I read this article last week and it irritated me enough to make me curse out loud whilst sat in one of our German offices, causing consternation amongst my Teutonic colleagues.
It reports on a speech given by a bloke who works for a company that spells its name funny (starts with small letters, capitals in the wrong places, my English teacher would have fainted at such grammatical terrorism), who was reported as saying something like ‘councils don’t have websites, they ARE websites’. He points to Amazon, identifying that the global retailer of ‘just-about-everything’ employs more people in the warehouse alone than most councils, yet most people only think of Amazon as a website, not a huge workforce of people in beige warehouse coats.
It is hard to describe just how damaging this sort of rubbish is. But I’m going to have a go anyway.
The Council website is a means of communication and purveyor of some transactional tasks. It does not protect vulnerable children. It does not ensure little old ladies get their meals. It does not work out why mortality rates are different on one side of a city compared to another. It may help out, but it’s by no means the sole solution, and frankly, if it goes down, the aforementioned services take precedence.
Putting your Council on an App (an idea I have heard floated) so people can instantaneously report a damaged wheelie bin is a ludicrous idea, because the App will get used a few times and then deleted. Most people interact as little as possible with their local authorities because, frankly, they are doing other more interesting things.
The point I’m trying to make is that ICT departments can enable change, can reduce costs, and can help make staff mobile and more productive. But let’s get some perspective here. The business case for ICT spend is always, always, always about reducing costs or improving service delivery. It can’t replace vital services and staff relied upon by vulnerable members of the community. Some perspective is called for when making grand sweeping statements, and care taken when setting expectations.
The final point I noted is that the chap talking at this conference got a rousing response. Of course he did. He was talking to the people that run the websites. They were who attended the conference, because that was what the conference was about. I wonder if he had delivered the speech to a load of Chief Execs, they would have given him the same rousing reception, or instead been as rude as those funny looking business types off Dragons Den? Preaching to the crowd achieves nothing. Go down to any house of religion and tell them how much their God loves them and you will be very popular. Send Richard Dawkins down and you have a much more thought provoking discussion.
Doesn’t matter who’s right on these topics, I’m just saying that telling people what they want to hear isn’t good enough. At a time like this we need to be challenging assumptions at every turn, not getting silly about business cases.