Your shout: Shared services, IT A-level warning, exploding laptops

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Computer Weekly readers' give their views on the week's news

Don't overlook the dark side of shared services

Robin Wilson

John McKinlay's article, "Why shared services will benefit everyone" (Computer Weekly, 29 August), paints a fantastically rosy picture of shared services.

While there are many examples of good implementation in the private sector, there are just as many that have increased costs, delivered poorer quality and alienated users of the service.

The main planks of McKinlay's argument all have opposite possibilities. Harmonisation of delivery can mean moving to best practice equally it can mean needing to develop a single process that covers the most complicated situation, or a one-size-fits-all solution.

Staff can be freed up to concentrate on what adds most value or they can be forced to only do a small part of their previous role, creating a monotonous, repetitious working environment.

Users who previously had a one-stop shop now have call centre staff who log and hand off, often several times, with each handoff putting the user at the bottom of a new queue of issues. What were local staff become remote telephone support, with no direct human interaction with the customers, giving a worse environment for both.

Yes, by all means go for shared services, but consider the downsides as well as the upsides. It can be good, but painting it green does not make it grass.

Alternative IT exam is not the correct answer

Richard Hind

The story "Firms push business focus in alternative to IT A-level" (Computer Weekly, 29 August) fills me with dread, as an IT lecturer working in further education.

It would appear that E-Skills UK and the employers don't appreciate the ability level of 16 to 19-year-old students. Understandably, firms want new employees to have MCSE, MCNA or CCNA qualifications. However, having passed the MCSE twice, I know how hard it is.

I teach a couple of modules on a foundation degree in applied computing, which are loosely based on Microsoft courses. The students find the material challenging, and maybe only one in 10 has the potential to go on to pass the Microsoft exams.

I took nine months to pass my MCSE in Windows 2000, and I was working with the products every day as a network administrator for a Microsoft solution provider partner. Knowing the resources schools and colleges have, I doubt that any A-level student would be able to get through a single MCP exam, let alone the full MCSE.

Also, there is a great reluctance to replace A-levels, which are generally held up as a benchmark worldwide. And the new diploma looks set to replace the current vocational qualifications - highly practical, coursework-assessed qualifications - with supplier exams.

If these plans go through, the result will be a massive drop in success rates in IT or a devaluing of supplier qualifications, or both. The scheme needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency, with the involvement of people who know what they are talking about - teachers and lecturers with industry backgrounds.

Are you flying with an exploding laptop?

Paul Ireland

All it takes is 10 or so people to apparently threaten to blow up a plane and instantly the aviation industry grinds to a halt.

While any aircraft lost to terrorism is one too many, look at the statistics. There were around 2.3 million commercial take-offs and landings at UK airports in 2005. Even if all 10 bombers had succeeded, the chance of it being your flight is one in 230,000. This is a tenth of the probability of winning a prize on a premium bond.

Now think about the recall of laptop batteries by Dell and Apple: around six million to date. It has been reported that out of 1.8 million laptops, nine Apple users suffered burns when their batteries exploded and caught fire. With that level of failure, we could expect 30 failures from the six million recalls.

People take their laptop computers onto aircraft. So what is the probability that one of them is unknowingly carrying a potential bomb? The good news is that with around 60 million laptops sold globally since 2002, only one in 10 may have a faulty battery.

The bad news is that UK airports alone handled 229 million passengers in 2004. Assuming that only 5% of them were carrying a laptop, this would correspond to over 10 million people taking laptops onto aircraft each year.

Plug in the numbers and these predict that in any year there is a 50% chance that somebody is carrying a potential bomb. Has the aviation industry responded to this threat? Sorry sir, you cannot board with that bottle of water, just ensure your bomb is placed in the overhead locker or under the seat in front of you for take-off.

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