BitDepth 593 - September 11

TTConnect gets launched again, well, mostly...
TT connecting, connecting...

Adam Montserrin (with microphone) finally takes a break as three techs gather around video equipment in a last ditch effort to put TTConnect's advertisement on the screen. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

"Why don't they just change the laptop?" came the urgent whisper from behind me. "Just... change it!"
The unhappy situation cropped up at the second launch of the Government's TTConnect web portal, and the problem was video playback of an advertisement.
As worried techs swarmed around a laptop and punched buttons on a projector, the onscreen image lurched between a PowerDVD setup screen and the video's start, almost exactly split in the middle, the bottom half at the top of the screen, the top half at the bottom like a 1970's television with poor pitch control.
Earnest presenters grabbed the microphone and stepped into the uncomfortable silence to invite questions about the still unfinished presentation, desperately trying to smooth over the technical chaos roiling in plain view of everyone.

The chaos led to at least one titillating moment, as a presenter, desperately playing for time, offered hints on government policy plans for making broadband more pervasively and cost-effectively available to the public. 
Asked whether this represented a plan for public sector involvement in what has been, until now, a private sector enterprise, her denial was immediate and emphatic. You could almost hear the squeal of tyres as she slammed in reverse gear on that topic.
Technical glitches can affect anyone, but for a Ministry desperately playing catchup with technology, the situation offered far too many juicy metaphors for government bodies with promotional high mind and execution low behind.

Introducing TTConnect, again
TTConnect was first launched at the end of 2006, with an introduction to the concept. Last Tuesday's event offered a competent web page with fair, if not particularly intelligent search capabilities that improved the aggregation of key links to services in the public sector.
This is unquestionably a good thing, because most useful information on Ministry websites is typically buried unhelpfully several levels deep.
I used the search engine on the TTConnect site to search for this year's budget. A search request for "Budget 2007" took me within two clicks of a page offering a download of the document. That's a distinct improvement over my previous experiences searching for a budget document, but perhaps a "key downloads" link aggregator on the home page might prove to be a useful addition.

Ranging a bit off topic, I should note that the 2007-2008 Budget also offers more unfortunate metaphors for the new public service focus on style over effectiveness. Previous budgets were essentially word processing documents turned into PDFs, ugly as sin, but a dream to scroll through and search on-screen. This year's edition has been stylishly formatted by Paria Publishing in two columns, a nod to the folks who still print web documents, but the new document is now unreadable for onscreen readers for no sensible reason.

The tech folks at TTConnect will admit, in private conversation, that the TTConnect portal is just a collection of links with minimal smarts (it does keep track of the most popular page requests).
You can find some government documents (most popular - the application form for government housing), but you can't submit them online until more backroom work gets done on a transaction engine, so you won't be able to cut back on visits to government offices until at least mid-2008.

Service promise and reality
Still, anything that hopes to speed up the sedentary experience of interfacing with the public service deserves a salute.
Breaking down the experience of renewing my driver's licence, I can now find out the cost of doing so and establish the opening hours of the licensing office.
Soon, I'm supposed to be able to download the forms required and fill them out at home.
By 2008, I should be able to upload the finished forms to begin the process of application and perhaps, even get an appointment for the final stages that call for my actual face and signature.

This remains something of a halcyon vision, and one that's overdue by a decade. Civil service grunt work like this has been online in many countries for at least ten years now. Downloadable forms and online filing should be a no-brainer, with digital applications verified by staff who may be dedicated civil servants or home-sourced clerical staff with Internet connections.
The question of public access also remains a thorny one. When it becomes possible to perform all these magical and timesaving activities online, folks without access to computers or the knowledge to use them will be left in the lines at Licensing, while the tech class shows up for their Internet-booked appointments.

Enter the Fast Forward initiative, which is engaged in pilot projects for public access with plans to offer wider access just four years after being launched in 2003. And that's sarcasm, boys and girls, not admiration. But don't worry, someday we'll look back on videos that wouldn't play until the end of the ceremony and laugh. Well, I will, anyway.
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