The Information Age part 2

What will happen to you today if you do not know how to read and write? The same thing may happen to you in the next ten years if you do not know how to use a computer or a smart phone. People who do not understand this or do not know the impact of information technology will be at a disadvantage just like people who do not know how to read and write today.

Fifty years ago, computing skills were limited only to scientists who worked with huge mainframe computers. Today computer is everywhere, in every home, in everyone's pocket. It took about twenty years for computing technology to change from mainframes for scientists to personal computers for everybody. In order to predict the future impact of information technology (IT) we may need to look back twenty years ago. Have you ever wondered what happen to the typewriter? Not long ago, most offices have secretaries who sat in front of typewriters to type documents. Today they all use personal computers and the Internet to type document with word procession software and send emails. There is no need for envelops and stamps anymore. Have you asked what happened to secretaries who do not learn to use computer? What kind of job do they have if all they know is how to use typewriter?

Not long ago, most offices have file cabinets where paper copies were filed, organized and stored in file cabinets using an index mark from A to Z. Today there are databases where files can be stored, updated and retrieved in a matter of minutes. Have you ever wondered what kind of job those filing clerks do if they do not learn how to use database? Information technology has automated many office works to the point of perfect efficiency. Today everyone who works in offices must know something about computer and information technology.

Not long ago, listen to music on the radio was common. Today few people listen to radio anymore but they all have their mobile phone or MP3 devices that can store thousands of songs where they can listen anytime they want. Not long ago music was stored on record, than technology created cassette tapes and most records disappeared. Cassette tape was replaced by CD and it also disappeared too. Today CD is quickly disappeared as most music can be downloaded from the Internet. Have you ever wondered what happen to companies that make records? or companies that make cassette tapes or even companies that make CD? Most of them do not exist anymore as information technology changes many things. Have you wondered how many are still listen to music from the radio? How many people are buying radio today? or they all switch to mobile phone, MP3, and flat Screen 3D TV instead?

Today information technology has automated so many things in our lives that few people even pay attention. You can buy almost everything on line without leaving your home. You can talk to people and see their face using your laptop or smart-phone. You can download movies, music, news, games and many things into your smart phone or access to millions of books, movies, music online at a click of a mouse. As the world is getting smaller and everything is connected, information technology is becoming so important and the roles of IT workers are getting more critical.

For example, with cloud computing, the role of IT workers is changing from development into business integration. IT workers will need to learn more about the business. Since IT infrastructures and development tools are provided by cloud computing company, the new role of IT workers will be focusing on creates business advantages by applying IT knowledge into the business. Today IT is limited by what the business asks it to do as it is a supporting function. In the next few years IT will tell the business what the business could do to take advantage of technology as it will become a strategic function. This will require new thinking, new concept, new training in the way IT workers and business operates.

In the past company organized workers into separate groups according to knowledge and skills. Each group has its own management and budget because dividing works and responsibility allows them to concentrate on what they do best. However, this functional organization with multiple levels also creates bureaucracy and slow thing down as decision is often made at the top. In this highly competitive world, efficiency is the new rule and organization structure is evolving into a “Flat structure” with minimum numbers of level where many functions are outsourced. For example, instead of having an information technology (IT) group, company are moving into cloud computing where IT functions are managed by an external company. This new approach breakdowns organization structure to increase efficiency and reduce costs as many functions are provided by service contractors. There is no logical reason for any business to maintain all functions when some of them can be outsourced. The business of a bank is offering financial services such as keeps money for individual and makes loans for others. A bank does not need to have an IT group to maintain its computer systems. It should outsource IT works to a cloud computing company so it can focus on what it does best: Offer financial services. The cloud computing company should focus on what it does best: offer IT services. It is estimated that soon most companies will transition into this “Flat structure” for better efficiency and lower costs to stay competitive. The new approach is to have the whole company focuses on deliver its product or services in a sufficient quantity, effectively and efficiently at the best market's price possible.

With this new approach comes the changing of affiliation. In the past, most people only work in one company for many years, but today people will change job and company when there is better opportunity. Technology changes will force people to constantly learning new skills, discover new careers, or explore new possibilities. Skilled workers can select which company to work for. Many works do not require workers to be on site but can work remotely from home. Today about 35% of IT workers are working at home and connect to the company via the Internet. this approach saves company a lot of money for not spending on office spaces or electricity and increase profit.

In this fast changing world, it is important to stay current with technology and understand the trends. It will require a new thinking, a new approach, a new way to work. It will also require new approach to educate students to prepare them for the future such as an education system that focuses more on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Remember that we are in the 21st century or the Information Age already.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University