Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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Twittiquette and propaganda

This is a blog that could feature Piers Morgan. It doesn’t need to, but he is a good case in point.

Piers has form for making provocative statements, especially about trans people, then wanting to shut down the debate. He’s been inconvenienced by trans people, their friends, and sundry others who just like the sight of a grade one arse like Piers getting a good kicking, who’ve refused to let him decide when and how the debate closes.

A Twitter acquaintance last night retweeted, uncritically, a Tweet based on this story in the Kilburn and Brent Times. It’s a classic politically motivated stitch up of a story. Helpful clues include the FoI request handed to the paper, which wasn’t made via the classic route of using an open forum like WhatDoTheyKnow. My guess is that the KBT know who their informant was, and know that they are politically motivated, but don’t care since it’s a good story.

Another clue that it’s a stitch up of a story is the crude juxtaposition of spending on the renewal of communications  infrastructure with cuts to social services or popular facilities like libraries. Throw in a few comments from an anonymous but remarkably well briefed local resident and you have a partisan, biassed and thoroughly unreliable story. If you want to be better informed about what Brent are doing with iPhones, you can find a good technical story, shorn of the shroud waving and grandstanding here. There are some good questions to ask about why the execs get better phones than the rest of the work force, but those weren’t asked by the kind of people who wanted to scream ‘iPhones or libraries’ at the top of their voices.

I was disappointed in the friend who uncritically retweeted the tweets based on the KBT’s story.I pointed that out to her. She shut the debate down, a la Piers Morgan. A third person then dived in, and pointed out that by continuing the debate I was pestering her.

I probably was. I hate shitty, second rate grandstanding masquerading as political debate, especially when a renewal of infrastructure that delivers savings is presented in contrast to cuts with no mention of Eric Pickles or the real causes of declining local government budgets. I mentioned, inter alia, that the story was the kind of rubbish the TaxPayers Alliance specializes in. Not so, according to the Brent based original tweeter. Except here, from 2012, we have the TPA running a story criticizing Brent for taking away councillors’ Blackberry’s and replacing them with iPads, which would enable the reduction in costs of paper reports that I predicted in the Twitterspat last night. To be fair to the KBT, they got that story right in 2012.

So I probably came across as a bit of an arse to some people on Twitter. I’d like to say I regret it, but I don’t unless my manner got in the way of the message, which I would genuinely regret.

If you want to side with the kind of people who twist facts out of context and shroud wave indiscriminately to try and make cheap political points, I’m not a good person to be around.

Actually, I’m not a good person. Full stop. I try my best though, and try to look behind cheap stories used to make cheap political points. It’s a good tactic.


One of the most persistent Twitter voices on this topic, of Brent Council and its iPhones, turns out to be Rob Williams, who is a Senior Online Reporter for the Independent.

Rob isn’t actually sure what he’s upset about, and has asked me questions about the KBT’s speculation about call and network costs, about whether I think it’s a good decision, and is now mouthing off about smartphone technology becoming obsolete. He claims he has researched the matter, but, oddly, he hasn’t linked to anything he’s written on the topic. So, here’s what I understand the situation to be, and maybe Rob can tell me what’s wrong with my view.

Call and network costs

Brent moved to a new head office in 2012, with a new working style based round hotdesking in order to save on the cost per head of the new building. Rob may need to do some research to understand the context of all this, but it would help if he did. Hotdesking requires that individuals be able to log into their phone account from whichever workstation they’re at, or that they have a fully mobile solution. Brent appear to have gone for a fully mobile solution, giving staff one handset that will function as both out of office and in office telecoms solution. So instead of a superset on the desk, and a mobile phone, they have one mobile phone. So there’s a saving there straight away, before you start thinking about how you make savings by getting rid of laptops and other email devices.

Here’s some more context for Rob. Corporations and big users like councils buy mobile comms differently to you and me. They don’t go to Frauds4You or Crapphone Wareouse and pay over the odds for the monthly contract in return for a ‘free’ or subsidized handset. They may buy a network contract from one provider, and handsets from another. Frequently those contracts are for unlimited data and calls – certainly, the handset I have from a large organization I do some work for is on such a contract, which costs a few pounds per month per user. When they move me to a new handset (as they do, regularly, since I’m in their early adopter group) they don’t change the contract – they just send the new IMEI number to the provider. My old handsets then either go back to the manufacturer, or get refurbed and passed on to another user.

So, there are probably no new network contracts associated with the iPhones, (ince lots of staff would have had council mobiles anyway) and quite probably no new costs, because they’re upgrading and replacing existing architecture. In fact, there may be ongoing savings as well as the procurement savings from buying one device not two or three. Here’s why.

The sensible way to configure 3g and 4g handsets with WiFi enabled inside the office is to use them as handsets on your VOIP network, not as mobiles. So inside the building, or within range of it, you’re not using 3g or 4g but your own VOIP network via WiFi. I don’t know if this is how Brent have configured it, but it’s how I would. Given how compact Brent is, and how many buildings it has, the handsets may even be on VOIP most of the time. If you’re really trick you can even configure them when roaming away from your wifi network to work as VOIP handsets via unlimited 3g/4g data, not as mobile handsets. That way you can have true one number mobility, and certainty about costs. Incidentally, there’s a good article about Brent’s WiFi network here – I’ll bet the Independent’s senior online reporter hasn’t read it.

If someone throws their hands in the air and goes ‘Oooh, iPhones, call charges, data bills’ what they’re actually saying is ‘I haven’t got a fucking clue how big organizations use technology…’

Incidentally,there’s a huge point to be made here about local government and local decision making. This sort of solution might work well in Brent. I probably wouldn’t try it in Cumbria or Cornwall.

So have Brent made a good decision? I don’t know. I certainly don’t know if it’s a bad decision though, and the rantings of people like Rob Williams haven’t persuaded me. Do I believe it’s possible to save £1M over five years via a comms policy of which these handsets are one component? Yes.

I would have doubts about the commitment of Brent to Apple, because I don’t like Apple kit but, really, the manufacturer of the handsets is irrelevant, As Rob blatantly doesn’t understand, the smartphone revolution at Brent is a precursor to BYOD as a principle (as hinted at in the article I cited above) although like most councils Brent may find that the Cabinet Office and three factor authentication may be a bigger obstacle to BYOD than some people are assuming. By the time those handsets Brent have bought are obsolete, users may be deciding for themselves which handset / device they use. It certainly won’t change the architecture.

Another point needs to be made here. Apple handsets have been bought by Brent from a broker. In three years time, when those handsets are knackered, Brent can go to another broker. That’s a big improvement on depending on Blackberry for instance, where the handset and the network were much more tightly integrated. So, Brent’s decision looks to be well within the range of reasonable decisions, especially as their other offers (ipads to rent in libraries, ipad access at meetings and so on) also are predicated on Apple consumer devices. Would I have advised Brent to steer away from buying Apple kit because mischief makers would try and make something out of the story? Probably.

Now there’s a lot more could be said about the way in which this story has been used right now, but there’s no more to be said than this. The false juxtaposition of IT procurement costs alongside cuts caused by a reduction in local government grants from the centre is an intensely political act, and anyone who denies it is profoundly intellectually dishonest.


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This entry was posted on February 22, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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