things before, in the mindset with which mobile phones and broadband are considered.

We should sharpen our critical faculties here. If we’re going to moan about and amplify a story based just on the word “iPad” we need to be able to ask the more meaningful questions. How much will it save? Let’s see how those figures are derived. Let’s look at the old way of doing it–commission a hideous, unsupportable, proprietary bit of kit from an old-school hardware-cum-services vendor (which if you could ever unpick the morass of add-on charges would probably cost you north of £10k a unit for the hardware alone)–and see how it might just be more sensible to use a robust, usable commodity with little or no training overhead and a mature developer base.

I must be careful not to prejudge the business case, of course. It has to stack up by itself, not because some fanboy or blogger thinks one thing or another.

But I’d rather read the actual bloody document, than drivel like the reporting around it.

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3 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Spot on, as ever, Mr. Clarke.

  2. Paul Johnston says:

    but it is not as though the Tax Payers Alliance only suffer from gadget envy :-) until all public sector workers work all hours of the day with no form of support or assistance for free they will be campaign and ego-gratifying self-publicity to be done … 

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