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back to article Parliament IT dept is rubbish

Members of Parliament and their staff have expressed massive dissatisfaction with their IT support. In a recently published report (pdf), cheesed-off politicos and admin types fulminated against the Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology Department (PICT). "My career has been spent in the national offices of a …

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Anonymous Coward

Is the kettle black?

The MP's saying that it's own IT service is kinda fubar? Dear Jebas's zombie bones, isn't that just something.

<rant>

MP's are general pretty shit. I mean, 2 million people said no to a war in iraq (and took to the streets) and the only person who could stop, just happened to look the other way.

Next thing they are going to complain about is the fact that MP's don't make that much money and need a pay increase.

Sjeez, bloody MP's. </rant>

Btw, while i'm typing this, i'm on the phone to a call center trying to get some help in regards to a broken backlight. 8 min and counting :-D

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Anonymous Coward

Spam anyone?

Never mind the the fact that they convieniently looking the other way after over 1.8 million people signed a petition to scrap road pricing......

Oh yeah I forgot........

It was an online petition and they can't get that in Parliment.. or so they say...funny how Tony Blair can spam a few million peeps but can't get decent IT support huh?

Paul

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Anonymous Coward

Some sympathy

I have some sympathy for the much berated PICT. Any IT professional will confirm that the best way to provide a reliable and cost-effective service is to concentrate on a limited number of tried and tested solutions.

In most organisations the key is to strike a balance between the legitimate desire of the users to have some flexibility and control over their own desktop and the needs of IT support for some standardisation.

MPs and their staff are, as a whole, "highly individualistic" and "strong-minded". They are likely to have a range of unusual and urgent requirements, probably at the leading edge of technology.

Thus, rather than supporting one client (parliament), the PICT are really supporting several hundred highly demanding users each with their own slightly different requirements. Not the easiest of tasks.

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Anonymous Coward

I smell an outsource....

From James Arbuthnot and some un-named comments from the article, it does to my mind have the wiff of sombody about to suggest 'outsourcing' the PICT department. The comments are the following:

"PICT does not provide quick and competent support...It is not a good organisation. And it is a monopoly organisation. While there are shining individual exceptions to the string of whinges I set out below, they are exceptions."

From James the key word being 'monopoly', and this little diddy,

"My career has been spent in the national offices of a variety of charities of varying sizes and...in a private sector marketing agency," wrote one MP. "I have to say that although individuals are often friendly, helpful and professional, the PICT service overall seems to me one of the poorest I have received."

The keyword here being 'private sector'.

"I find it difficult to understand quite how the 158 staff in the PICT Service can fail to deliver a more helpful, efficient, and generally trustworthy service," - I forget her name.

Still, there is statment that they have a monopoly, that its somthing the private sector does better and suggestions that its over staffed, if that is not setting it up for outsourcing I do not know what is.

Of course I suppect the problem at PICT's has little to do with the 'man on the ground', and is more likey due to crap higher level managers. What this means in the public sector is most likely they have entered into an agreement with the like of BT for service provision, and whilst the big wigs pat them selfs on the back the people at the sharp end take the heat.

To the Article provider:

If would of been intrested (as PICT's) is a public department, to of got at least a little breakdown of what the 158 of its staff are responsibe for and some un-named comments from people lower down the ranks in PICT's with there opinion of where any problems lie. As it is, this article is mostly just beating on PICT, which may or may not deserve it.

On the other hand, I did laugh untill my spleen shatered when reading your comments on James . I do have little mercy for him... no thats wrong, I have no mercy at all for him...., I hope the new spitting image lampoons him good.

-Grumpy Monkey.

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Ouch!

As your average IT techie would say 95% of your LAN problems originate from the enduser doing very stupid and unanticipated things to the system , and sadly no matter how hard you try , they find ingenious ways to put the spanner in the works!

Given the average IQ of your elected parliamentarian rarely exceeds double digits(the BBC comedy series "Yes Minister/Primeminister" is closer to the truth than you think)!

Now it is common knowledge , that the wireless lan , is the weakest link of all , as the power of the modern laptop can crack the WEP keys very easily indeed with very simple software!

Still I like the comment from one user connecting his laptop to a very insecure wireless net work in a public place , one can wonder if he has any brains?

