Friday, 11 January 2013

The Ministry of Problem Creation

Every so often it hits you how hard it is to actually get anything done at work in this country. It seems as though whenever you try and achieve something there's a grinning dickhead in a suit holding a giant roll of red tape. No matter what it is you can guarantee it's tied up with enough volumes of rules and regulations to make the floors of the British Library groan with the strain.
At work we have been forced to replace some high pressure pipework and isolation valves due to corrosion issues, with a new stainless steel system. Now you'd think that despite this being a six inch diameter 40 bar compressed air main that runs from receivers in the basement to a research facility three floors above, plus stress calculations and non destructive testing of the parts that the job shouldn't really take all that long - a few weeks maybe. And yet thanks to the Ministry of Problem Creation we have our insurance company and another associated notified body ensuring that our research facility remains unusable for as long as possible. Physically the job should only have taken a few weeks, but here we are seven months down the line and we still have a big empty space where the new pipework should be. It has to be deliberate.
The simple act of buying something can also be full of pitfalls and stress once the Ministry gets involved. Another example from work is where you wish to purchase an item from a company. You've done your research, made phone calls to the company's tech support department, trawled through specification sheets and done the same for any other suppliers alternatives. So you try to make an order. Now the first indication that things are about to go wrong is that there's a computer system involved, so you know you've taken the first step along the road to hell before you've even started. If the thing to be ordered is rather expensive you're going to need three quotes. Ah, but this thing may only be made by one company and they only sell direct. Still need three quotes. Erm... let me explain the concept of 'Only One Company Makes It'....
OK, after much wrangling the powers that be agree that one quote will have to suffice. Marvellous. But you've got to fill out another form to explain why this is the case.
Next there's the question of whether the supplier is on the database. Hopefully they will be because if they're not, then by the time the administrative process is completed to add them then all the quotes you spent the last week getting together will have expired and you'll have to start again.
Many years ago when computers first started being used in businesses there was much talk about the concept of 'The Paperless Office'. Lots of people in cheap suits were running around getting excited at the prospect of an office environment devoid of filing cabinets. Then the reality must have hit home that all computers systems eventually go tits up so everything still had to be printed as a backup, plus no filing cabinets meant there was nothing left for the short-skirted secretaries to bend over at, so panic set in resulting in the complete deluge of laser-printed forms we see today. As hemlines rose so did the number of forms that needed to be filled in and filed (preferably in the bottom drawer).
So what's needed now is some sort of simplification. Let's imagine for a moment that instead of all the forms and administrative bollocks we just had some form of instant financial transaction perhaps involving simple tokens. For sake of argument let's give these tokens a name, like 'money'. Yeah, that'll do, and where an item has a value equivalent to a certain amount of 'money' you can simply exchange said 'money' for the item you want. Brilliant! So when I need a piece of apparatus that costs a couple of grand or whatever, I can go to someone who'll give me the 'money' so I can go to the place that has the item and exchange the 'money' for it and bring it back with me. It would be so easy! How come nobody has thought of this before?