"As user-friendly as a cornered rat"

I have grown more than a little tired of listening to the ICT industry lecturing HMG on how to use its products and services to deliver joined-up services. Talk of the pot calling the kettle black.

I first used the phrase “as user friendly as a cornered rat” at the National Computing Centre Annual Conference in 1983. At the time I had responsibility for the NCC Microsystems Centre in New Fetter Lane (the flagship “awareness” operation of the day) and was doing a “state of the market” presentation – including a call for more attention to user-interfaces and customer service, with maintenance and support as a separately purchased service (and profit centre) as it had been in mainframe days.

I was given the phrase by Michael Beckett (of the Daily Telegraph) who had found it in a software review and it was voted “quote of the conference”.

Today the situation is, if anything, even worse.

We may have prettier screens but two decades of subcontracting and outsourcing have led to cut-price customer service being fragmented along multiple supply chains and across automated or off-shore call-centres. And even if you try to purchase it all from one supplier, such as BT, IBM or Microsoft, you have to work around the chinese walls erected to prevent them from providing better service than that provided to those reselling their products or networks – and thus “abusing” a monopoly position.

My thoughts on this subject were fermenting during the EURIM Transformational Government dialogues as I compared the evidence given by those seeking joined up public services with conversations between members of the Communications Management Association seeking to buy integrated high speed access akin to that provided to their competitors in China or Japan.

Then, while I was myself off air waiting almost a week for a failed broadband connection to be restored, I sat in on an Ofcom briefing for MPs orgaised via EURIM and the All-Party Comms Group and heard similar comments on constituency access and fragmented of service with no monitoring of end-over-end delivery – as opposed to performance against departmental targets.

It sounded all too familiar.

Then this morning I received a copy of the letter sent by Ed Richards of Ofcom to Collette Bowe, chairman of consumer panel responding to a request for an exercise on delivered broadband speed.

Not only is this exercise long overdue but it needs to be linked to the independent measurement of quality off service – akin to that organised by CMA with the results announced at its annual conference.

Read the letter – and then write to Ed Richards with your views as to why Ofcom should focus on globally competitive, end-over-end, quality of service rather than nominal competition.