Over 20 years ago I started my career as an Engineer in the newly emerging IT business, and yes, it was pre-IBM PC.
For many years I listened to reports telling me that the introduction of computers was not having any effect on staff productivity. Pah!, I thought, showing my age. If I was younger I would probably say, Meh!.
Back in the dark ages just before the dawn of the PC I could see productivity improvements happening right before my eyes so the disparity between the reportage and the reality that I was seeing on the ground bothered me.
It was often explained away by the idea that computers were not improving things significantly because we weren’t using them properly. Instead of creating new processes and applications with them, most companies were simply doing the same old thing, but with computers. The true benefit would come when we all re-engineered our businesses.
For a couple more years, post-MBA, I worked in a Big 5 consulting firm that delivered the new ‘Re-Engineering’ solutions that everyone was waiting for. But still no real increase in productivity.
But finally, finally …
According to a new study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (IT&T), money spent on information technology delivers three times the gains in worker productivity of other investments, as reported by the New York Times. Money quote:
“The study concludes that the economic significance of information technology is less in the technology itself than in the capacity of computer hardware, software and services to transform other sectors of the economy.”
So it’s not computers per se, it’s the capacity of computers, and the internet, to change the way we work. It seems really obvious when you see it written down but it has taken a full generation for someone to actually come out and state it as fact. Government policy, the IT&T suggests, should focus on ‘encouraging market forces to hasten the pace of technology-aided change in industries’.
When I was working in the IT business I thought we were ‘hastening the pace of change in industry’ but it appears we weren’t. So there must have been something missing from the equation.
The problem seems to have been that we were all so busy installing computers we didn’t have time to figure how people would use them to do more. And to do that would take over 20 years for a very non-obvious enabler to emerge: the standardization of data.
Happily, that work is all done now and we can communicate with each other with ease using HTML, XML and AJAX. The possible range of interactive internet applications for HR are endless
So what can we expect to see in China,? We are still a bit behind the curve in HR technology usage but we could leapfrog.
This is a personal view:
Unfortunately for those of us encumbered by enthusiasm and optimism, at the end the New York Times report there were a few challenges to the rosy high-tech future .
Oh well, back to drawing board.