Essay on Information Technology and the Impact on the Future Work Culture
Advances in information technology will revolutionize human civilization. Never before has knowledge been so easily as instantly accessible as it is now. Information has the power to change culture customs and communities.
Development of Thought:
No other technology in the last 300 years has had the kind of impact that information technology will have on the social, political and economic fabric of society. Information technology will change the way we think, act, educate, and associate.
The Information revolution will have far-reaching implications on political ideologies and social thought- It will invade not only offices and homes but also farms and fields, health centers and hospitals and many other critical activities and areas of production, services and development.
It will help cross social barriers and national boundaries and network people from every part of the world, irrespective on their nationalities.
The new vistas of knowledge opened up by the information revolution will have far-reaching impact. It will break down barriers, foster freedom and democratic values and help harness human talent for global peace and co-operation rather than war and confrontation.
Information is essentially a starting point for knowledge. Knowledge is required for decision making and for taking initiative.
It is only through initiative that one can take appropriate action to implement ideas, programmes and projects. It will provide new tools to deal with knowledge, and as a result, will have far- reaching implications on the future decision-making process.
Information Technology has come as a force to move our cultures, customs and communities and advance human civilization. In the process, it will find new applications. Create new jobs and bring equality. It is generally believed that information technology is only for the rich and the affluent and is needed only in a modern work environment.
However, information technology is equally useful in population control, health services, agriculture, water management, transport and other major infrastructures along with steel mills, business centers, and travel agencies.
Developed nations of the West have emphasized and utilized information technology for automation, artificial intelligence, robotics and many other advanced applications.
In developing nations, the same information technology can be equally used to provide basic human needs and improve standards of living- however; proper appreciation and application of this technology require a new information culture and a new orientation.
The- need for information developed during what we may call the agricultural civilization. To enhance agricultural activities, it was necessary to share information and knowledge in society. With agriculture, various communities developed and their need for information developed further.
Earlier, transfer and exchange of information were done orally. Then, with the print media, information knowledge achieved a broader reach.
With the introduction of the electronics technology the concept of information storage, processing and transfer has changed drastically. Now it is possible to move information with the speed of light across the globe.
In the early days, only selective pieces of information related to secret services and security were sold confidentially. Now, information has become a commodity and is available on the shelves of department stores, properly packaged and openly priced.
Today, information regarding people, places, products, prices, plans, projects and programmes can be easily marketed through the electronic media.
There are thousands of companies all over the world, with millions of people engaged in information processing and programming activities.
In traditional systems, information is considered to be power and power is difficult to share. People normally hold on to information and are very selective about sharing, it with others. The modern information systems are designed to bring openness, accessibility, accountability and connectivity.
With modern, electronics hardware, information is available on computer and television terminals to everybody in a variety of forms and formats, this forces openness.
Information technology is bound to bring about cultural transformation in many developing and socialist nations. The information thread will help in networking various cultures and conflicts. New information systems also provide accessibility and connectivity.
Together, these two concepts provide networking of information and people the world over. Now large data bases are accessible freely to people through international telecom networks. These data bases contain a variety of information on technology, trade, business, patents, travel, entertainment, and finance, for people to share and interact.
Through these, specialists get connected to one another to enhance their knowledge and interests. By providing an interactive capability these networks serve a special role in networking international talent.
Today we are moving products and tomorrow we would be moving ideas. The nineteenth the twentieth century transport systems will be inadequate in the twenty-first century. Moving ideas and information is more difficult and will require a great deal of innovations.
In the nineteenth century, we had post offices to move ideas through letters and in the twentieth century, we have telecom to "love ideas through voice communication for the twenty-first century, we are building information highways with new kinds of structures to move knowledge and ideas in an integrated environment to combine the human voice, computer graphics, data and video pictures. This will also require new standards, compatibility and connectivity.
For this- new laws will have to be formulated, and new discipline created. This will have far-reaching impact on our concept of transporting people, ideas thoughts, actions and information.
