PS Consultants - ideas & solutions


Nov 2002

Broad Band Britain continues to be all hype and spin. Or if you prefer the technical term ”utter bollocks”.

And do not be fooled by the BT advertising campaign in the press suggesting that broadband services are widely available and reliable. They are not, and the UK presently ranks below 20th in the league table of the world’s broadband nations, although, as usual, much of the internet innovation was devised by Brits.

I wonder if this is mostly an effort by BT to convince politicians that BT his doing a good job of trying to provide Tony Blair’s increasingly aging and embarrassing promise of a Broadband Britain. That said, I am one of the lucky ones whose ISDN line has been upgraded to ADSL – by accident, the first order specified DHCP not static IP. For a variety of reasons, I needed to “upgrade” to a static IP address service, and the process involves sending the complete set of paperwork from BT Openworld, again.

BT’s legendary lethargy, world-class customer indifference and inability to manage the traditional entertainment in a brewery come into their own when trying support ADSL. Most early ADSL users are sophisticated internet users who know more about IP then the people on the BT help lines. To be told repeatedly to reinstall the drivers for a DSL modem, switch off for three minutes, reboot the PC may be a great way of filibustering the unwary, but those of us who feel we have done our net apprenticeship only get annoyed by this nonsense. I can detect the symptoms of a screwed-up routing configuration, even if BT cannot. Latterly, the call centre supporting Openworld is getting a lot more convincing as a result of practise. It’s also a lot more candid than BT management would like, probably fed up being told that reloading the modem drivers will not make any difference.

But when it comes to political window-dressing, BT is still in kindergarten compared to our doughty Whitehall Warriors. The way the Office of the E-Envoy and the DTI flap around making specious noises pretending to be driving forward with the e-economy is fooling progressively fewer people, especially when any attempt to email with government quickly reveals that noting has changed about Whitehall since the 1950s and the days of the “Men from the Ministry”. The Office of the E-Envoy publishes around 50 names of e-warriors, just busting to help you. I mailed all 50 one Sunday with something that was plainly not “spam”. I got 15 out of office replies, 2 “gone away” and from the rest, a single reply – passing the buck to another colleague. Of course, that other colleague had been on my original mailing anyway.

I still get snail-mailed replies to email enquiries sent to politicians and their departments, and various insiders who would prefer not the be identified readily admit that the Whitehall system is hopeless, and getting worse as efforts to prevent e-leaks have made “open government” completely impossible.

At least Matt Newman of the DTI publications unit can use email (for the time being…), as I see when he was dealing with a report of web error from a Mac user:-

“Would you mind trying the access again. Unfortunately we don't have any Apple machines either here or at our software house, so are unable to verify this ourselves in detail.”

So not only does the DTI not have a Mac, the lucky one of Tony’s cronies that got the job of wrangling the web site doesn’t either – and that really is astonishing. I don’t generally have a lot of time for Mac foibles (as of course does Tony’s best mate, Bill Gates), but for a government that spouts inclusivity until we are all sick of it, and that reproduces all its blather in Welsh, this is an unfortunate oversight.

We could laugh this sort of incompetence off more readily if the DTI wasn’t also the only instrument of government working at the coal face of Broad Band Britain to help us all stay up with the global game, but with this foundation of general stupidity and denial, it’s hardly surprising to learn from a reader that other DTI-inspired initiatives, such as UK Online for Business, fail to live up to the hype. UK Online for Business sent a consultant out for a free half day meeting with a tiny antiques business that has no ICT and suggested they get a computer, a copy of Microsoft Office Professional Edition (so they would have MS Access to manage their databases) and a full e-commerce enabled web site to sell antiques on.

What these people actually wanted was a digital camera to take shots of pieces they could then email to a few selected dealers/clients to gauge interest, and a basic computer with for a bit of email action. No grant support for the kit, small business scared off whole project as result of visit from the over zealous but completely clueless “consultant”. The same UK Online organises events where the entry fee is only payable by cheque against pro-forma invoice.  Ever heard of web forms and payment gateways?

So that’s the state of e-Government. It’s just about as dire as the trains, the roads, the NHS, the educational system, the war on violent crime, and the economy – which is collapsing quietly behind an ephemeral housing boom.

But while we are being be screwed by government when it comes to facilitating broadband and e-commerce –when it comes to speed camera technology, this country leads the world. Now, doesn’t THAT make you proud to be British..?