Sadly of the five hundred plus elected members in the current parliament , a minimum of 70 plus have their brains fitted in their posterior , given one recent circulated petition! , but since all the political parties cannot have people who can think for themselves without an attached minder , the dumber and more stupid the better a candidate they be, little wonder they have so many problems, and the parliamentary IT are obviously so used to dealing with children(members) who have basic computer skills of a child yet to graduate from kindergarten!

"The Peter Principle" rocks!

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ID cards and road pricing

I do wonder when the penny will drop for these Ministers - and when they will realise how utterly incompetent the British government is with IT, is precisely the reason why we do not trust them with grandiose schemes such as road pricing á la Big Brother and national ID cards. To be polite, I wouldn't even credit any of the UK political parties with the ability to host a piss-up in a brewery, let alone run any of the pie-in-the-sky schemes they keep dreaming up. They're all crap! Nothing more needs to be said.

Of course, as someone who is no longer paying taxes to HM's sad excuse for a government, I have the luxury of being able to sit back and laugh at the situation because it no longer affects me (I emigrated to Germany some 2.5 years ago, and I now pay my taxes to Ms. Merkel - who, despite charging me nearly 45% of my income, delivers considerably more value for my taxes than Mr. Blair ever did). However, I'm sure there are millions and millions of Brits who do not find the situation so amusing, as the consequences directly affect them. Every time I visit my family in the UK, I am reminded of yet more reasons why I'm very glad I no longer live there.

Sooner or later, many people will realise that emigration is the only sane choice. Governments can be changed as easily as a gas supplier - all you do is emigrate. Being part of the EU makes this easy - the same rules that allow Romanians and Hungarians to come in, also allow Brits to live and work in countries like France, Spain and Germany. Many of the best people have already left, and after about 20-30 years, only the desperate will remain. To be honest, it's also a repeat of the last time Labour was in power - mass emigration of the top skilled workers and high earners. Labour (or the successors) will have to keep cranking taxes up in order to keep paying the bills (not to mention PFI, a financial disaster whose scope I will sidestep for the sake of brevity), which will convince ever more people to emigrate.

Then there's mass outsourcing, lowering of salaries because of cheap (and sometimes illegal) immigrants. All this against a backdrop of incredible debt, rising costs of living and - on top of all this - an economy based on one's ability to repay their mortgage. The future does not look pretty for the UK.

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End Users...

I have a buddy who is a BOFH for a legal department and he swears that the higher you move up in the legal world the dumber you get with computers and the meaner you get with IT staff.

Then I read about some idiot minister who can't keep paper in a printer calling an entire IT staff incompetent. I thought the Brits were supposed to at least be polite.

Though I agree with the previous poster that a little more info on PICT would have been nice.

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15 to 20 minutes?

"whenever a member of my staff or I telephone the PICT Service we can expect to wait 15 to 20 minutes"

Let's just clarify this.

Does she mean that herself or her staff are on hold for 20 minutes? In which case, she should try calling NTL support and see how she does with that.

Or does she mean that a technician arrives withint 15 to 20 minutes? In which case I suspect a lot of businesses and educational establishments across the UK would kill for this kind of response time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ID cards and road pricing

"Every time I visit my family in the UK, I am reminded of yet more reasons why I'm very glad I no longer live there." - Oliver Jones

Aww, that's not very nice, I'm sure your family is lovely.

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Anonymous Coward

Technicians + Halls of power = disaster

Well I've got experience of local goverment and councillors, councillors don't generally have any understanding of technology and winge when they don't get their way, they also stab you in the back and complain to your head of service/unit when they don't get their way (even if the problem is their own making/lack of understanding, they don't understand what your explaining to them and they can't carry it out properly anyway).

If this is local goverment, think what MPs are like to deal with.

Take into account how thick the walls at the house of parliament are, they are old buildings and I'm guessing they are quite thick (wireless signals don't really pass through walls, especially thick ones). So they possibly have lots of access points. If they have wired networking too are all the sockets automatically patched or do they get patched on demands/request?

Now imagine security (I would hope that they are using secured WLANs, if so I wonder if the MPs understand the technology and don't think differently from what their IT bods are telling them/supporting). I'm guessing they are using static IPs on wireless possibly with hidden/locked down with possibly static routing, etc too I would imagine). There are possibly different sections for different things too (ie public access/MP office access/admin staff/etc).

Take into account things like VLANs and IP ranges, I'm just guessing the network is a mess with patchy coverage.around the whole building.

