My erstwhile WB-40 Podcasting colleague Chris Weston this afternoon flagged a website that is keeping a watching eye over the plethora of tactical voting websites that have sprung up this year to, primarily, help people who want to vote on grounds of Brexit rather than party allegiance.

Who would have thought that we could get to a stage where we would have tactical voting data aggregators? This is politics in 2019. It’s also, though, an interesting reflection on how the ease of bringing data together can mask extremely dubious underlying systems.

The reason we have tactical voting sites is that the combination of the UK’s first past the post electoral system, combined with two major parties who have traditionally controlled most of the parliamentary seats means that the views of most voters in any election get disregarded. Substantial majorities in the House of Commons can be gained through a minority of the popular vote.

Your vote, for most people, doesn’t really count if you simply vote for the candidate that you think best represents your views. So increasingly people will vote tactically to try to elect the least bad candidate. Electoral campaigns and manifesto pledges, therefore, follow the votes.

Tactical voting sites, if they have an impact, will merely amplify these problems, and now we have to stick an aggregation layer over the top of those to get an average of the least bad candidate assessment, depending on your view, in any particular constituency.

This is madness. The problem is our electoral system and the party system. And technology and data will, if anything, make this worse until at some point the underlying systems are addressed (which won’t be done for as long as the two major parties continue to believe that they can wield absolute power).

Which brings me to Robotic Process Automation.

I seriously struggle to see how RPA is anything other than Windows Macro Recorder on steroids. And whilst I can see how automating might lead to short-term savings, in the longer term it’s almost certain to cause technical debt that’s more costly in the long term. Put another layer of technology into a process and you multiply the technical complexity.

There are cases where RPA can be the only route – say, if you need to automate tasks that sit across an external service over which you have no control or opportunity to integrate. But if the systems being “integrated” are all in your own domain and RPA is being used as a expedient fix…well, be careful what you wish for. By failing to address the root causes, are you actually going to make your problems worse?

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