Computers have replaced many jobs. While it’s hard to argue with the gains in efficiency and productivity in some cases, the downside is of course that it is real people who lose those jobs, and there are often no new opportunities for them to move on to. Currently the Key government, sill in the grip of its misguided austerity campaign, is looking to push computerisation further into the workplace. In the original from of a piece written last Tuesday, Stuff reported as follows:
Hi-tech threat to public servants
Technology will replace face-to-face contact as the Government continues its squeeze on the public service.
Prime Minister John Key has met executives from internet giant Google as plans to shake up the public sector gather steam. Virtual jobs will replace staff as the sector moves away from frontline services to call centres and online interaction.
Mr Key said yesterday that people wanted to use their smartphones to apply for passports and other tasks, rather than wait in line in offices.
“It really doesn’t matter if there is a street frontage there … We are living in an age where kids have iPads and smartphones. That’s the modern generation … and they actually don’t want to walk in, for the most part, and be in a very long queue and be waiting for a long time.”
He foreshadowed more mergers and job losses, as the Government continues its quest to slash $1 billion from the state sector. More than 2500 public service jobs have been cut in the past three years.
In the updated piece currently online at that link the argument has been fleshed out more using Air NZ as an example. Key says:
“Go and have a look t Air New Zealand. Frankly, there’s less people checking you in but you can check-in faster. It’s the same thing for the public service…so much of what we do, people want to be able to access technology ….to get better services.”
There are several problems with this plan. First, it’s entirely the wrong time to be booting people out of the workforce. There are no jobs – where will they go? Second, computerisation doesn’t always equal better service. For every punter whisking their way happily through Air NZ’s automated check-in, there is another weeping with frustration in the maze of an appalling automated phone menu. Are the kids with their iPads going to enjoy waiting on hold any more than waiting in a queue? “Your call is very important to us…” – Farrrrk!
The third problem is cost, which I doubt if the Nats have considered deeply. It’s all very well to build a stand alone bit of kit like a check-in kiosk, but this talk of putting everything on the web leaves us at the mercy of very rapidly changing technology (not to mention the security risks). And what is keeping up with that going to cost, when we’ve sacked all the public servants? As many people warned, the Auckland “Supercity” provides an interesting case study:
Auckland’s $54m computer system bill only the start
The international consultancy firm Deloitte charged up to $3400 a day a head for its staff to build a new computer system for the Super City, a confidential paper shows.
Deloitte led a consortium that was paid about $27 million in consultancy fees as part of a basic $54 million computer system to get the Auckland Council up and running.
A confidential proposal from Deloitte, obtained by the Herald, shows the firm estimated its workload at more than 8500 work days at rates between $1200 for an analyst and $3400 for a senior manager. The daily rates excluded GST.
That’s what it costs to build these things. Rinse and repeat every few years to keep up with the technology. Now – let’s see those cost saving figures again?