Under the Wire: Patronising the yartz

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This article appeared in the Issue 176, 11 July 2005 issue of CRN magazine.

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Under the Wire: Patronising  the yartz
OPINION: Some names have been changed in the following, in order to protect the innocent and the guilty.
 
A mate of mine -- for the sake of the story let’s call him “‘Tony” -- runs a small business. For the sake of the story, let’s call it a “chemist shop”. He’s recently had to have some dealings with a certain government department -- for the sake of the story, let’s call it the “Health Insurance Commission”.
 
Tony tells me that this government department has been talking for some years about taking the process of ordering pharmaceuticals entirely online, thus replacing both telephone-and paper-based ordering systems and enabling the HIC to streamline its business processes.
 
Note that very important point: all of this is to benefit the government. The chemists will not see any significant increase in efficiency.
 
In order to make it all happen, though, every chemist has to upgrade their computers and internet access in order to use the new system (remember, this is replacing the old system, not supplementing it -- no online ordering, no pharmaceuticals, no business). Thankfully, there is a system of grants available in order to subsidise the cost of the upgrade. Again, Tony tells me the grants have been talked about for years without being implemented.
 
The HIC decided to implement the grant system at the end of the 2004-05 financial year, and sent out paperwork to every chemist in the country in May 2005. That’s right, May. Allowing just over four weeks before the end of financial year for all the upgrades to be completed in order to qualify for the subsidy. If your local pharmacist has looked a little stressed lately, now you know why.
 
Of course, an online ordering system for prescription drugs is a little more complicated than just buying a computer and hooking up with some ISP. There has to be security, there have to be processes. Part of the qualification for the grant involves filling out a checklist to “prove” that your business is up to the task.
 
Has a member of your staff been appointed as systems administrator? Check. (That would be Tony.)
 
Has a member of your staff been given responsibility for security? Check. (That also would be Tony.)
 
Has a member of your staff been given specific responsibility for backups? Check. (Tony again.)
 
Have you implemented a backup strategy? Check. (Tony bought a CD burner.)
 
Have you implemented a disaster recovery plan? Check. (Tony’s going to take the CDs home with him.)
 
Are all passwords kept securely? Check. (Only Tony knows which post-it note is the right one.)
 
And on it goes. The checklist calls for all manner of computer-related roles in the workplace -- systems admin, network admin, help desk, onsite training, etc. -- and all have been checked in the affirmative, because Tony’s going to do it all.
 
I did mention he’s a chemist, who has sick customers to deal with and his own business to run, didn’t I?
 
Similar checklists are being filled out all over the country by chemists hoping not to be forced out of business by the HIC’s race to efficiency. All of these chemists (many of them two- or three-person shops) will check all the boxes that make them look like mini-corporations, in order that the HIC can fire some of its own staff.
 
There are two great ironies here. The first is that the current government is widely considered to be ‘friendly’ to small business. How many small businesses shut up shop rather than buy computers in order to fulfill requirements of the GST with its quarterly BAS filings years ago?
 
The other great irony is that the incumbent government is widely considered “unfriendly” to the arts.
 
It is stodgy, boring and conservative, with its eyes only on the bottom line -- and yet, via the HIC, it’s just created a massive nation-wide interactive work of collaborative fiction. Very hip. 
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