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Reach out, we’ll be there
Believe it or not, there are those among us still working who remember – and not necessarily with much fondness – the days when a spreadsheet was a physical thing. It was called a spreadsheet because it was a great big sheet of paper that spread all over your desktop, which was also a physical object, usually made of wood. The spreadsheet was ruled horizontally and vertically and was designed to be filled in by hand, using a pencil (so that mistakes could be erased) and with calculations performed on a separate piece of equipment known, with no great initiative, as a calculator.
One could save these spreadsheets – basically by folding them up – and archive them too (in archive boxes somewhere in the basement). If one wanted to retrieve an old spreadsheet, one asked the post room boy to go and get it. Communication took place on the phone or face to face.
Of course, back in those days – and we are only talking 25 or 30 years ago – it took at least ten times longer to get anything done as it does today. Nowadays we can perform calculations automatically – as long as we understand the increasing complexities of Excel (other spreadsheet programs are, presumably, available) and get a result at the push of a button.
The same goes for the sharing of that information. Thirty years ago, if you wanted to present the results of all these calculations to the client, one of you had to visit the other’s office. You might have it typed up neatly (no one used to do their own typing in those days and a special girl was employed who understood the ways of the Wang) and mailed, but if you wanted to talk it through you had to do it in person.
That still goes on, of course, and it’s always useful to see the whites of the eyes of your client when you give them the news, good or bad. It’s always good, too, to get out of the office and make new contacts - the HCB team came back from the ILTA show in Houston last month with a box of business cards big enough to push our luggage over the weight limit.
But if advances in information technology have made it so much easier and faster to do sums, they have also made it a lot simpler to reach out to others in the industry and establish connections with other people who share your issues and problems. Trade associations have played a similar role for years and continue to do so, both by traditional means and through new formats, but they are by definition exclusive.
The glory of platforms such as LinkedIn is that they are by and large much more inclusive. I recently saw a question on one of the specialist groups from a dangerous goods professional in China; it drew responses from other experts in Germany, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia and led on to a discussion involving others from Singapore, the US, India, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden. It is hard to imagine how such a breadth of experience, opinion and geography would ever gather physically in one room.
HCB signed up to LinkedIn a few years ago and didn’t really know what to do with it. It is a fairly simple matter to deal with Twitter, which is just an easy way of shouting from the rooftops (in 140 characters or less), and now that Facebook has been taken over by Justin Bieber fans and has a suspiciously lackadaisical attitude to personal (and corporate) information, LinkedIn seems to have become the best home for industrial users.
HCB now has its own group on LinkedIn, with a rapidly growing list of members from around the world – the last three people to join are in Miami, Mumbai and Mauritius, respectively. We plan to use this as a forum for discussion of new developments in the world of dangerous goods transport and as a way of getting feedback on some of developments of our own that we have planned for the magazine and website. So, take this as your formal invitation to come and join the conversation! Peter Mackay