Technology can blur bottom line


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Two Purdue University professors think an unquestioning reliance on the latest electronic technology by businesses and organizations is taking management’s eye off the ball and distorting much-touted worker productivity statistics.

“While technology has brought new tools into the workplace, technology has muddied the managerial water,” said Alexander W. Crispo, in the university’s School of Technology.

“Good management thinking uses technology as a tool. Technology should not be viewed as the means to all ends.”

Bottom line. Management, said Crispo, should subject computers, pagers, cell phones, beepers, personal digital assistants and use of the Web to a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether new technology actually contributes to the company bottom line.

Crispo and co-researcher Beverly Davis coined the term ‘technoism’ to connote the unquestioned reliance on technology in businesses and organizations.

“It’s not technophobia, or fear of technology. The concept of technoism includes people’s being afraid to challenge technology-for-technology’s-sake for fear of being labeled old-fashioned or a Luddite,” Davis said.

“You can look at technology’s having become a management fad, like Total Quality Management or empowerment, but technology is a bigger issue in organizations because management tends to view it unquestioningly.”

What’s being done. High technology has received much of the credit for productivity increases in the last few years, the researchers say. But they wonder what is really being measured in the productivity numbers.

“You can become more productive with new technology, but you may actually be getting the wrong things done faster,” Crispo said. “There’s a temptation to do the things the new technology allows you to do, rather than the things you need to do managerially.”

For example, a manager might spend his or her time answering e-mails from people who don’t report to him. In the Old Economy past, that manager never would have received those e-mails in the first place.

“No matter how far advanced technologically we become, the people side of management is still more important,” Crispo said.

Work from anywhere. Some studies have suggested that part of the increase in productivity can be traced to people’s working more hours because they are electronically connected to the office. Davis said she wonders if there is widespread violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act via electronic telecommunication devices pressed upon workers by their companies.

“We need more data and more assessment,” Davis said. “The Office of Technology Assessment was shut down in 1995. We need a federal agency such as that, or something similar.”

Crispo sees no real answer to technoism, which he characterizes as “an inexorable driving force. As teachers of the next generation of managers, perhaps the best we can do is prepare our students to slow down, recognize and rationally access the adoption of the latest technological advancements.”


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