I have often wondered how much e-mail has increased efficiency. But then after about 30 seconds into the exercise I stop and remember the thousands of lost hours of the office typist (pre-word processor), typing and re-typing memos that had been dictated to her by her boss, to be sent to managers who took little or no notice of them.

But last weekend my brother-in-law told me the amazing true story of life in a modern hospital. My brother-in-law works in the technical department ‘Facilities’ as it is sometimes known. He and a colleague had agreed that the only way they could solve the problem they were facing was to shut off the water supply for two hours, while the necessary repair be carried out.

Following the rules of the Hospital an email had to be sent out to the entire workforce informing them of the planned outage. A meeting was set up with those who responded to discuss the impact of the impending outage. 10 people came to the meeting, each representing their department and its interests. The impact analysis debate, including agreement on the best way forward lasted over two hours. The outcome was that buckets of water had to be filled and placed next to every WC. Each department was to have an additional supply of bottled water and every hand basin was to have a 5 litre bottle of water under it for use during the outage.

It took two man days to distribute the water in anticipation. When the outage was over, which lasted 1 hour 35 minutes, the team had to go around the hospital collecting all the buckets and bottles of water. Surprise, surprise, not a single bucket of water was used, neither was the bottled water. During the outage my brother in law’s team received two phone calls asking when the water would be re-connected. Now you might think that being a hospital, this is normal and that perhaps there are important medical machines relying on mains water? But you would be wrong. In this hospital, like all others, machines requiring water have their own sterilized supplies coming from their own sources.

So why all the fuss? Well in the ‘good old days’ before e-mail when the technical team wanted to cut off the water, they just did it. And when people phoned to report that there was no water on their floor, they simply said “Yes, sorry about that but we have a problem down here, we’re fixing it right now please be patient, we are doing all we can”. 45 minutes later everything was back to normal and the technical team were heroes because they repaired the problem! Oh how times have changed…

Personally I love e-mail it’s liberated business and communication beyond all boundaries, but it comes at a cost, just like live news stories and instant stocks and shares prices information.