Posted by: mikepearsonnz | October 18, 2012

ICT Productivity in the Public Service

Recently I’ve had several conversations about using ICT investment to improve government productivity.  To me, these are dead-end conversations, here’s why…

First we try to define “What is productivity”?

Most people best understand productivity in terms of making a product.  Productivity is output of an aspect of production, per unit of input.  To be more productive, you produce a unit at lower cost.

Productivity can be modified using a variety of potential solutions:

  • Increase income/profitability
    • Increase price
    • Increase sales
    • Increase market share
  • Reduce production costs
    • Decrease quality
    • Decrease quantity/supply
    • Decrease material costs
    • Decrease labour costs
      • Increase non-monetary compensation
      • Employ volunteers
    • Convert to online/digital goods
  • Stop the activity
    • Make someone else responsible for the activity

Then we define “government productivity”

Not all the potential solutions are applicable to governments, as they don’t make many products.  They provide public services, which creates different productivity challenges to the private sector.  Baumol’s cost disease is often used to explain the perceived lack of growth in productivity in public services. 

Government productivity is not just about the cost of production of government services.   People use government services and the time they spend interacting is a burden on their personal productivity.

The scope of government productivity therefore has at least two aspects:

  • Increasing government productivity — improving operational efficiency and effectiveness reduces cost of government services.
  • Increasing people productivity — allowing people  to interact with efficient and effective government services, makes them more productive

E-government strategy and productivity

If you review e-government strategies, you’ll find these productivity aspects in various guises.  For example, the Australian Government ICT strategy specifically talks about  investment in ICT to reduce the compliance burden and increase broader economic growth.  

As a side-note, e-government strategies may also cover other important objectives that can be achieved through ICT investment, such as:

  • increasing trust / confidence (the basis of democratic power)
  • increasing value (the public service is given use of public assets, to generate public value)
  • increasing future opportunity (ensuring the long term viability of public services)
  • reduce risk (managing likely threats to productivity, trust, value; either immediate or in the foreseeable future)

I would suggest that these objectives have an indirect influence on productivity.

The productivity dead-end

The concern I have, is that this current strategic thinking is actually old thinking.  This is the same “lower cost input” message / thinking that I helped work on with the NZ government, over 10 years ago.  As a strategy, if you extrapolate it out,  you find there’s a dead-end at the end of it — over time you have to spend more to save less (diminishing returns). 

Who remembers the typing pool of 25 years ago?  Many public administration activities that were once heavily labor-intensive have already realised the major productivity gain, through investment in ICT.    We’ve already moved from the low hanging fruit, to spending more money to reach the fruit in the middle of the tree.  At the same time, we must continue to refresh our existing ICT investments  to maintain previous productivity gains.

Our strategy of “improving productivity with ICT” that we have employed for the last 25 years, is starting to run out of steam.   When you hear “productivity”, you are having a diminishing value conversation about “cost”.  

What comes next?

The logical question is “what comes next?”  I don’t pretend to know the answer, but if government accepts that its services have a part to play in broader economic activity, then I suspect it has something to do with information value chains.



Posted by: mikepearsonnz | March 24, 2011

Small Things Make A Big Difference

How many times have we heard the IT support team say “this is a trivial idea, I have more important things”. 

Helping staff with a small thing, can make a bigger ongoing difference, by improving a simple task that they do, dozens of times a day.

Here’s an example of the type of productivity tip to suggest to customers:

The Open / Save File Dialog Box

Background: A lot of daily activity for people using Windows XP, is focused on opening and saving files.   Most applications use the Windows  “Open” or “Save As” dialog box for this activity.  

The default size was established in Windows 95 and has never been changed.  With larger monitors, you can drag the bottom left corner of the box, to make it larger to view many more files.  Unfortunately the next time you open/save a file, the dialog box reverts back to the default size.

Productivity Tip: Here’s a way to save the larger size. 

  1. Click on File | Open  or File | Save As, in the application menu bar.
  2. Enlarge the “Open” or “Save As” dialog box to the size you want.  Adjust the column widths as you prefer.
  3. Save the changes by holding down the Ctrl-key and clicking the top right X on the dialog box.  Its dimensions will be saved. 
  4. These settings are saved PER application, so you can save different settings for Excel and Outlook or whatever.

If you find this tip useful, then I encourage you to pass it on to two more people.

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | October 14, 2010

All your data are belong to us

Creative Copyright Licences

Creative Commons Semaforoa

Image via Wikipedia

The Creative Commons initiative expands the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.  It has rapidly gained world-wide credibility.  In New Zealand, we have our own local Creative Commons NZ .

