Converting theory into practice

01 April 2011 | John Hibbard


John Hibbard asks if networks should be judged on connectivity alone, or if active remote applications are the true mark of success.

One of my roles as a consultant is undertaking feasibility studies for submarine cables, primarily for carriers in emerging Pacific nations. In most cases, this is the first cable to the country, and studies naturally include technical, commercial and financial analysis to evaluate the potential benefit it will bring to the population. I always include the social benefits such as e-health, distance learning, teleworking and so on. These are very important elements in building the case for a cable where traffic volumes are small and barely sufficient to produce a positive outcome. The benefits of remote e-services are always discussed on a qualitative basis. Recently, a customer asked me to quantify the benefits; to put a monetary value on the cable in order to justify it. Reams of material have been written about the virtues of such services, particularly e-health. I know that many people in the Pacific fly to Australia, New Zealand or Hawaii to see a doctor, and I have been told that more than 50% of these patient visits are ‘routine’ and could have been handled remotely.

But my literature search turned up very little. Numerous trials had been funded by aid agencies or academic institutions, but very few had been converted to commercial practice. Such trials ended with very positive conclusions, but without money they were not continued. I found that Canada has done something domestically but I could not find anything international except on a short-term philanthropic basis. We hear about e-government networks being established around the region. The term NBN (National Broadband Network) is increasingly applied to domestic roll-outs, yet these seem only to provide the connectivity. They lack the applications and the processes to support the operation. E-government networks appear to concentrate on infrastructure, but without applications, networks are effectively expensive white elephants.

There needs to be more linkage between connectivity, applications and operational processes. Perhaps the deliverable for an NBN network should not be successful connectivity, but rather the effective operation of at least one specific application. Only when the applications are proven to work should significant payment be made, maybe coupled with an incentive payment to the vendor related to usage. Hopefully then we will have some active remote applications and be able to know the economic worth of e-services.

John Hibbard is CEO of Hibbard Consulting. He can be contacted at: jhibbard@bigpond.com