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Wednesday, 7 November 2007

BUBBLE, BUBBLE, MAIL TROUBLE

Before I became a member of the Waiheke Community Board I knew that the Auckland City Council was not the most efficient and competent organisation in human history. I soon had confirmation of that from the lips of David Rankin, its CEO. In his speech at the induction seminar he told us that he had been in the job eighteen years. A few minutes later he also told us that in many respects the performance of his organisation was only mediocre. But I did not expect it to be inept in such a fundamental thing as sending mail. I was also ever so slightly surprised that it did not want to get it right.

In case you know little or nothing about computers, I should first explain that when information is stored in one it can be done in many ways, and that those different 'formats' consume vastly different amounts of space. For instance, if you wanted to store '1234567890' you could do it exactly like that, which would obviously take up just ten units of memory--ten 'characters' as they are usually called (or ten 'bytes' if you like being really technical). But if you stored the same string of numbers out of a word-processing program like Microsoft Word, you would consume about 35,000 characters, even 300,000. Or, if you took a picture of the page on which the same ten numbers were printed, using a machine called a scanner, you would consume 3 million characters or more.

If you emailed those three examples over the Internet using an ordinary phone line running at the fastest speed that Telecom guarantees for 90% of NZ, it would take a split second to send the 10 characters, about a second to send the 35,000, and 20 minutes to send the 3 million.

If you then went mad and scanned in a sixteen-page document, you could easily consume 50 million characters. That would obviously take so long to email--even if some kind chap went out and oiled the phone lines to make them run faster--that it would be pointless trying.

Therefore any competent organisation in the 21st century should make sure it uses the smallest and most efficient formats when emailing documents, and its staff should all be trained accordingly. Especially if it comes under the Local Government Act 2002, which in section 14 tells it to be efficient.

So I was astounded, flabbergasted, gobsmacked and thrombobulated to find that the Auckland City Council likes to use the biggest and most inefficient format for emailing documents--i.e., the scanned one. It even makes sure of that by printing them out then scanning them in.

It therefore has many documents so enormous that it cannot email them, because people might have grown old and died and moved to the cemetery before they got there. So what does it do? Easy. It only emails an abbreviated version of part of them (and even that eats millions of characters), then it gets the rest to you by courier a day or two later. Courier! Not even fast post.

When I politely asked Auckland to use a small format it had a management meeting and decided not to. 'Our current process for sending mail attachments will not be altered. I appreciate this may cause you inconvenience, however this is the chosen method by the organisation at this stage.'

Please don't worry about it though. Take comfort from the fact that the Auckland City Council is stunningly efficient at one thing. Spending your rates to the hilt. You can be absolutely sure that there will be nothing left of them at the end of the year, and that next year even more will be demanded. Every year it will always achieve 100% efficiency in spending every cent. So we shall forgive the little matter of the mail. Couriers need the work. And cemeteries.