Nick's Blog

Invisible Support

My mother, who you may recall has dementia, has recently moved into residential care. We have tried very hard, as I have occasionally recounted in this blog, to maintain her independence as long as possible. As well as remote control central heating (bought in), we have used a tracker (software partly written by me), passive infra-red detection (hardware built and software written by me) and a motion triggered camera to ensure we knew where she was and what she was doing from a distance. The telephone calls helped as did the regular visits of course.

We have been clearing her house in preparation for letting it out to fund some of her care costs. This has entailed long hours of work, indeed days for my wife who has done so much of it. And because my mother lives, I mean lived – it takes some getting used to – in a friendly Devon village lots of people have stopped and asked how my mother is, where she is and sent their good wishes to her. They have also told us little stories of when they found her confused, or lost, or just seeking reassurance. It was great to have the chance to thank them.

The technology we put in place helped my mother but it wasn’t the main thing that kept her independence. That was her neighbours and friends, and other people in a tight knit community who provided invisible support when it was needed. Support that was quietly done, unfussy, uncomplaining. The lady from the shop who walked mum home, made that trip possible – sure, the tracker showed her going out and coming back; the camera showed her going through the door both ways and the gap in the PIR graph confirmed she wasn’t there. But without the shop lady’s kindness who knows where my mother might have gone. And then we learned of the people who guided her to church, and others who guided her to the doctor’s surgery, and waited and brought her home. And the people who helped her unpack the food shopping we’d done online for her. The technology helped us know what was happening but not how.

The parallels with corporate IT are there. People fill in gaps, find a way to do the job, even make it possible for the job to be done. Friendly support for colleagues is the glue that keeps an organisation working. People count. People do the job. We need to be out learning from them, listening to them, understanding how to make things better, easier, simpler. We need to acknowledge them.

Of course in the digital world it will all be different. But then again maybe not. It will still be people who make the difference.

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