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TelePresence: Be a man Tanner

It's all very well to roll-out technology, but if you don't force your employees to use it, it's just another piece of expensive equipment that takes up office space.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

It's all very well to roll-out technology, but if you don't force your employees to use it, it's just another piece of expensive equipment that takes up office space.

Earlier this year the government said it intended on adopting Cisco TelePresence to save time and some of its around $300 million annual bill on domestic flights. These telepresence units are gradually coming on line with the full network at 20 sites to be operational by mid next year.

But according to Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner speaking last Friday, we shouldn't be expecting massive savings straight away. He said that people wouldn't use the units immediately since in many cases it would be a "reflex reaction" to book flights.

"You are dealing with the in ground habits of thousands of thousands of people," he said. "That's not something that the finance minister can simply mandate and suddenly everyone changes what they do... This could be a number of years away."

I was deeply shocked by that statement. We have a finance minister who is quite willing to tell Telstra where to go, but doesn't want to put in policies to make sure that government employees start making use of its new $13.8 million telepresence investment? Ridiculous.

If you think about how many loud-voiced shareholders are screaming about having their investments risked because of Tanner and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's determination to force Telstra to the negotiation table and create a broadband connected Australia, you'd think Tanner would blanch at nothing to achieve savings on flights. He certainly doesn't seem to be listening to the shareholder's woes or Telstra's vigorous complaints.

He also didn't seem concerned about agency sensibilities when he asked them to drop their IT spending by 7 per cent for small agencies and 15 per cent for large agencies as mandated by the Gershon report. Understandably, some agencies weren't happy about the need to make those savings. Did Tanner budge? No.

At the same event last week he said those agencies were pushed to achieve the savings. "Once you put people under pressure they surprise themselves," Tanner said. This doesn't seem to be the actions of someone who panders to "reflex reactions".

The agencies have managed to achieve $109 million in the first phase of the project.

Tanner is also wielding an iron hand with the portion of those savings intended to be reinvested in innovative IT projects for the agencies. This was to be in some ways a reward for those agencies for saving money. But Tanner isn't frightened of withholding the goodies if the projects aren't good enough.

"We won't be automatically spending that money," Tanner said severely. "We want quality propositions."

So on the one hand, we have Tanner saying he pushed agencies to scrimp and save when they didn't want to. He is also holding money just out of their reach to achieve great proposals for innovative projects. He has put Telstra in a headlock so that it will go along with government wishes. Yet on the other hand, he cannot force public servants to use telepresence.

I think the minister needs to man up on the telepresence issue and say that flights are no longer alright.

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