Information is a key to every business. For example, financial information is the key of all business decisions; productivity information is the key of all manufacturing decisions, and quality information is the key of software development decisions. In the past it took several hours, several days, and sometime even weeks for the information to reach people who can make decision. Today with information technology, it is just a few seconds, critical information can be sent to decision makers immediately. That is why the role of information technology in business has moved from a supporting role into a strategic role.
In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that the capacity of the computer chip would double every 18 months. The Moore‘s law is the central principle of the information technology industry where everything is happening at the speed of the computer chip and it is increasing every 18 months. At that time, the price of an IBM computer was several million dollars. By 1998, the Personal computer (PC) changed everything by reduced the price of computer to several thousand dollars. By 2010, smart phone changes everything again and reduces the price of computer to few hundred dollars. The amazing thing is today the power of the computer chip in a smart phone is hundred time faster and better than the $15 million dollar IBM mainframe of the 1965. Another major change is the creation of the Internet for accessing information that allow everyone, from elementary school children to top managers of a big company to get information they need within few seconds. However, information technology does not speed up what used to be done, but it also enables and automates many things.
To manage information in an orderly way, companies begin to recognize that they must follow processes for everything, or else with so much information, so many data, things could be chaotic. Business process is the way people organize works in a company for better managing. The same thing also applies to manufacturing, and software development etc. By having a well defined process in place, company can identify which process can be automated so they can eliminate wastes and make the work more efficient and effective. Since technology can be used to “automate” processes by using robots, less work can be done by people and therefore less cost and more profit to the company. With the advancing of technology such as automation and robotics, people have been eliminated from some process or considered as an integral part of the business system. This creates a profound change in the way company operates today. The question is what can people do? If you look at the automobile or manufacturing assembly lines you will find that 70% of the work is automated already. As the number of labor worker is decreasing, the number of engineers and information technology workers is increasing. As technology can be used to find cost effective solutions from many diverse technologies but automation, robotics, tools, smart machinery are not and cannot be a substitute for actual understanding of the problem and making decision about the solution. They cannot replace a good judgment so every company still needs people. These people must have the knowledge about technology to make decision and manage these large information systems. The shift from labor worker to knowledge worker is happening all over the world and during this change, many people; especially labor worker is not prepared. That is why there is a large number of unemployment in every country.
Few months ago, when I was teaching in China, a student invited me to his home where I met his father, a supervisor in a manufacturing company. We have an interesting conversation about the impact of technology. He told me: “I have been in this job for over 30 years. I have to accept the fact that sooner or later, the company will get rid of me and many others. However, many young people do not know about the impact of technology. Having a manufacturing job is still a dream of many. They do not need an education as they can go to work in a factory for the rest of their life. It is right in my generation but no longer for the next generation. If they do not have a good education, at least a college education in technology but rely on their labor then they will be disappointed. There will not be many jobs in the future. That is why I work hard to send my son to university to study information technology.”
- Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University