Parliamentary iPad row takes BYO policy national
The Commons Administration Committee has recommended that MPs use tablet computers. Cue a media row about taxpayer-funded iPads
As so often, the Daily Mail set the agenda. "Every single MP could be issued with an iPad-style tablet computer at a cost of up to £325,000 after an influential cross-party committee backed the idea," it reported this week. Subsequent commentators have tended to ignore the words "-style" and "up to" in keeping the row going.
But whether it is accepted or not, the Commons Administration Committee's proposal for the "rapid roll-out of suitable mobile tablet hardware" has widened the debate on the use of bring-your-own technology in the public sector.
Veteran commentator Richard Holway, of TechMarketView, said: "Given that many FTSE100 directors now get their board papers on their iPads and that, increasingly, iPads are used for notes when giving presentations, I don't see why there is so much fuss about allowing MPs to use them too." As each MP already gets three desktops and two laptops for their offices, he wonders "what's the fuss about another device?"
Tabloid journalism aside (iPad makes a good headline word) there are two reasons why a modicum of fuss may be in order. The first is the advisability of issuing centrally procured mobile hardware at taxpayers' expense at a time when many white-collar workers accept it as the norm to buy their own. Socitm's latest IT Trends report highlights the acceptability of BYO as one of the biggest changes in local authority IT policy.
The second point is that, rather than try to transform parliamentary information-handling by issuing new hardware and systems, would it not be more sensible to learn the lessons of numerous IT fiascos and change the information processes first? One place to start might be to transform the arcane procedure of publishing early-day motions. These motions, on almost any subject that can be dreamed up by an MP, are solemnly drafted, printed and almost invariably forgotten, at a cost of about £1m a year. Would it not be sensible to make the process digital-by-default, or perhaps transform it in to an e-petitioning system?
While everyone jokes about MPs' technophobia, my suspicion is that if the information they need and value is digital, they will quickly adopt the technology to view and process it at the appropriate point.
A final decision on whether to go ahead with the tablet computing scheme is likely to be made by the Commons Commission later this month. If it has any sense, it will make sure the parliamentary information revolution is led by information, not technology.