Geeks in Jeans

By | 14th August 2013

Sitting on a bus recently in the Austrian Alps, I watched carefully as the driver inched along a narrow road twisting and turning above a ravine where many feet below a raging torrent of still melting snow rushed headlong downwards, ever downwards.

Our driver was not aware of or concerned by how I felt about the plunge to my right; his attention was all on the cyclist to his front. Aged at least 70 and apparently oblivious to the traffic behind him, the cyclist meandered aimlessly all over the carriageway, (if that narrow stretch qualifies for that description) plugged into his favourite music, showing off to the rest of us his immaculately ordered biking kit, complete with helmet, water bottle, brightly coloured jacket and, of course, lycra shorts. He was doing at least 5 mph (along the relatively flat stretch) and appeared to be totally unaware of the traffic building behind him.

Eventually, the driver was able to edge past the still oblivious cyclist and continue on to the starting point for our four hour walk over the mountains back to our destination and I quickly forgot about bikers in lycra. That is, until I returned home to find myself confronted by geeks in jeans.

Rachel Sylvester, writing in The Times of July 30th, writes that “Geeks in Jeans are the Treasury’s new heroes.”

She was commenting on the extraordinary emergence of people who dress like the late Steve Jobs who are fast replacing the men in bowler hats, more usually know as the Civil Service.

Now I am not seeking to say that we have seen the end of the Civil Service but the Government appears, at long last, to have recognised that some things can be done more efficiently and cost effectively than by the old fashioned method of suited pen pushers. As the article says, if you can replace a foot high pile of documents needed to take out a Lasting Power of Attorney with an online form which can be completed by a few clicks of a mouse, why would you not do so?

Equally, an outside contractor seeking to charge £30,000 for changing a logo for a Government department website may, until now, have been regarded as completely normal. After all, the taxpayer will pay! Instead, on this occasion, the job was completed by a teenager in jeans working for the Government Digital Service in 15 minutes!

This dovetails neatly with the drive by the Treasury and MOJ towards privatisation and the plans for a £160m investment in IT in the court service, about which I wrote recently in my post entitled 160 million. I confess my motive in doing so at the time was less than charitable to the Government and its strange obsession with the figure of 160 million-you will know what I mean if you read the post- but any investment in the IT used in the courts in this country must be welcome. My point was that it was a shame that the investment was not in the civil side of things where fees are often charged which might tend to defray some of the massive expense required and where investment is sorely needed.

All of this seems to me to be a piece with the general view expressed in this blog and elsewhere that we really have reached the time when doing things in the old way can no longer be  justified merely because that is the way it has always been done, particularly if there is another way of achieving the same goal which is quicker, cheaper and more effective.

So, today, for geeks in jeans read e-discovery vendors. E-trials are coming to a court near you and you may as well embrace the idea as fight against it. Indeed, they may have already arrived; examples to date are Birmingham and Croydon.

As Rachel says in her article, quoting Steve Jobs: “It is more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”