I have had quite a long background ininformation technology, mainly in the private sector. Even with this exposure to technological change, there have been some developments over time that have really impressed and surprised me in terms of their impact. Twenty and more years ago, I was quite amazed at how much functionality could be built into an answer phone. Perhaps my sense of wonderment was excessive but I was enthused by the ability that I had from far away to interrogate telephone messages and even alter the outgoing message that I had left for people. All of this was possible through the remarkable gymnastics of a single tape deck under distant remote control.
It is the area of communications that has seen some of the greatest change. New capabilities mean that we can now get more out of ourselves in a working day and others can get more out of us. In the 1980s, who in the office would admit to sending out and receiving 50 to 100 internal mail envelopes every day? In 2009, who in the office would want to admit that they had less email traffic than this?
Our use of communications technology can be overdone. With one of my private sector employers, too many of us cut down on direct conversation with each other. Emails would sometimes be sent via a server complex in Arizona when the recipient(s) were a few feet away in the same office. By sending an email we were recording our views in an easily reproducible permanent form but what might that sometimes be saying about trust?
Our use of technology can be underdone. Journeys to meetings can be time-consuming and costly as well as preventing us from working effectively for the duration. The argument is made that it is more difficult to renege on commitments agreed in a face-to-face meeting, having met each other – but it is still entirely possible!
Today we can use video, voice and web conferencing to conduct our meetings and these methods can work very well with the choice being influenced by the number of people involved and the topics being discussed. While I have seen these technologies amply harnessed in the private sector, I have not seen their full exploitation in local government. This is more of an issue than it might seem when we consider that even journeys withinWest Sussexcan rack up the distances travelled. Some journeys, to Chichester and Bognor Regis for example, can create a round trip of 80 to 100 miles for a meeting participant fromCrawley.
In local government, we do generally embrace new technology to improve our services and their delivery. Our positive outcomes in these areas suggest that we will also be able to extend the use of technology more widely for the conduct of meetings.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
11th February 2009