Readers’ letters

The time to act

Your recent article on the challenges of compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (‘Open season’, Information Age, February 2004) highlights the need for records management to be brought to the top of the agenda if public sector organisations are to stand any chance of meeting the January 2005 deadline.

The requirement that public sector departments provide access to public records within a 20-day timescale means that it must be possible to access documents quickly, and the quality of information contained within those documents can no longer be ignored.

Organisations have to invest in both a qualitative and a quantitative approach to information. That means that they must invest in content management tools and also in business intelligence and data migration tools, to take account of relevant transactional data, and in sophisticated search engines to enable content analysis.

All in all this makes projects to address Freedom of Information very wide-ranging and quite complex, but comprehensive planning will avoid a last-minute panic and reduce the costs of providing the general public with the information they require once the Act has come into force.

Liz Maloney
UK Managing Director

Losing my religion

Many businesses today are still built on IT management decisions swayed by the name on the tin. In the old days, when IBM ruled the world, no-one ever got fired for buying from ‘Big Blue’. Now, when the time comes to purchase an operating system, there remains an almost religious belief that the brand which dominates the market must be the best – which inevitably sways companies towards Windows.

However, on the server side – the core of all businesses – Unix still remains far superior to Windows as an operating environment. For example, Linux – today’s most popular flavour of Unix – delivers a faster performance and is also more stable, more scaleable, more secure and substantially cheaper to run than Windows. All this guarantees a quick return on investment on any implementation.

Linux was built for server computing. Windows aspired to it with the help of add-ons. Nevertheless, the lure of the established brand is powerful. Linux is almost viewed as the anti-Christ when operating systems are on the agenda.

Managers narrow their eyes at the mention of the open source alternative, looking for the devil in the detail. The fact is, there’s no catch! There is just the risk of being seen not to buy Microsoft.

The time has now come for users to move away from purchasing operating systems based on the largest brand and instead make the decision based on benefit and value. Perhaps then we will see Linux move from cult status to an accepted religion.

Stephen Jay
Hansa Business Solutions

Patch work guilt

In early February, Microsoft was wrongly criticised for failing to alert businesses to a serious flaw in its Windows operating system. If a security breach had occurred and a finger needed to be pointed, it would have been at the IT managers who failed to use the tools provided by Microsoft to fix the issue they had been alerted to.

Microsoft had, in fact, alerted all its customers to the fault and made a free corrective patch available on its web site. Once installed this would have eliminated any risk from hacker attack. Therefore, it could be said that it is this failure to understand the importance of security patches that is leaving businesses open to hacker attacks and not simply flaws in software.

However, managing software updates can be a major issue. Deploying these updates and patches to hundreds of PCs across multiple sites is both costly and timely – but it doesn’t need to be. There is software available that does the job for the IT manager. It logs each PC off, having saved any open documents, installs the patches and then reboots the PC so it is ready for the user – minimising business and end user disruption. All the IT manager has to do is action one single mouse click at the SMS console.

The question, therefore, is: Was the recent Microsoft scare really justified? – How can we criticise a company that alerts its customers to a problem and immediately provides them with a solution?

Sumir Karayi
Founder and director

Small incentive

With the election just round the corner, UK chancellor Gordon Brown was keen to present a ‘feel good budget’ by announcing an increase in spending on the NHS and schools. However the chancellor did not see fit to extend this ‘feel good factor’ to small businesses.

He did reduce the administration burden, but failed to acknowledge that small businesses also need financial support from the government.

Smaller technology companies in particular should be given more incentive grants to grow, putting them in a good position to offer more jobs. This would close the loop and create a future economic environment for the healthy and educated workforce that Brown is claiming to invest in. Small technology companies are a prime candidate for Gordon Brown’s vision of the future of Britain.

Phil Reakes
Managing director
Selway Moore Solutions

Science plan

I applaud Gordon Brown’s recent budget commitment to make the necessary investment in science, education and enterprise. As he rightly stated, our country’s ability to make the right decisions in the economic cycle to invest in these areas will support future generations.

As a leading UK employer in the technology sector, we require access to a workforce that is highly educated in science and technology. It’s disturbing to see the poor levels of science graduates. It is our view that these subjects, coupled with excellent levels of literacy, are central to driving our economy forward and confirming Britain’s position as a leading global innovator.

It is prudent for Britain to solidify its commitment to invest in science and education. The country has long experienced a shortfall in these areas, and investment in effective and relevant education for all is the single most important thing the government can do to stimulate the economy.

