The Technology Payoff: Are We There Yet?

Technology has already swept over us ("The technology payoff," Special Report, June 14). It is no longer a technological change but a cultural change.

We are at a monumental cultural crossroads where print, TV, personal computers, phones, satellites, cable, and recorded formats are abruptly converging into a digital potpourri with wide-ranging concourse. New media configurations are powerful, inexpensive, highly interactive, individually controlled

for self-pacing, ideally suited for independent learning, ultimately empowering to the user. Our rapidly changing media environment will likely bring a rate of cultural change over the next 15 years greater than we have experienced in the past 100.

Will the baby-boomer leadership adapt to change more readily as they replace George Bush's typewriter-equipped White House with interactive technology? Not necessarily. Lacking a market mechanism, slow-moving schools and universities are among the last of the great socialist-styled corporations, much like IBM, the old American Telephone & Telegraph Co., and Eastern Europe. We're simply not teaching how to manage change.

Glenn Ralston


Your so-called reorganization of work is nothing more than concentrating on doing the right things. If you don't concentrate on effectiveness, any improvements in efficiency will be for naught.

The solution to improved productivity is not better software but rather a better understanding of business and its objectives.

Milt Bryce

Palm Harbor, Fla.

Although I applaud your bringing technology and productivity into the spotlight, I would like to point out that the jury is still out on many of the points you raise.

The effect of technology on the productivity of the company has been widely debated by economists for a number of years now. Reengineering, although currently in vogue, is certainly not new, and it has yet to be convincingly demonstrated that it yields predictably positive results. Little is known about how one successfully reengineers a business and even less about how one measures return on investment on this type of investment, in spite of what many consultants may claim.

In the meantime, the amount of money that has been spent on information technology is immense. (Although you do not describe how you

arrived at your estimate of $1 trillion over the past 10 years, some estimates are several times that for the service sector alone.)

All this is not meant to imply that we are not on the verge of a major reshaping of the rules of competition and some of our basic and well-entrenched business models. I believe we are, and we should be excited about it. The benefits to the early adopters and adapters, if they are successful, are clearly large. The cost of change, however, is not small, and the rules of the game are still not clear.

Michael van Biema


Center for Technology & Productivity

Columbia School of Business

New York

Many companies feel that investing in the latest hardware and software will be sufficient to keeping them competitive and profitable. What they fail to understand is that in addition to investing in the latest tools, they must also (and most importantly) invest in their own people. Invest all you want in the latest technology, but scrimp on proper training and you will surely fall behind.

Christopher J. Senft

New Providence, N.J.

Your article mentioned how hospitals are using computers to help cure medicine's inefficiency. Hospitals are not the only place where this technology is vital. In this age of cost containment, it is a necessity that physicians have access to all areas of the health-care industry in their offices or at home.

A physician computer network gives me the technology to communicate with my hospital, clinical laboratory, insurance providers, and other physicians across the nation. Having the information I need at my fingertips helps me to provide top-quality care to my patients. Additional tracking procedures implemented in my office help to ensure that all my patients are reminded to follow through with their recommended care.

Dr. Joseph W. DiTuro

Eatontown, N.J.

A question: How much of the "payoff" is really a transfer of costs in time, money, and other resources to the consumer, supplier, etc.? For example, take the idiotic "punch one, punch two" phone systems where the caller winds up with "all of our operators are busy" and waits 20 minutes for an operator.

Milton E. Ballard


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