Monday, 3 September 2012

Technology Revolution - As Big As the Industrial Revolution?

Whilst enjoying the benefits of technology, I do bemoan the fact that it has and continues to put so many people out of work. Computers in the 1970s and 80s were applauded as heralding increased leisure time for humans. But that should have been a warning for governments to prepare plans for ensuring an equitable share. It would only work if governments had thought of (or think up now) other ways to ensure distribution of wealth and other ways for the masses to contribute something to earn wealth.

As it is the corporations gain more profits from automation whilst more and more people are without work, until once a generation grows up seeing their parents always out of work, that becomes the norm and is a particular problem where parents accept their lot and do not instill in their children any desire to work. Luckily, some have that desire in themselves or it is instilled by their educators or by example and I applaud those who take it on without help from family.

But I believe this to be a downward spiral. In time unless corporations are forced to pay far more tax to the countries in which they operate, there really will be just a few mega-rich owner/managers and the millions unable to find work or afford anything. Taxes have to come from somewhere and as manual jobs disappear through self-service tills, automated receptions in hotels and doctors' surgeries etc. and all the areas yet to be automated, tax sources will either dry up or legislation will have to change so that the burden falls on those with ability to pay.

That of course provides a disincentive for companies to grow. So those who start companies and maintain them should always be allowed to expect to earn more than the masses.

But governments are notorious for choosing the easy option which affect the masses rather than those most able to bring about a desired change.

Look at all those councils fining people for putting rubbish in the wrong disposal bags. Wouldn't it be better to tax manufacturing companies for every single-use piece of plastic packaging produced? The cost would have to be passed on to those who intend to use that packaging and then soon they would find more environmentally-friendly alternatives and I would not have to find a pair of heavy duty scissors to open blister packs!

I don't know what the answer is to this problem. But we need governments to acknowledge that the way of the past is not sustainable. There are few opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled people and they will diminish. We also need some innovators and entrepreneurial minds to start to think of solutions and new ways of sustaining communities.

At the moment there is far too much of the sort of thinking that leads to charging the earth for car parking in city centres and then moaning that shops are closing in city centres.

I don't often get into politics, but it is time for a rethink! What do YOU think?

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Vexing Problem of Processes

I spent yesterday in a meeting with colleagues from various JISC Regional Support Centres (RSCs to folks in the Further Education and Skills Sector, though that suggests Shakespeare to almost everyone else...)

We met in Birmingham to discuss work we were all involved in for JISC Advance on coordinating resources from both the RSCs and my own service of JISC infoNet on the review and improvement of business processes

"We" were Graciano Soares; RSC Manager for London, who leads the group (as much as it's possible to lead a bunch of enthusiastic show-us-a-tangent-and-we'll-follow-it people like us), Allen Crawford-Thomas; e-Learning Adviser (Teaching and Learning) for RSC West Midlands, Colin Gallacher; e-Learning Adviser (Work-Based Learning) for RSC Northwest, and myself.

We had a lively business meeting in the morning followed by an afternoon's work creating a document of our plans for approval before it can be released.

As always though there were some real gems that came out during the course of the meeting that, unless written down and shared, can so easily be lost and forgotten.

So here's a record of three not-quite-random thoughts.

Pockets of good practice

I suggested at one point that organisations should employ business process review techniques to eliminate pockets of good practice.

A statement that on the face of it sounds initially ludicrous. Until you think about it and what I was saying was that you should make every attempt to share that good practice so that it remains a pocket for a very limited time and instead adds benefit elsewhere where practice is not so good. So then someone suggested we have a full suit of good practice, which led Colin to comment that it was all surely about how organisations cut their cloth...

Yes it is. If you allow pockets of good practice to exist in perpetuity then you are missing a trick.

What is "the norm"?

Someone had mentioned something as being "against the norm" which prompted Allen to say "So what is the norm anyway? People talk about it as though it's a constant but I don't think it should be."

We agreed. We decided that "the norm" should allow for being open to new ideas, to give space, time and resources to controlled experimentation that should be evaluated and assessed to see where it directly could add benefit through wider implementation or indirectly suggest further new ideas.


We discussed the concept that problems around technology are not necessarily down to the technology itself, but may be about reluctance to use it, uncertainty as to whether use is mandatory, a lack of knowledge or skill or confidence on the part of users, or the lack of any monitoring for quality or compliance.

Thus we came up with a phrase and a few bullet points.

It's not just the technology - it's also the way you:

  • decide what it's supposed to do (pre-purchase/build planning)
  • prepare for it (before and during implementation)
  • prepare/collect content/data for it (process design)
  • use it (input)
  • make use of it (output)
  • monitor compliance
  • monitor quality of content/data

Thanks guys, a brilliant day.