Mr Brown talked at length about a commitment to the long-term. This year we saw the numbers of graduates applying to read science/technology and engineering subjects drop. If this is a continuing trend we would expect to see significantly fewer science graduates in three to five years time. Brown’s public statement should go far to turning this disturbing trend around, and we look forward to seeing his words bite the UK economy in the next few years.

My ambition is to see Britain again achieve the high levels of success that it did 100 years ago. I want to see us win as many Nobel prizes for science and innovation in the 21st century as we did at the turn of the last.

Ian Smith
Managing director UK &Ireland

Quality time

If organisations are to maximise their investment in call centres, they must invest in quality management. To maintain standards and achieve sustained quality improvements, they need to listen to the business, the customer and their staff. All too frequently problems are just blamed on the organisation’s call centre agents.

Most companies have a traditionally reactive approach to quality in the call centre. A problem arises and they solve it, more often than not directing 100% of their attention on the call centre agents. A short-term resolution is achieved and quality returns to the back burner.

But quality is not a one-off project – it affects everything. Rather than focusing solely on the agent role, to see real value and real results, organisations need to implement an integrated continual quality improvement approach. By feeding information from the business, the customer and the agent into one central point, an organisation can begin to understand and unravel business issues and their implications for customer service and staff retention.

By continually refining the business through this cyclical process, organisations move away from a reactive, one-off response to problems to continual quality improvements. And so quality moves to the core of the business.

Customer complaints, agent turnover and escalating costs will remain a fact of business. But rather than automatically blaming the beleaguered call centre agent, using this approach means organisations can rapidly diagnose the real problem and address its cause, not just the symptom – and so deliver long-term benefit, and a better level of service to all who are on the receiving end.

Roisin Tims
Marketing manager

Time shift

As workloads get heavier and stress levels get higher, professionals should be looking after their regime at work just as much as in their personal lives.

Mobile workers can benefit the most from re-arranging the fundamentals of their working day. Working on the road, plane, train, etc and roaming between countries is fraught with inefficiency. It is as much a candidate for slimming down and simplifying as any other part of life. Bulky laptops (or worse, reams of papers) are not the way ahead. Thanks to cellular technology such as GPRS, there is no excuse for professionals not to be connected to their offices – and their information – without carrying around bulky equipment and office documents.

Taking advantage of these technologies can help reduce work stresses, making staff more efficient and improving the quality of leisure time. For example, if employees spend 10% of their eight-hour day waiting for people, then using a PDA to answer email would save over three-quarters of an hour at the end of every day – that’s four hours every week.

Matt Fitzgerald
Satsuma Solutions

Mobile exposure

With many employees being encouraged to work remotely, either at home or on the road, a significant amount of company information is being stored locally on individual’s laptops and PCs. This quickly becomes a business continuity issue for businesses that do not religiously back-up employee’s personal computers.

If somebody’s PC gets lost or stolen, or the data corrupted whilst working on a large scale project, then the potential cost to the business could be huge.

Back-ups require human diligence, which we all know is flawed. What’s needed is an automated, reliable mechanism for getting at the data generated out of the office that can not be abused or circumvented – a mechanism that collates the information centrally without limiting the flexibility of the remote user in any way.

With such technology available today, it is surely an unacceptable risk for corporates to allow employees to use personal machines that are not in some way centrally connected to the company database.

Apart from the obvious benefits of shared information, working in this way will be safer for all.

Les Paul
Managing director
Datum Consulting

A word in your ear

I note that the sidebar to your cover story on biometrics (‘Identity crisis’, Information Age March 2004) mentions both voice recognition and hearing recognition. Is the latter different from the former, or are they actually the same thing?

Jeremy Newman
Selwood Research

Editor’s reply:

Due to space constraints we were unable to give as much detail as we would have liked on the different biometric options.

Hearing recognition is very different to voice recognition. It involves measuring the unique response of the human ear to a standard ‘ping’. The ‘acoustic emissions’ produced by the ear are used to identify individuals. That profiling works on a similar principle to voice recognition in that it measures a sound rather than a physical/visual attribute and so might utilise broadly similar pattern analysis technology.

However, in the case of hearing recognition, the sound itself is not generated by the user – a non-interventive facet that would prove useful in many applications.

Because hearing recognition requires little more than a finely-tuned microphone, this form of biometric security could be used unobtrusively in, say, telephone banking or to verify a mobile phone user. However, the technology is still too embryonic for such applications.

In a related development after the article went to press, researchers at Lancaster University announced they had developed a computerised ear recognition system – effectively a means of taking a ‘print’ of the unique shape of each individual’s ear – which is more akin to fingerprint recognition than the biometrics discussed above.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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