Creative Commons NZ encourages us to publish, share, exchange, learn and benefit from NZ intellectual property on the Internet, by providing a range of copyright licences.   The NZ government has recognised this, by releasing the New Zealand Government Open Access Licensing framework (NZGOAL),which promotes the release of copyright works for re-use using the most open Creative Commons licence.

The rationale for NZGOAL is that re-use of non-personal material by individuals and organisations may have significant creative and economic benefit for New Zealand.

Creative Privacy Licences

But what about personal information?  Surely personal information has the potential for significant creative and economic benefit for New Zealand too.   Personal information is excluded because it’s a controversial topic that quickly raises privacy issues.

Creative Commons has helped clarify the copyright page of websites, but users stay in a privacy limbo.  Imagine if we put similar effort into defining how websites can use our personal data.

Aza Razkin has done some initial work on an agreed set attributes of privacy policies and terms of service should people care about:

  • Is you data used for secondary use? And is it shared with 3rd parties?
  • Is your data bartered?
  • Under what terms is your data shared with the government and with law enforcement?
  • Does the company take reasonable measures to protect your data in all phases of collection and storage.
  • Does the service give you control of your data?
  • Does the service use your data to build and save a profile for non-primary use?
  • Are ad networks being used and under what terms?

These privacy attributes would be represented by icons, similar to Creative Commons.  This is not a new idea.  I’m pleased to see the idea of a Privacy Commons  emerged again this year, with Mozilla taking an interest.  We have some local expertise with Robert O’Brien from Tauranga being involved.  I don’t agree that reinventing a new Privacy Framework is the right approach.

Several years ago, I spoke with Lawrence Lessig about whether a Privacy Commons framework built using the Creative Commons framework.  He thought it was doable, but they needed $$ for developing and running it.  The $$$ were not big, from memory, a worldwide framework for less than $1 million.

There are many advantages to using the Creative Commons infrastructure.  Their icons are instantly recognised.  Their licences are machine-readable and being supported by an increasing number of systems.  They have national organisations, which work to localise the CC initiative in their country.

New Zealand has always been a world leader in privacy.  Lets continue to lead the field.

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | September 30, 2010

Government as a Partner

Government as a Platform

Tim O’Reilly has promoted the view of “Government as a Platform“.  Tara Hunt spoke about it at GOVIS 2008.  Essentially the idea is to encourage government organisations to serve as a development platform business and industry.

NZ Government officials have been receptive to this concept because re-use of government information may have significant creative and economic benefit for New Zealand.  In May 2010, the State Services Commission released NZGOAL, a standardised approach for State Services agencies to apply when releasing their information for re-use.

If you accept “Government as a platform”, then you hope “if you build it, they will use it”.  There have been several #nzdata workshops over the last few months, intended to develop criteria for prioritising the opening of government datasets.

A different approach

I think “Government as a platform” is the wrong catch phrase.  I base this on three events that occurred to me:

  • I saw a GOVIS 2010 presentation about Operation Snap, a partnership to reduce property offending.   The key message for me was about the transformational relationship between the parties involved (Cash Converters, Hamilton City Council, Crimestoppers, Gallagher, Datacom, Trademe, SelectaDNA, NZ Police, Ministry of Education).  They had rallied together in developing an open, collaborative and value based system.
  • I took part in the first #nzdata workshop.  I discussed my emerging idea of an open data maturity model at the workshop.   At the highest level I thought agencies might actually see how people use the data, and change their processes/systems/data to derive greater value.
  • I read an article which said data from farms can be combined to drive productivity improvements worth $1.1 billion annually to the dairy sector alone (article).

Strategically, I believe a better concept is “Government as a partner“.

Government as a Partner

An illustration of a company's supply chain

Image via Wikipedia

Governments occupy the role of regulators and law enforcers in many value streams.  A value stream is an end-to-end business process which delivers a product or service to a customer or consumer.   The process steps along the way may both use and produce intermediate goods, services and information to reach that primary end.  As a trusted third-party, government agencies inspect and certify certain aspects of the process, ensuring its integrity (and thereby increasing its value).   They seek to recover their costs either directly as compliance charges, or indirectly (via taxes).

Government agencies need to think how the information they hold can improve these value streams.    This is not an entirely new concept; Supply Chain Management (SCM) has been around since the 1980s.   What is  emerging, is a shift in how Government Inc., thinks about its role.

