Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Magic of MERLIN

At the recent Conservative Spring Forum I understand Lord Feldman announced the possible phasing-out of Merlin. This was subsequently picked-up by The Times newspaper. There is now great excitement and a lot of 'I told you so' from the grass root recidivist complainers.

A typical Constituency Organiser updates the Merlin Database
Firstly, Merlin is not a new system. I have been using it for almost 6 years and by the time we fight the next GE it will have been around for almost ten years. It is not at all unusual for a company to upgrade it's software over such a period, in fact it would be a dereliction of duty for it not to do so. The fact that so many activists and constituency officers still refer to it as 'new' it part of the problem. 

No doubt there were issues with the way Merlin was introduced. The training programme was far from adequate, but equally so where many of the people being sent for training.  Personally I don't think it is too much to ask that people being put in charge of a political party's IT and pledge database have at least a minimum understanding of what is required. When an IT trainer has to begin by explaining what a CSV file is, how to populate a spreadsheet, how to do a basic mail merge and (I kid you not) in one case how it is possible to write letters personally addressed to residents without having to individually type each one - then we clearly have issues greater than the software!

What is actually happening to Merlin has yet to be officially confirmed. I believe a new system, developed jointly with the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party, is being trialled in certain target constituencies where there is a CCHQ trained Campaign Director, ahead of a decision being taken post 2015.  No doubt if a new system is introduced, all those members who have spent the last 6 years using every opportunity to complain about it, will now turn their ire on the new system and say how wonderful Merlin was, and how we should never have changed.  Just like they did when Merlin replaced BlueChip, and just like they did when BlueChip replaced Fileplan and Silverjay (now I am giving my age away!)

For the record, I wish to write two things about Merlin.

1. There is nothing wrong with it. It works fine. If it is maintained correctly, details are entered accurately and the person running it has even the most basic IT skills, then Merlin is fit for purpose. I run three Associations from it, two with large memberships and the third a critical target seat. Merlin has never let me down. Yes, there are a few features which, in hindsight, could be better, but I have never needed to achieve something and not found a way of doing what I wanted.

2. The guys who run the help desk deserve medals. Yes, they are short staffed and under resourced, but I have also seen the pressure they are under and the absolute stupidity of some of the enquiries they have to deal with.  I actually heard one of the technicians take a call from an activist in Dorset who was phoning to say what a useless system it was because it wouldn't work in a power cut. Then there was hr man (who held senior office in a Kent Association) who told me, without a hint of humour, that the reason CCHQ demanded the machine's were switched on 24 hours a day was to enable CCHQ to 'listen-in' to what was being discussed at constituency offices. 

As I have previously blogged, if CCHQ are listening, all they are likely to hear in many Association offices is the sound of tumbleweed!


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  2. Is that Camilla in the photo?

    1. Do you mean Leonie ? It is a remarkable likeness!

  3. The notion of activists being clueless is not limited to Assn offices Where I used to work, I'd get people asking me why there was a blank sheet of paper at the end when thy printed their doc. Now, what was it that people used to do on a typewriter when they finished typing their letter? They'd hit the return key 50 times to get the paper to come out the top of the typewriter. Turns out that these folks had been doing exactly the same when creating their Word doc. Perhaps they thought it would cause paper to come out the top of their screen.

    1. Tim, that made me literally laugh our loud !

  4. "Then there was hr man (who held senior office in a Kent Association) who told me, without a hint of humour, that the reason CCHQ demanded the machine's were switched on 24 hours a day was to enable CCHQ to 'listen-in' to what was being discussed at constituency offices."

    Dear God!

    I expect this chappie believes the world is run by 12 foot reptiles as well. He needs help.

  5. As I used to say in the days of constant complaints about Bluechip - you put S**t in, you get S**t out. Never did use Merlin, made my escape before then.