You've possibly got backend people who don't like to answer the phone and possibly have communication problems to the technicians/support people generally, it's possibly a mess (I think the number was 150ish which would possibly mean you've got different areas of responsibilty (ie Comms support, desktop support, server support, call centre/helpdesk, admin, etc).

They are possibly under funded and short staffed as well, etc.

Finally think you've possibly got a desktop support people who like to keep their jobs and has to try to resolve problems for the MPs, etc without losing his job because he's had to tell someone how to use the equipment properly and what is and is possible.

If any of my guesses are right (or even close enough), I believe this is a support nightmare if local councils are anything to go by then it's possibly the case.

Anonymous

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Anonymous Coward

Actually, the MPs are right

Speaking from personal experience, the MPs are right.

PICT are inefficient, slow at responding to queries, and bureaucracy-bound. Most queries come not from MPs but from their staff who tend (in contrast to some of the suggestions here) to be a pretty bright bunch.

Dell are worse than useless. Office 'upgrades' are made with little sensitivity with end-user requirements, no expertise of MPs' office requirements, and often leave offices without properly functioning systems, and little support. They don't tend to respond to problems when they ARE raised and the staff who deal with the hardware simply don't know their job very well.

And the Parliamentary extranet system is slow, cumbersome, unreliable and arbitrary and access to Parliamentary e-mail is extremely difficult.

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Anonymous Coward

Wireless in Schiphol?

Why are government officials allowed to use public available Wireless Accesspoints? And there we wonder why more and more secrets are found in the hands of terrorists. And then these inable users blame their own stupidity on an IT Support service, but hey they are politicians and we shouldn't apply common sense to them.. now should we? ;)

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Anonymous Coward

I work in PICT...

And we work bloody hard.

The main reason for the problems are the MPs themselves, they expect unrealistic resolutions to problems and are constantly unhappy with anything we do.

What wasn't mentioned was that PICT has only recently formed, we were formally PCD (Parliamenty Communications Directorate) and have since merged with all other support departments in the House, this has caused problems and delays for some support but overall the Service Desk call times and call backs have greatly improved.

This Department is only just over 1 year old and we are still recruiting new staff to cope with the volume, unfortunately its becoming harder and harder to fill the spaces as the pay is abysmal and as you can see from the report, you don't get any thanks for your hard work.

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Anonymous Coward

To the person who says the MPs are right...

I'm afraid you aren't right at all.

I'm guessing your a Researcher, the bain of our IT life, most of you think you are so important just because you are an MP's lacky.

There have been some problems with the Dell equipment, but on the whole statistics show they are reliable.

As for the Hardware side of things, we have some of the best hardware engineers available.

As for the Parliamentary 'Extranet', I believe you mean Internet, that thing that allows you to view your Hotmail, chat to you friends on MSN Messenger and also download your itunes.

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Anonymous Coward

To the preson who says the MPs are wrong...

I'm not a researcher. Nor am I an MP's lacky. Nor have I ever been. It's not the dell equipment that's the problem -- it's the implementation that's seriously flawed. And when I talk about the extranet, I mean exactly that. The thing that allows constituency offices to view their Parliamentary e-mail, schedules, internal documents and stuff like that. So not really very important, eh?

I appreciate that there's more to this story than meets the eye. But I'll describe to you in one word how most MPs' staff find the system: "frustrating". I don't know who is fundamentally to blame.

And as to MSN messenger, I don't have any friends, so I wouldn't know.

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The Minority

I imagine it is like most organisations, where i work in IT we have few difficult customers, they shout the loudest and tend to be the ones that are most illterate and bad mannered.

I am suprised that the staff are paid poorly at the sharp end. The average wage in London must be around £28000 with the inner London allowance, i can't believe they are on less than that.

Keep IT simple the more choices in technology the more there is to go wrong.

If you do have bad suppliers or third party suppliers like BT you must have a resilient way of escalating ad resolving your issues.

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Mike...

The starting wages on PICT is just over 19k, and its these guys that are in the firing line, they say the benifits of lots of annual leave (starting at 28 going up to 40 days for 10 years service) and a good pension is supposed to even it out, but I don't think it does.

As for esculating the problems, there are very good procedures in place, but we are all only human after all.

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Anonymous Coward

Mike...

The starting wages on PICT is just over 19k, and its these guys that are in the firing line, they say the benifits of lots of annual leave (starting at 28 going up to 40 days for 10 years service) and a good pension is supposed to even it out, but I don't think it does.

As for esculating the problems, there are very good procedures in place, but we are all only human after all.

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