SCM expresses the need to integrate the key business processes, from end-user through original suppliers.  The basic idea is that parties involve themselves in a supply chain by exchanging information.  If all relevant information is accessible to any relevant party, every party in the supply chain can help optimise the entire supply chain rather than sub optimise based on a local interest.

This leads to better production and distribution which can cut costs and give a more attractive product, leading to better sales and better overall results for the companies involved.

New Zealand is in a global competition, and government needs to partner in New Zealand’s supply chains.

Why do we need this?


  • Cooperation between sectors
  • New types of networks
  • Multi-sector cooperation


  • Competitive advantages
  • Better marketing
  • Better utilisation of resources


  • More reliable information
  • More effective working routines
  • Greater participation
  • Fewer misunderstandings
  • More refined products
  • Better service
Posted by: mikepearsonnz | August 27, 2010

How to innovate NZ Police?

Car Crash - Stourbridge

Image by Ian Hampton via Flickr

In light of yet another death resulting from a New Zealand police pursuit, perhaps its time we discussed other creative solutions to encourage better driving behaviour.

New Zealand Police suffer from Baumol’s Cost Disease, (a rise of salaries with little corresponding increase in productivity), just like all other government departments.   By investing in technology, they can become more productive in road safety.

Mike’s Law #1: “Over time, people always get more expensive, but technology gets more affordable”

So to get the debate going, here’s a technology suggestion that might offer better outcomes, such as:

  • increase in voluntary compliance
  • reduction in staff costs
  • increased detection of offenses
  • increase in intelligence information
  • increase in public safety

Since we’re effectively talking about law enforcement technology, then it also stirs up debate on peoples rights and privacy.   We should not discard technology because it raises these issues.  Rather we need to ensure a wider ranging debate on the proper use of the technology.

RFID vehicle identification

Imagine if every number plate had an RFID tag.  And there were readers at set points.

How far can you track an item with RFID?  According to this white paper about 66m, although practically I suspect about 12m.    This is using an RFID tag that would cost less than $1.

Interesting side note: the white paper refers to RFID technology in driver licenses – I’m actually being less aggressive and suggesting applying it to cars 🙂

No more speed cameras

There would be no more speed cameras.  No more people driving around in vans, consuming petrol and requiring maintenance.

Your average speed between two RFID readers would be calculated, and the $amount and link to your infringement notice on the NZ Police document store would be texted to your mobile.

There would be less paper and faster recognition of poor driving behaviour.

At your next stop, you could check your messages and be reminded to drive more slowly.  Ideally you would be able to click on the link and “pay now”.

Less paper, online completion of the transaction increasing productivity for all parties involved.

Greater voluntary compliance

“Speed over distance” checking will change driver behaviour, as there is less opportunity to avoid detection.  The Australians already use this method with their camera-based number plate recognition systems.

Reduced need for high-speed pursuits

There would be less need for high-speed pursuits, so long as the vehicle has a valid RFID tag.  Officers can identify the vehicle, as soon as it passed a reader, even in poor lighting conditions.

Perhaps certain cars might even have a high-powered reader, to enable reading at a longer range?

Reduction in stolen vehicles

Stolen vehicles would leave an electronic bread crumb trail, as they moved past RFID readers.   Perhaps the police would place mobile readers, in the same way they move around speed cameras.  That back country road might not be as “back country” as you thought.  No cop car in sight, but two small readers in the bushes 🙂

Combine that with real-time wireless technology, and you can bring up an alert on a car of interest.

Automated RFID verification

Obviously there will be an incentive to remove or swap RFID tags (for every measure there is a counter measure).  So we would also need automated verification points.   These camera recognition checkpoints could automatically check colour, make and RFID tag. Logically petrol stations would be an ideal place, as cars visit them regularly and the supply of petrol could be refused if the car was not legal. You could also link in automated warrant of fitness and valid registration checks at the same point.

How can NZ Police innovate using technology?

This blog post is just a quick example of using a proven technology in an innovative way.   If you’ve got any other ideas, post them up as a comment on the posting, and we can discuss them.

I was always impressed by the creative thinking of the current Commissioner of Police,  Howard Broad in workshops I attended.  Similarly I know a number of other senior managers in our police force who would appreciate smarter policing.

So I’m puzzled about why we see little discussion of technology solutions for NZ policing?

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | August 24, 2010

19 billion reasons why we need a better GPS

Background are some things that we need as part of our national digital infrastructure.   These things are so fundamental to the economy that they should be a public good.

