IT . . . could do better

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Last week I committed the cardinal sin of trusting new technology. I wanted to find out more about the winners of the Jersey Enterprise Awards so I Googled it and the internet came up with pages about the awards which were very old. So in my column last week I criticised the organisers for apparently paying lip service to the adoption of modern technology, but failing to keep their website up to date. How wrong I was.

In fact someone from the awards organisers had got up very early to make sure that the website was changed and that it featured the events of the previous night. My computer simply failed to pick up those pages.

IT experts have explained that it’s something to do with my computer’s cache, but I haven’t really been able to find a reasonable explanation, or at least one that a non-techie could understand.

Be that as it may, I got it wrong, and I apologise for that.

I still believe that a lot of businesses and organisations have been keen to appear to adopt the latest IT and internet technologies, but few of them have done it seriously, and there are a lot of out-of-date and useless websites out there. It’s just that the Enterprise Awards are not one of them.

Apart from providing ammunition for my many critics, this incident does teach us some valuable lessons. If anything, it confirms my view that there needs to be much more commitment by everyone to adopting new technologies and to make sure we are using them properly.

The problem is that technology is changing so fast, and businesses are so keen to appear to be in the vanguard, that we sometimes make a mess of it — and certainly the support services can’t keep up.

A wry smile dislodged the egg as I was typing ‘support services’ because in many cases they are either non-existent or inadequate.

How often has your shiny new smart phone gone on the blink and you’ve looked for someone to fix it? Had much luck? No, I thought not.

The staff at the suppliers can be very helpful, but they have not been trained to dismantle what is in fact a miniature computer to find out what’s wrong. So it has to be sent away and the last time I did that, the phone came back logged to a UK network that I couldn’t access.

The phone, which cost me several hundred pounds, is now sitting at the bottom of a drawer.

In many cases you will be told that it’s not worth repairing a broken phone or even a broken computer. You just have to accept that if you want to remain ahead in the digital age, you will have to fork out for a new smart phone or computer which hopefully will last more than a few months.

The lack of local expertise in these areas is not just an inconvenience for customers. It can impact on the whole economy.

Over the past decade there have been suggestions that information technology could provide the Island with a lucrative source of business. Now I detect that IT is seen more as an important ingredient in helping the whole economy to grow, rather than a separate economic activity in its own right.

Whichever it is, a high level of IT expertise will be vital for the Island.

There are indeed some pockets of excellence, but if the whole economy is to benefit from new investment in IT, we have to know what we’re doing.

There has to be a strategy.

Now Jersey has had an IT strategy in the past. In fact it’s had several. But if we actually have one now, I don’t know what it is and I don’t know who, if anyone, is responsible for implementing it.

So there have been false starts in the past, but let’s hope that this has not put anyone off the requirement to improve and expand our IT capability.

Perhaps the recent complaints about both the quality and expense of the Island’s telecommunications networks is partly the result of this lack of strategy. It’s simply been left to the operators in the hope that competition will do the trick.

Competition has worked to a certain extent, but probably not as far as some people had hoped. At least not yet.

There is also a certain amount of complacency or at least over-confidence.

Some people think that Jersey is a shining example of a well-connected, technologically sophisticated jurisdiction. It certainly is for the big banks, who can afford to have their own private networks.

But as far as the rest of us are concerned, Jersey is in the good rather than the excellent category as far as IT is concerned. You only have to mention broadband speeds and the resilience of the networks to realise that there is plenty of scope for improvement.

Some will point to the recent statistics from the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority as evidence that the Island is ahead of the game, certainly compared to the UK.

It’s true that broadband take-up in the Island is higher per household than in the UK, which is always the benchmark we use even if the UK is known to be a laggard in some areas.

But the Jersey figures are no-where near the best-performing jurisdictions in Europe, and frankly that’s where we should be.

More training will be important, and that presumably will be tackled by the new Skills Executive. But hopefully not before a strategy has been put in place.

Yes, I know it’s yet another strategy . . . but from an economic point of view, this one would be at least as important as having a strategy for the rural economy.

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