How Do You Tell Greedy, Grasping MPs from Hard-working Politicians? There’s an App for That!

Technology's stormtroppers

Technology's Stormtroopers

So, our MPs in the House of Commons are likely to each to be given their own iPads, eh?

Unsurprisingly, the story has split opinion.

The Sun branded the plan “barmy”, while quoting members of the Tax Payers’ Alliance who were gnashing teeth over the prospect of giving our elected politicians shiny “new toys”.
Coverage from the Press Association was more measured, reporting how a test rollout has already taken place; how buying in bulk for 650 MPs will yield savings; and how long-term costs will be cut through reduced paper and printing costs.

Take both sides with a pinch of salt.

Progress is almost always accompanied by protest. With the expenses scandal still fresh in memories, the knee jerk reaction was always going to involve claims of pampering the politicos by giving them gadgets.
Meanwhile the justification from the cross-party committee backing the plan is weak at best. At worst it is downright misleading.
Virtually anyone working in 2012 who has been in the workforce for a decade or more knows that the much-vaunted paperless office is near mythical.
So, the chances of our MPs (who can’t agree on climate change, renewables or recycling) suddenly becoming paragons of paperless virtue is laughable.

Many of those who already own iPads or other tablets know what fantastic consumption devices they are.
Fantastic for reading news and magazines; watching streaming video or catch-up TV; using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter; playing games and keeping entertained.
For productivity and more directly work-related activity? Meh – not so much. That’s why so many early iPad advocates still can’t see beyond their Macbook Air machines, or similar ultrabooks, when it comes to the must-have gadgets for work purposes.

Already our MPs are already entitled to three PCs and two laptops per office. It may well be most of those are used by aides and staff.  Others, I suspect, are expensive dust collectors, bookends or doorstops. Yet PCs, laptops and notebooks have never been seen as anything more than vital work tools, so no-one baulks at this.
With careful training our parliamentary representatives really could see the use of iPads or similar tablets cut costs, reduce the need for other PCs and laptops  and – yes – even reduce the amount of paper they use.
Hopefully though, you didn’t miss the most important word in there: training.

Some very smart and clever things are possible with an iPad. However, even after 18 months of owning one, I still rarely use it as a direct productivity tool
If we give our MPs tablets (and I’m not talking crushing them up and serving them in cocktails in the Commons bars to make them more pliant), no doubt many of them will quickly find ways to use them in useful, helpful and possibly even productive ways.  But others will be little more than expensive internet browsers.

The key to this issue isn’t to hand out iPads en masse. Nor is it to grumble, luddite-fashion, as those who run the country experiment with genuinely useful new technology.
The rollout of iPads to interested MPs should continue, with the caveat that those receiving them commit to at least a like-for-like reduction in the amount of money they can spend on other computing hardware and to paper reduction targets.
Consider that just about every business in the country has an IT usage policy and provides basic training for staff on applications from Word and Excel to sales software and email through to bespoke software.
More and more those training and policies now cover applications on the cloud.
The same should apply to MPs using iPads. They should be trained in usage of key productivity apps and encouraged to use them to streamline the business of being an MP.

Winning buy-in from a sceptical public the solution is easy: demonstrate tangible and measurable value – whether that means reduced hardware bills, lower paper usage, a reduced carbon footprint or greater engagement with constituents.
If our MPs really want shiny new iPads it should be clear they have to earn them.

Better and more accountable democracy? I’m afraid there still isn’t an App for that.

(For some recent musing on the  kind of work related productivity possible with a tablet computer, see my weekend Google + post, written from the comfort of my warm bed!)

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