If information and ideas can be flown and floated, movement of people can be minimized and future investments in infrastructure for rail and road transport can be reduced.
Along with in formation exchange at electronic speeds, the concept of time will change mainly because information would now be available in "real time' with increased accessibility and connectivity.
Needless to say, with reduced response time for information exchange the travel time for interaction between people will also have to be reduced. Today, travel takes too much time: people are constantly commuting to interact face to face. Some multinational executives spend most of their times on jets.
This will have to be reduced significantly to enable one to touch any part of the globe and return to his office the same day. What takes 24 hours to travel today will have to take two to four hours to match gains from the speedy information exchange in the next century.
As interaction- with machines carrying information becomes common, more and more social relationships will be mediated by machines. Today, for example, insurance claims, banking, travel services, medical diagnostics, require a great deal of interaction with human beings to fill forms, arrange payments, negotiate differences, etc.
It's the future as machines begin to perform these functions, social interactions .and relations will also change. We shall no longer be talking to our insurance agents for our claims.
We shall feed in the data and the machines will give us the answers. We may be sitting at home with a terminal talking to a machine in place of making a telephone call to an insurance agent. With terminals we shall be interacting with a computer at the other end.
The new technology will definitely make it easier for us to disseminate news, information, ideas and messages. It will make distribution much wider and quicker.
However, there is a danger. Since this information will have a larger reach with accessibility to all levels of people in a society, it will need to be accurate. But accuracy will be difficult when millions of pieces of information float around at various levels to various individuals and institutions with conflicting priorities and perceptions.
It will be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, right from wrong, and proper from improper. This information and misinformation will be easy to broadcast to the relevant people and places to create confusion.
With a few multinationals dominating information technology and associated networking of people and data, people in the developing world are concerned about the dependency and cultural impact on their societies. Imported technology may mean imported values and imported needs, feelings, thoughts, vision and views.
In many parts of the developing world, the TV, which was supposed to be a tool for education, has essentially become a tool to promote Western values. There is this danger also in information technology. The battle between the countries which possess technology and those which need it for basic development will go on in the next century.
As technologies begin to integrate, economies and cultures will also integrate slowly but surely. As economies integrate, hopefully jobs will integrate and ultimately a universal culture may evolve in the next century.
The significant part of the information revolution of today and tomorrow has a lot do with the merger of communication and computer technologies.
The telecommunication technology of today interconnects over 500 million telephones for over five billion people the world over, which are both the source and the final destination of the information. Traditionally, only the human mind could generate process to receive and create information by observation, conversation, interaction, imagination and thinking.
Today, a part of these processes have been taken over by the electronic machines capable of deducing, and sensing information. Machines are now also capable of storing, retrieving, transferring and transmitting information.
Telecom highways, which interconnect over five million telephones, have been effectively used to transfer information by telephone, telex, electronic mail, radio, satellite, etc.
To these, computers are added to assist in processing and storage. As a result of this merger, we can now select and retrieve instantly what we need and when we need with a great deal of precision. Never before has knowledge been so easily and instantly accessible.
With the merger of communication and computers, global networks have become a powerful tool for economic, social and political change by offering more choices to network; people and information to everyone throughout the world.
These networks are used to exchange ideas and information between individuals, business organizations and, most important, to keep pace with others. Earlier, we thought that speech communication sufficed for the promotion of understanding.
Now it is well accepted that data communication is equally essential for promotion of better trade and business (for information on inventory, market demands, financial needs, product perspectives, cost and other parameters).
These modern networks provide a higher degree of communication between various users and thus provide a higher degree of understanding and appreciation of one another's requirements.
Information technology is finding applications in office, factories and many other areas vital for meeting basic human needs such as water, energy, health, etc.
The office of the future concept, with electronics technology, is aimed at creating paperless offices to document, file and transmit information at electronic speed. In a normal office environment there is an explosion of information. More information does not make work and decision making easier.
