x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Driven dangerously close to the edge by paper chase futility

Now and again management consultants do say sensible stuff - even if it is usually followed quickly by an invoice then an 'off-site'.

Management consultants love talking site. The ones I know seem to be always either on the way to or back from a foreign jolly, known to them as an "off-site".

Taking a break from the office in an exotic location to unclutter their beautiful minds helps them deliver the sort of corporate turnaround stories that earn the big bucks.

But now and again management consultants do say sensible stuff - even if it is usually followed quickly by an invoice then an off-site.

One such off-site insight comes from the global AT Kearney chief Paul Laudicina. He told me recently that global business is being paralysed by an exponential growth of data that has become impossible to interpret or act upon because of its sheer mass and density.

We've all become rabbits frozen in the glare of the terabytes - and only the management consultants of Watership Down can save us.

I'm not really in the high-risk demographic for data overload, preferring to avoid places where data is typically found, such as my place of work. I'll hold my hand up and admit to enjoying the odd game of Snake on my mobile as much as the next man - but that's where it ends.

Yet the data deluge is troubling our captains of industry, twitching with every buzz of their BlackBerry - like modern-day Hamlets of the corporate world doomed by their own indecision.

Data doesn't get me down. What I'd really like a management consultant to tell me is how much of our time here is spent engaged in productive labour and how much is engaged in bureaucratic process.

How much of our time is spent photocopying our passport and visa pages, or visiting our public relations officers, or driving to Emirates ID centres then driving back again because they haven't stamped the form we need in order to fill out the next form.

How much carbon is burned on wasted crosstown visits and how many trees end up as fodder for the photocopier? That is not to say such errands cannot be economically productive.

Firstly, bureaucracy creates jobs, which regardless of how you feel about it, puts people in work.

That can in turn create wealth of sorts by generating more disposable income with which to buy more goods and services and paper and clips and instruments to remove the clips from the paper.

Secondly, if you put enough administrative processes in place it becomes too onerous to keep track of them - you create a recurring revenue stream of fines - as people play endless catch-up to keep ahead of the paper chase.

If children are involved, the processes are multiplied further.

I have probably paid more fines in the past year of living in the Emirates than in the previous six combined.

At the same time I have visited more typing centres than any man should have to visit in a lifetime - or certainly during a lifetime in which typewriters are no longer the principal tool of written communication.

The latest World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking reveals the Emirates jumped seven places to 26th spot - thanks in large part to a reduction in the red tape involved in company processes.

But what we really need is a similar reduction in the red tape of everyday life processes. That would really propel competitiveness.

If I have to watch another bureaucrat hunched over a bundle of papers diligently removing staples like a Swiss master watchmaker, only to re-staple the same papers in an order that he is more comfortable with, I may not be responsible for my actions.

I visualise myself handcuffed in an orange boiler suit watching from the dock while a prosecuting attorney strides theatrically in front of a jury holding an evidence bag with a bloody staple gun and my prints on it.

It must be time for an off-site.