Paul Lawrence, head of business markets, South-west, Midlands and Wales, at ntl:Telewest Business, says Birmingham is up with the best when it comes to the internet

Whether you consider yourself a technical whiz or a complete techno-phobe, we’ve all been interacting with communication technology in some way over the past twelve months, many of us probably without even realising it!

During 2006 telecommunications provider ntl:Telewest Business conducted a number of studies into how Birmingham residents are engaging with digital technologies both at work and in their personal lives.

The results certainly make for interesting reading.

As a city Birmingham is up there with the best of the UK when it comes to using the internet. In the workplace, Birmingham office workers have fully embraced technologies such as IM and email, with 77 per cent of us stating that we couldn’t live without email.

However, a lack of collaboration between the various online communication tools being used in businesses, from Instant Messenger (IM) to SMS, has led in many cases to these tools actually wasting, rather than saving time.

Twenty per cent of office workers in Birmingham appear to be able to relate to this trend by stating that they wasted approximately 20 minutes every day trying to locate colleagues and 16 per cent spend 30 minutes chasing urgent emails.

That isn’t to say though that the internet doesn’t come in handy when it comes to organising a night out with friends or browsing the internet for online shopping bargains.

Twenty two per cent are guilty of using email at work to sort out social arrangements and a further 17 per cent confessed to using the work time to shop online, with men admitting to wasting more time during working hours than women.

As with most things British, our approach to communication in the digital age is governed by good manners.

Twenty eight per cent of office workers in Birmingham would consider it rude if they had not received a response to their email within a morning and the instaneous nature of IM means that for 17 per cent of workers loose their patience if they don’t receive a response within five minutes.

Many of us working in today’s business environment have had to learn how to use modern communication, but for the next generation communication technology is simply a part of everyday life. Eighty five per cent of Birmingham’s schools have access to the internet in lessons giving students the opportunity to interact with other schools both in the UK and around the world, as well as providing them with access to online e-learning resources.

Additionally, the introduction of internet into the classroom also offers businesses the opportunity to collaborate with students.

For many companies that look to hire from the local area this is an important development as there has been a rising concern about reported dwindling education standards.

Businesses have been complaining that many students leave school without the three ‘R’s’ and are ill equipped for the business environment.

However, greater collaboration between schools and businesses should go some way to easing doubts over the perception that education standards aren’t sufficient.

Elsewhere in the public sector digital communication tools are also making an impact on how we would like to engage with our GP.

When it comes to matters of public health, rather than relying on the traditional method of post (referred to these days as ‘snail mail by many) 55 per cent would rather be alerted to issues of concern via email and an additional 36 per cent would prefer for a posting to go up on their GP’s web site.

Whilst many people in Birmingham aren’t using digital services such as choose and book, these statistics are a good indication that there is a willingness to interact with the modern NHS IT systems.

In 2006 many Birmingham residents were increasingly reliant upon communication technology but how will this trend develop in 2007?

For businesses the issue of making the use of communication tools more efficient is a top priority.

If you add up the time one employee spends in a week using communication technology badly, in that same amount of time they could probably have ran around the NEC at least ten times.

Apply that to every employee in the company and the scale of the issue becomes clear.

And with flexible working becoming more prolific, businesses will be taking steps to ensure that communication tools are an enabler and not a hindrance.

Furthermore, we will see corporate compliance guides springing up, outlining how new technologies should be used and governed so that employees are clear about this.

The move towards such guidelines will be more noticeable for those organisations working in the financial sector in and around Birmingham where other forms of electronic correspondence is already strictly monitored, but it is likely that most medium to large companies will have such a policy in place by the end of 2007.

The use of technology in the public sector is only likely to increase.

Despite the huge emphasis on improving and expanding NHS delivery in the area, few people are looking to take advantage of services like choose and book.

Given how communication savvy Birmingham is in other areas, this is something of a surprise. I expect to see this addressed in 2007 through better communication about online services available in the area – especially as during our research many people highlighted that booking at appointment with their GP can be a hassle.

One thing is for sure though as 2007 approaches and that is that the influence that technologies have on our working and personal lives is only set to grow. As the saying goes, watch this space.