What is needed is relevant knowledge out of the large information base. The office of the future relates to vary many new requirements and facilities such as electronic mail, word processor, electronic filing, conferencing,
Data-base management, fax, and variety of other new features and facilities. The entire focus is on increasing productivity and efficiency of the white collar and managerial work force.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in equipment and machinery on production floor to enhance the productivity of blue collar workers. However, when an office worker is appointed, normally he is given only a desk, a chair, and some paper and pencils.
It is only recently that some new tools have been developed to improve office productivity. The starting point in this area was an electric typewriter for the office secretary. Now, this has changed to fancy computer aided design equipment for engineers and programme management tools for executives and managers.
On an average, a manager spends 60 per cent of his or her time in meetings and a significant time on telephoning, communicating and coordinating.
The task of automating more complex managerial and engineering jobs involves innovative solutions. The task of secretarial activities is relatively simple and straight forward because it deals only with typing, scheduling meetings, filing, etc.
The pressure for electronic offices has come from the competitive environment, internally within the organization and externally from the marketplace. The internal environment relates to the demand for faster growth, more productivity, cost savings, and material savings in order to increase profitability.
This demand comes in the form of pressure from the bosses and the board. Similarly, employees demand higher wages, higher benefits, education allowances and improvement in the work environment which requires an increase in investment.
The external pressure comes from competitiveness, inflation, higher interest rate energy shortages, and new investments, need for new talent and skilled workers labour laws and many other areas.
The real external pressure comes from the role of innovations in tie field to generate new technologies and new products. These pressures essentially, demands performance from the executives, the manages and the marketing people who in turn need to improve their tools.
Today, all kinds of special hardware and software packages are available to configure new office environment. The office of the future will be wired for information outlet as for electricity through this outlet, all kinds of information, related to hardware and software productions, such as electronic mail, energy management, security, fire alarms, etc., can be connected through simple plug- in devices.
Though today this is a distant dream because of the lack of interface and standards, in the next decades it will be available in many parts of the world. This concept will not only integrate building wiring for voice and data, but will also integrate a variety of services and facilities, some known and others not yet known.
To survive in the competitive environment of the future, management throughout the world is being forced to convert into reality the concept of the office of the future.
The factories of the future with emphasize application of information technology on the production floor to improve productivity and efficiency, quality and competitiveness.
The present factory normally focuses on four fundament elements, namely man, material, machine and money. All factories have evolved essentially because of interaction between man and material.
Machines were given to increase productivity and money was required as an input to set up the infrastructure. In today's environment all issues related to these four fundamental elements have become very complex and difficult to deal with manually.
Most manufacturing process involves a large variety of operations. Today's ever-changing environment demands short delivery cycles, minimum re-work, re-make, and constant flow of material. In today's complex environment, manufacturing challenges lie in the ability to decrease delays, reduce labour costs, improve inventory management and increase profits.
This becomes even more challenging because our products are becoming complex and our services even more complex. In most, manufacturing operations now, the emphasis is on changing from economies of scale to economies of scope.
All this requires highly complex information system for production planning, materials management, shop floor control, financial management and many others activates. It is only through sophisticated tools like these that proper return on investment and return on assets can be guaranteed.
Modern manufacturing systems deal with five major areas of production. These are production planning, materials management, sales order entry, financial management and various other special systems related to automation, control, artificial intelligence and robotics.
The key to these systems lies in the appropriate software and flexibility to implement many of the standard manufacturing methods and practices. For example, production planning begins with the definition for parameters on various departments and process coupled with information on customers, employees, products and standards.
With this kind of data base, production planning provides order entry, production scheduling, quality control, production statistics and overall scheduling, forecasting and long-term visibility.
The idea is to monitor at every stage in the production process, to optimize performance and reduce cost. Many of these systems in the Western world are designed to automate everything from order input to final production and shipping documents.
There is a great deal of flexibility at every point in the production line to manage and monitor various parameters to improve performance. The heart of the production planning system in today's competitive world is materials management, commonly known as MRP (Material Requirement Planning).
Because of heavy investments in the materials to be purchased from the globally competitive market, it is important to schedule materials to achieve a minimum inventory.
