IntroductionThe use of Information Technologies (or IT as it is commonly referred to) has become second nature to most of us today. With advancing technologies, the opportunities and possibilities of Information Technology improving the quality of everyday life, seem endless. The computer, that twenty-five years ago, was tucked away and housed in environmentally protected areas only, has become commonplace now, with desktops, laptops and other devices invading everyday life. There is no taking away from the fact that Information Technology has impacted the world in a significant manner. This paper will focus on the role of Information Technology with regard to the areas of productivity, health and democracy and analyse the pros and cons of using the same.
Defining Information TechnologiesBroadly put, Information Technology is the use of software and computers to manage information and in some companies, it is referred to as ‘Information Services’ (IS) or ‘Management Information Services’ (MIS). In a large corporation, Information Technology consists of storing, protecting, processing, transmitting and retrieving information as necessary. “Computeris(z)ation’s main task is to process and analys(z)e information, and information is a commodity that is very hard to value” (Baily, Burtless, and Litan, 1993, 88).
Information Technology and ProductivityThe inter-link between IT and productivity is an extremely widely debated topic as computing power that is delivered in an economy like the US has increased significantly as compared to the figures of 1970, however this same growth has not been witnessed in the service sector. In fact, by the same measure, the service sector seems to have stagnated. In 1996, the Nobel Laureate Economist, Robert Solow, as said, “we see computers everywhere except in the productivity statistics”, suggesting that claims of increased productivity with the use of IT is highly exaggerated.
Before taking a stand one way or the other, we must keep in mind that just because we lack evidence that supports IT and productivity, it does not mean that this does not exist. “Since knowledge workers constitute more than half of our workforce, improving their productivity is the linchpin upon which hangs the future prosperity of the nation. At the end of the day, this means we have to find metrics that measure quality rather than quantity. ” (Wriston, 2007, 95).
AdvantagesLet us now look at the pros of the use of information technology and productivity. According to a recent survey sponsored by Kelly Services, 78 percent of the workers in the United States and Canada feel that the use of laptops and mobile phones have helped increase their productivity. The same survey states that 7 out of 10 workers from all countries around the world shared the same opinion. The use of technology has increased productivity in many areas.
However, there is no one paradigm to measure the impact of IT on business production processes and productivity. This is because IT applications are used differently across industries and even sub-categories of industries. Retail companies have used IT to improve their supply chains and managing activities such as inventory, purchasing etc; and the banking sector has used IT for computerised voice response units. If one were to consider banking, technology investments made by the banking industry during the course of the 1990s, have clearly paid off. Banks saw a huge increase in phone inquiries and requests from customers.
The number of phone inquiries grew from just over 1 million in 1994 to 2.3 million in 1998 (Baily, 2003). This shows that the investment in Information technology by the banks allowed an expansion of banking services and increase labour productivity.