Time service

For example, the government funds the provision of time and frequency services for New Zealand.   One of my achievements in the e-government unit was enabling the supply of time for New Zealand networks over the Internet.   Accurate date/time underpins e-commerce activities such as:

  • Transactional software (e.g. stock exchange)
  • Commercial applications (e.g. TradeMe)
  • Mail and messaging-related client and servers

I am becoming increasingly concerned that we are missing another piece of national digital infrastructure.

Location service

GPS accuracy is not something people notice, when they use their smartphone to navigate to within 5 metres of a building.

I believe we need a location service in the form of better GPS.  Or to be more precise, we need a NZ Ground Based Augmentation System (GBAS), so we can cheaply determine location to 2-5 cm accuracy.

Better location data could benefit the New Zealand economy in the tens of millions of dollars over the next decade (report).  Some industries that could benefit include surveying, infrastructure development, construction and agriculture.

Should a Location Standard be a public good?

It is not yet determined how better location will be enabled in New Zealand.  LINZ is just starting work on the topic.

Late last year, LINZ gave an interesting presentation on the topic, to the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors Conference.  In their minds, the role of the Private and Public Sectors in the development of a better location network for New Zealand are undetermined.

What do I think?

I believe location is a key piece of national digital infrastructure, that should not be duplicated or owned by the private sector.

If such a basic digital commodity is charged for, then it creates a trade-off between data quality and cost.   My rule of thumb, is that people will often make a short term decision based on cost, because they will not bear the long term cost of poor data quality.

In an ideal world, our local authorities would cooperate at a regional level, to build regional sites which would be linked to LINZ’s backbone infrastructure.    To gain extra benefit, those same sites might also be used for provisioning regional mobile broadband, as they have similar operating characteristics (need for power, back haul connectivity,  high position, etc).

We all need to be asking those in power:

What is the role of central and local government in the development of a better location network for New Zealand?

$19 billion of buried treasure

I recently did some work for a small council, that had ~$230m invested in water assets.   This gave me a number of insights into how better location can add value to our economy on a daily basis.   It also gave me the idea for the title of this blog.

New Zealand has a large investment in underground hidden assets. I haven’t been able to google a total value for NZ, but there are 85 local authorities, so say $19 billion of our money, a large amount of which is out of sight.    Then we  have to add the value of underground assets from the private sector, such as energy companies (gas lines, power lines) and  telecommunication companies (phone lines, broadband).

The assets share the underground space. The underground space is shared by all these users.  Any one of them doing work in the shared underground space has the potential to disrupt other services.  After you have buried your asset, someone can come along, and lay something at a different depth, near your asset.  So you’re never completely certain what’s down there.

Everyone has trouble accurately locating those underground hidden assets. There is no overall view of the shared underground space.  There is uncertainty as to what is under the ground, and where exactly it is, for several reasons:

  • Historical information may be of poorer quality and may be incomplete.
  • Different levels of accuracy used when recording the location of assets  (+/- several metres).
  • Different levels of detail recorded for the asset e.g. a curved pipe is represented with start/end points, rather than several points along the pipe.
  • No sharing place for data

The productivity impact is that the service providers resort to hand shoveling versus using a digger, to locate services.

Broadband is going to change the financial impact of disruption. As we bury more broadband, the value of our underground assets is no longer the commodity price of water or electricity.  Rather it is the economic value of the information flowing through the underground fiber.  The financial impact for anyone interrupting that service will run into millions of dollars.  Unless we invest in better location information, there will be more hand shoveling in the future.

Experimental workshop

I took part in an experimental workshop to brainstorm ways in which NZ government data could be used to solve some real world problems.

The workshop was run by the Department of Conservation, as part of the Open Data Stream of the Data and Information Re-Use Work Programme.  Their purpose was to:

  • get a group of non-government people representing the ‘real world’,  to
    • identify some  “real world” problems;
    • identify which ones actually matter to people; and
    • identify which key data sets could help address the problems.

The workshop sponsor emphasised that government agency money is tight and they wanted to know what specific data sets to target.  They would take that advice and run a second workshop for specific government representatives, to develop action plans for making the datasets available.

Participants were selected on their well established (and articulated) ability to think diagonally in 3-D while everyone else thinks square.  A wider audience was invited to follow the discussions and contribute via Twitter (@NZDATA, tag #nzdata).

As an experiment, I think it was a moderate success.  Many people did not speak up in the unfamiliar group.  There was quite a lot of time spent forming and storming trying to develop a shared understanding.

A Framework

I used the discussion to create a framework.  You can download my original mindmap from (PDF).