This is known as the 'just in time' method of materials management which has been highly successful in Japan. Along with MRP, standard financial management system to include information on account payable, account receivable, general ledger, pay roll, invoice, etc., is also necessary.
To integrate production planning, it is essential to tie computer-aided design process, control and other instrumentation and automation equipment together through such integrated systems, proper discipline is infused on the shop floor with control on quality and the expected quantum of everyone's daily output This also gives the needed visibility to management to analyze the production performance.
Making information systems an integral part of the factory of the future is a very complex and cumbersome process. It requires coordination at various ' levels with people from various departments and disciplines in the company. In general, people on the factory floor are used to routine periodic tasks and are not very open to innovations and experimentation. For a factory of the future concept to be a reality, first their minds have to be changed through proper training; he is only through their cooperation that information technology can succeed on the production floor.
Those who have successfully implemented some of these concepts have shown an increase in productivity of up to 40 per cent, reduction in overtime by about 90 per cent, reduction in delivery time by some 20 per cent and many other improvements which are essential for competing in the global market-place.
No one had earlier articulated and appreciated the role of information systems for providing-drinking water in rural India. In fact, as a part of the mission exercise, there were over 300 different forms related to rural drinking water activities.
They came in all sizes and shapes with a variety of rows and columns asking for all types of relevant and irrelevant data. It was clear that this information had to be organized sorted, collected, filtered and standardized. Finally the 300 forms were reduced to 12. The impact of this exercise on productivity and efficiency was significant.
Many are afraid that modern information systems could be effectively used to centralize more and more powers and could be counter-productive in a democratic society. The power of information could than be used in a centralized system against the people at large.
It is true that information can be created and it can be destroyed and it does have a potential for great good and great evil. But, it is also true that modem information systems through networking give larger accessibility and as a result it is indeed difficult to control and manipulate information in isolation.
We believe that the phase where information, centralized, could be used as source of power is over. No amount of effort now will keep information isolated and concentrated in the hands of a few.
In the modern world with ever-developing sophisticated facilities and services, the rate of information exchange determines the rate of successes or failures in the corporate world.
Technological developments invariably increase the time for leisure and as a result generate more consumption capacity for society. Normally, people of the lower class do not have the resources to consume new technological toys tools, while the upper class do net have the time.
They are more active with new information interactions and do not need to tinker with technology directly-result, people of the middle class, more specifically the upper middle class, create demand and consumption for the new technology and tools.
They have the purchasing power time and resources needed to experiment and they consume technology-based commodities more readily.
As the world moves away from capital intensive industrial base to knowledge intensive information base, the role of the service sector will increase substantially.
As more and more manufacturing goods are produced with less and less people, through better productivity, efficiency, automation, robotics and other information related technologies, additional jobs will be created for the service sectors.
In other words hard manufacturing jobs requiring muscle power and routine work on the production floor will be reduced and more soft jobs requiring brain power, knowledge, creativity and human interactions will increase in offices.
These jobs will be in the areas of financial services, insurance, travel, leisure, customer interface, design, marketing, sales promotion, public relations, etc.
Knowledge doubles every five years, creating the need for new skills. Some of these skills are required only to keep the technology going and innovations flowing. As a result to some extent, they have an overtone of requirements of the advanced Western nations.
Developing and socialist nations normally are far behind in developing these technologies, and take some time in creating a significant number of these new jobs. The old jobs and functions are still predominant in the developing world. Until work gets modernized, they cannot be eliminated.
These old jobs relate to routine functions, provide little job satisfaction, and require very little information content. They also relate to specific tusks to be performed in isolation and do not require much interpersonal relationship or interaction for an exchange of information.
It is believed that today we have roughly 40,000 different kinds of jobs. These can be compared to hundreds of castes that prevailed in the early Indian system, to identify specific job functions being performed by various groups of People.
It is estimated that over 10 million new jobs will be created in highly skilled information-related activities in the next decade. These jobs in the service sector will relate either to managerial functions or to technical and service functions. This will, no doubt, eliminate and upgrade some of the existing jobs.
For example, in advanced nations jobs like those of peons, file clerks, elevator operators, etc., are no longer useful. Instead, flew jobs like those of computer operators, receptionists, programmers, system analysts, etc., are very common in the new work places.
All future jobs will have large information content. These will essentially be Jobs in the softer sector with service orientation and will demand new management techniques.
The new jobs will have more to do with one's mind than with one hands. They will have a lot more to with leisure than with labour and training than with tools. They will require more entrepreneurship than energy.
These new jobs will, no doubt, bring new organizational structures. Today's hierarchical structure, which is based on command and control from the top will have to be replaced with one suitable for knowledgeable and educated workers In today's world it is assumed that knowledge is at the top and people at the bottom essentially perform routine activities and need only directions or orders.
Today, organizations have many levels of hierarchies, to centralize control essentially at the tops. As more knowledgeable and educated workers are inducted in the norm al work environment, more information and knowledge will be available at the bottom of the organization and the top will be able to understand and appreciate this vast knowledge base to make decisions necessary to command and control.
As a result the functions at the top will change from the command and control to communication and coordination. Hierarchies will break and organizations will dorm networks of people to exchange information through local area electronics networks. The top will have the limited task of motivation, managing and messaging.
All new organizations of the future, in which information content will be critical and predominant, will use a management structure more like an orchestra where the conductor essentially gives a sense of direction to consolidate and coordinate to a large group of musicians.
In an orchestra there is no department of violin or department of drum, there are no hierarchies such as senior violinists, senior drum players, etc. In a sense, the new executive may have hundreds of people reporting directly home.
The system would be structured in such way that the future manager conductor would coordinate activities of a large groups of people without multiple levels and work hierarchies to play the same tune and produce the same product.
Learning new careers would require a great deal of training and a change in attitudes. Training would be related not only to the tools and technologies, but also to the methods of management, organizations and the related new work culture. Simultaneously with this the corporate values in the organization will also have to change.
In the future corporate world, business and professional values will not be the only values because people will now be a part of the knowledge society and will have broader perspective and larger commitment to community and society. In the knowledge society education will play an important role.
Today, after setting a degree very little education is required in the normal working environment In the future; education to acquire more knowledge, through 3-5 years of formal training would be a necessity.
Information technology with its openness, accountability, accessibility and connectivity is forcing corporations to be self-motivated, self-manage decentralized networks that resemble a group of small enterprises with freedom and flexibility.
Information technology will indeed produce new standards for the free enterprise system and force government, business and labour to form new partnerships to enhance flexibility, democratic norms and a competitive market economy.
This trend will bring world resources at the information terminal for improved costing, pricing, delivery, markets etc., to increase productivity for the new managers. This trend will also bring the antagonism between the Left and the Right to an end to integrate and evolve a new economic order.
In the last 40 years, because of the growing hostility between the socialist and capitalist super powers, many disorders have been created, relating to economy, environment ecology and other human developments.
Now, with information technology, experts from both superpowers are beginning to recognize the benefits of openness and networking of human talent for cooperation as opposed to confrontation.
It is now being appreciated that networking of knowledge will bring liberal democratic values and conservative competitive values together as the most striking feature of the future. The new information culture is believed to be capable of bringing about a creative union of the Left and the Right.
This has been recognized by the technocrats and the leaders of the two superpowers. If networking of knowledge implies networking of cultures and customs, the economics also have to be networked and integrated. This may lead to shrinking the world with a larger reach, a common standard for trade and technology for everyone to benefit front.
The Western economies have already been in tune with free enterprise and information culture. For the socialist nations, there was a need to change the direction so as to benefit from the future force information.
What had been happening in the Soviet Union and the East European nations in the past few years was in response to the force of information spreading like wild fire.
It was no longer possible for the socialist system to remain alienated from the information technology related to creation, preservation and dissemination of ideas. However, to gain economic advantage from information technology, the political and social norms had to change in order to bring openness accountability and democratic values with freedom and flexibility.