Letter from Edinburgh
I’ve often wondered why we are all convinced by the computer and IT industry to buy a shiny new laptop and accompanying “new” software every few years.
Most people use a fraction of the processing power their PC has, yet businesses in particular have enormous IT budgets and need to upgrade regularly. The cost is huge – it keeps Microsoft, Bill Gates and Dell in many a pair of new shoes. But does it have to be this way. Why can’t you buy what you need which is invariably just email, Word and a games package?
Some entrepreneurial people have been thinking how to solve this problem and save money for businesses, individuals and crucially the public sector at the same time. Alchemy is an Inverness-based company. It does data management or cloud computing. That means the storage and processing of vast amounts of information.
But it also means buying the software you need for when you need it. So, if your business uses a particular business accounting package for example, once a week, then you pay for exactly that. It’s commendably simple and transparent. So instead of paying for regular upgrades, you can buy the service on a pay for use deal, just as a Pay As You Go mobile phones.
The same applies to hardware. Most of our laptops and PCs have plenty of capacity and processing power. We upgrade because the software industry says you must have the latest very, very, very fast processor. That processing can be handled by data centres meaning that you and I, never mind the SIC, don’t need to buy expensive new kit all the time.
Alchemy is planning a data centre in Shetland in parallel with Inverness. This could be a very important new industry for the islands.
The public sector is facing a financial squeeze. Yet if you take Highlands and Islands bodies, from HIE, the Councils, local Health Boards, SNH based in Inverness to the UHI, and add up their annual IT bill, it will be enormous.
If Alchemy, or another local business, can offer the right service while reducing the costs to the taxpayer then that has to be explored. Creating a new industry with new private sector jobs, plus many people in the other businesses that will supply and maintain such data centres, could be one of the ways through this tough public sector financial challenge we face.
Sandwick School pupils visited the Scottish Parliament this week. Or more exactly the senior primary school classes. Edinburgh is in the middle of a fine spell of weather so there wasn’t a jacket in sight as the class arrived at the Holyrood building first thing on Wednesday morning.
We undertook the tour of the main parts of the building finishing with the chamber where they offered a series of good, sharp questions to keep me on my toes.
Tavish Scott MSP