What is government data?

The group agreed that the scope of government data included central and local government.  The group then started to widen the scope to include Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) and State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).  So in the New Zealand context, perhaps a better definition is State Sector open data.

This is a challenging definition, because the function of SOEs is to operate successfully as a business.  The Metservice is a SOE.

A government information model (draft)

Several years ago, the e-government unit did a piece of work on information types.  With slight modification (administrative and statutory are my definitions), it is a useful model to apply to government open data:

  • Statisticsstatistical information, traditionally open data.  Used for “participation” in policy discussions.
  • Heritageheritage and cultural information, traditionally open data, now increasingly being made digital.
  • Administrative – operational records generated as part of doing the business of government.   Increasing pressure from the public to be made open, for reasons of “transparency” and “performance”  e.g. chief executive salaries; politician expense claims.
  • Statutory – information which a governmental body collects as a statutory function.  This information can be public (e.g. public registers) or private (e.g. tax records).  Open data would generally apply to public statutory information.
  • Research – much of the government’s research information was commercialised with the formation of CRIs and SOEs in the 1980’s. Information is available if the Crown contracts/pays for access as a public good.
  • Intelligenceclassified information only made available on a “need to know basis”; unlikely to ever be open, unless it makes Wikileaks.

What is the most important government data?

So our group discussions were initially focusing on Administrative and Research data.  The group were influenced by the international thinking on government open data.  They discussed “participation” and “transparency” issues, following a similar focus to the Open Government Ninjas discussion list.  Non Government Organisations (NGOs) were not represented in the group, otherwise I think we might have had more discussion about Statistics.

Whilst these datasets are important, I felt this was not going to affect people on a daily basis.  I suggested an alternative view, which I thought better addressed the workshop purpose (real world problems that matter to users, and what data solves them):

A decision framework (draft)

The most important government data is that which is used by the most people, the most often, to make the most important decisions, ie:

  • user base
  • frequency
  • criticality

I suggested that smartphone apps are a useful proxy for identifying user demand for government data.  Apps enable users to make better personal decisions in everyday life.   If you think about the most popular smartphone apps, they typically include weather information, safety information, travel information, location information.  Based on this assumption, specific Research and Statutory data sets are probably key.

I believe this framework has more relevance with government’s emphasis on improved front-line service delivery and improved economic performance for New Zealand.  Providing more information in real-time, enables people to consistently make better decisions.  The accumulative effect is going to be increased productivity and better economic performance.

Typically, this information will be the hardest for government to make open.  There will be liability issues (what if the public health warning for that restaurant is wrong, and I get sued?) and safety issues (what if the weather warning is wrong and somone dies?), but that also flags the information as the most useful!

What do you think, is this a good framework?

Other strategic implications

This chain of thought has raised a number of strategic implications, which I won’t go into now, but will highlight for future consideration:

  • Maturity model: The group discussed whether agencies should publish information (1-way) or have a process to receive updates from users (2-way).  It struck me that this is similar to the Gartner e-government maturity model.  There would be a third level, where agencies actually see how people use the data, and change their processes/systems/data to derive greater value.   There’s a model in there somewhere.
  • Accurate GPS is essential for national productivity: Some open data is foundational to all other services.  The government currently funds a national time service.   There needs to be a national location service.  Most people assume satellite GPS is good enough (5m accuracy), but technology now exists for sub-10cm accuracy.  If I was still working for government, I’d be raising this as a critical gap in its strategies.
Posted by: mikepearsonnz | May 15, 2010

Skype adds multi-party video conferencing

Using tools like Skype makes any computer a potential video conferencing platform, as long as it is set up with the Skype software, and good quality webcam, microphone. Skype currently supports only 2 parties in a video conferencing session.

Multi-party video conferencing has been one of the most requested enhancements to Skype.  With the release of Skype 5 beta, upto 5 parties can now participate in a video conferencing session.

Businesses should be interested in this development.  Video conferencing has always been a good way to save money by reducing travel costs.  It also has many other benefits.

Skype multi-party video conferencing is now another option to be considered, alongside more expensive options such as using an expensive multipoint control unit (MCU).

Multi-party video conferencing just became a lot more accessible, to a lot more people.

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | May 12, 2010

Oops, did you accidentally sell your secrets?

CBS have done an interesting story on buying second-hand digital photocopiers.  They bought four photocopiers and retrieved thousands of documents from their hard drives, including detailed domestic violence complaints, list of targets in a major drug raid, individual medical records, and employee pay slips.   Two of the photocopies were from a government agency, and two were from private businesses.

When I worked in government, the risks and need for security of copying machines was well documented.   As the CBS story shows, both government and business should have an interest in the topic.     Unfortunately as copying technology becomes more pervasive, the people who think about security are not necessarily the same people as the ones who manage the copying machines.

So here’s some simple questions to help raise awareness in your organisation:

  • Do you have any copying devices in the office with storage capacity?
    The types of devices might include printers; scanners; photocopiers or fax machines.   It includes multifunction devices (MFDs) which combine aspects of these office devices.  The storage might be a hard drive or another form of semi-permanent storage such solid state memory.
  • When you dispose of the copying device, whose job is it to ensure the storage is securely wiped?
    Is that person aware that deleting files or reformatting is not enough; a secure deletion utility is required, so that forensic software cannot retrieve the information.
  • What controls are put in place regarding access to the copying device storage?
    You may have a security issue before your copying device even leaves the premises.  Support companies may have remote network access to the device.  Support technicians may swap parts (including storage components) as part of your leasing maintenance support contract.
  • What liability do you have?
    Your liability would be related to the documents that were copied.   Organisations copying sensitive information will be more at risk.

What would be the answer to these questions in your organisation?

Posted by: mikepearsonnz | May 9, 2010

Is it time to ditch your phone line?

SkypeDo you really need your phone line?

I haven’t had a landline for over 2 years.  I use Skype over broadband for my telecommunication needs.  I have what looks like a Wellington (04) phone number, but its actually a SkypeIn number, which connects you to my Skype phone.  Here’s what I currently pay:

Skype, $7 per month + TelstraClear broadband, $55 per month

  • Landline: Unlimited calling (subject to a fair usage limit)
  • Mobiles: 29c per minute
  • 10Gb traffic

That’s pretty amazing, when you think that a standard phone line costs almost as much.

Telecom Homeline pay $38 – $46 per month, plus extras depending upon their  plan

  • Landline: 18c – 45c per minute
  • Telecom mobiles:  38c – 62c per minute
  • Non-telecom mobiles: 47c – 62c per minute
  • No internet

Most people I know are still using a landline PLUS broadband.  Therefore their costs are more likely to be:

Telecom Total Home, $99 per month

  • Landline: Unlimited calling  for up to 2 hours per call (then $0.14c per minute after that)
  • Telecom mobiles: $2.00 for up to 2 hours per call (then $0.29 per minute after that), or standard rate of $0.29 per minute
  • Non-Telecom mobiles: 37c per minute
  • 10Gb traffic

TelstraClear HomePlan, $105 per month

  • Landline: Unlimited calling  for up to 3 hours per call
  • Mobiles: 40c per minute
  • 10Gb traffic

Its not something that your telecommunications provider will discuss with you, but ditching your phone line could save you over $500+ a year.    The savings for business could be even more, since they are also charged for local calls.  You can reallocate this money towards better broadband, an iPhone, or other productivity enhancing tools.

I suggest you use Skype first before ditching your phone line.   There are a lot of factors that can affect whether you have a satisfactory experience, ranging from broadband speed, computer configuration to hardware quality.  Here are some tips to get you going.

Most people associate using Skype with a microphone and/or web camera on their PC.  Make sure you use the best hardware you can afford.  The free headset or webcam included in your PC bundle is probably not the best.  At a minimum, you need a good headset, like the Logitech Premium USB Headset 350.  If you want to videoconference, then I recommend the Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000.  In business situations requiring good audio, perhaps with a group of people talking, the Clearone Chat 50.

I’ve found that call quality can be variable, depending upon your computer setup / whatever else is running on your computer at the time.  There are many more convenient ways to use Skype, that solve this problem.

Our main Skype device in the home is a Linksys CIT400 iPhone (yes really, Linksys were the first to register the term iPhone).  It doesn’t need a PC to operate, you just plug it directly into a spare port on your broadband device.

More and more these days, I find myself using the free Skype  iPhone app.   We have poor Vodafone coverage at Paraparaumu Beach, but I can use Skype on my iPhone, which connects through my WiFi, to give great phone call quality.  For my purposes, it makes Vodafone’s femtocell solution obsolete, before they have even started marketing it.  Skype for iPhone would be even more useful, if it could be used away from home on 3G.  Unfortunately Apple/telcos have chose to not permit this.

Skype - no emergencies

Important note: Skype can’t be used for emergency 111 calling, therefore you need access to an alternative way to call emergency services, such as a cellphone.

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