Thursday, 20 November 2014

Poland - it works! revisited

Pride comes before the fall, as Britain's foremost 20th Century metaphysical philosopher, the Reverend W. Awdry oftentimes observed. There I was writing on Sunday about how everything in Poland works properly, and blow me if the very same day, two national IT disasters don't strike at the same time.

The first was the failure of PKP InterCity to anticipate the huge demand for cut-price tickets for the new Pendolino service, which led to its online ticket system (that I'd praised the same day) crashing.

The second was the failure of the PKW (national electoral commission) IT system used for counting the votes in Sunday's local government elections.

It is good to note that the disasters were not just swept under the carpet in a business-as-usual-style cover-up; heads rolled - the deputy head of PKP IC and the head of the PKW. High-profile failure in the public sector is no longer to be tolerated.

While the vote counting continues in many of the regional assembly counts, the mayoral elections have been settled and many will go to a second round - sign of a healthy democratic process.

This morning I woke at five past four to catch the 06:00 train from W-wa Zachodnia to Poznań. Because of the Pendolino debacle I was unable to buy my ticket online, so had to queue up at Zachodnia to buy it. No problem. I ask the lady in Koleje Mazowieckie uniform at the Koleje Mazowieckie ticket office where I could buy an InterCity ticket. She said, "From me." Excellent! "Cash or card, Sir?" Brilliant! The queue was very short, just one person ahead of me, so I set off for Platform 7, where the Warsaw-Berlin express, calling at Poznań, arrived on time. It arrived on time. I found the conference venue on Google Maps (a mere 500m from the station).

The return journey was equally punctual, although my Koleje Mazowieckie train from W-wa Zachodnia to W-wa Jeziorki was 11 minutes late. My only gripes with the return journey were that the free, on-board and much-touted wi-fi couldn't connect with either my laptop or my smartofon, leading me to believe that it didn't, actually, work, and that the Wars restaurant car didn't have any of the ciders it was advertising. The pierogi were good, though the portions (a mere six) were small.

Anyway, I was in Poznań to chair a real estate conference; the keynote speaker was the city's chief architect, who gave a detailed presentation into how the city is developing, how the 'green wedge' policy is working out (a cross of  greenery transecting the city from north to south, from east to west), and a fine balance that avoids diktat on one hand and anarchic free-for-all on the other. The presentation from estate agents CBRE highlighted just how Warsaw-centric the Polish property market is. Apparently there is twice as much office space in Warsaw's Służewiec district as there is in the whole of the city of Kraków.

Apropos of Kraków and Poland working, on Saturday in Kraków I met a Spanish guy who worked in the shared-services centre of a huge American IT corporation. He said that quite a few Spaniards had moved to Poland to escape the hopelessness and unemployment back home. While Spain's GDP per capita on a purchasing-power parity basis may still be some 50% higher than Poland's, that's little comfort if unemployment is nearly three times as high (Spain 24% vs Poland 8.7% according to Eurostat) and the economy is growing at half the pace (Spain 1.6% vs Poland 3.4% year-on-year to Q3 2014).

So major IT disasters notwithstanding, let's be thankful that Poland continues to move in the right direction, even if it often feels like two steps forward, one step back. It's better than the other way around.

This time last year:
Autumn or spring?
[This year, decidedly autumnal. Glum, damp, just above freezing.]

This time two years ago:
Shedding light on unused roads

This time three years ago:
Warsaw to Kraków by train
(an interesting contrast with current rail experiences!)

This time four year:
Warsaw Blogmeet

This time five years ago:
My fixie reconfigured

This time seven years ago:
Not In My Back Yard


Anonymous said...

"heads rolled - the deputy head of PKP IC "

Yes, but didn't he (Paweł Hordyński) trouser a year's pay on the way out the door? Nice work if you can find it.

AndrzejK said...

I continue to be amazed that new IT is not Beta tested. Neither the railway reservation system nor the vote counting software are rocket science which makes the failure even harder to understand.

Part of the problem is I am sure to do with bad design briefs and programmer arrongance that they know what the client wants better than the client. A case in point are implementations of SAP in Poland.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anon:

Lack of professionalism in public sector HR, plus political meddling to ensure party placemen get golden parachutes.

@ Andrzej K.

Lack of professionalism in public sector procurement.

Solution: continuous professional education in bodies such as Institute of Personnel Management and Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply.