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The impact of “Info Enthusiasm” on IT systems management

This summer, France opened a new museum dedicated to non-european pieces that has become the center of discussion about information presentation and bias that touches the heart of today’s debate about the future of technology. Envisioned ten years ago as a testament to Jaques Chirac’s belief in multiculturalism, Musee du Quai Branly is being criticized for promoting a colonial and oppressive viewpoint, ignoring the objects’ political, historical, and cultural meanings.

The museum’s president Stephane Martin responded to these criticisims by saying that today he must deal with an “information saturated public” who are no longer using museums to forge connections and tell stories, but rather as one piece of information, another source to draw from out of the vast sea of information (Browning, 2006). Human context has again made the museum viable. In the ten years between the museums inception and its realization, the concept of a fragmented museum housing one type of art has been outmoded by a changing social consciousness and then revisioned in the context of changing information flows.

Social and information advances at times both undermine and validate each other. Certainly, when structuring and managing information technology systems it is important to consider both forces. The rise of information technology has many interesting connotations and reverberations among our most established institutions, government, schools, healthcare, museum, and cultural identity. These changes apparently caused by the advances of computer and phone technology have caused people to rally around an opinion of what the effects of this new age will have on our future.

“Information Enthusiasts” is a term used to describe those who take the most rapid point of current change and use it to extrapolate into the future. They believe that advances in technology are inevitably driving us toward a paradise of shared knowledge, cultural diversity and dissolution of organizations and intermediaries. A supreme confidence in the inventiveness and progress of humankind derived from Gordon Moore’s “Law” drives Info Enthusiasts to believe that any problems that arise will be solved by the very technology that created the problem in the first place (Brown et al, 2).

Further, they believe that because society is on a single path to disaggregation and decentralization, the future lies in direct transmission of information to consumers without the benefit of middlemen. Analysts of information technology and systems such as Brown and Dunguid disagree with this optimistic view of the future of technology and say that unbridled enthusiasm for technology overlooks the social framework into which technology fits and disguises the many directional movements of our society (Brown et al, 9).

Ultimately, although in some cases information is more accessible to more people, in others power and information has become more centralized, such as the case in Wal-Mart and Xerox. In fact power is so centralized and information exchange for this power is so efficient in transnational conglomerates, they have been accused of causing the decline of the nation-state due to their purchasing power, influence, and organization (ibid). What is clear is that knowledge represents power.

For those managing IT systems, an info enthusiast point of view is useful in establishing and investing in information networks that are needed to put your business ahead. Focusing on improving systems and use of those systems makes sense for a businesses just starting, and there is certainly no harm in trying to avoid paper means of communication when possible, due to the large volume of paper that may need to be filed and stored. There is also no harm in allowing workers to take their work home.

From a strictly business point of view, workers will be happier if they feel they have more freedom, and will be more willing to put in more hours if they are at home. However there are real dangers in taking info enthusiasm to the extremes, and the modern IT manager would do well to take lessons from those info enthusiasts who have failed due to lack of research and empirical evidence to back up profit returns. UCLA made a famous blunder when it invested in a private company, The Home Education Network (THEN) to provide distance education.

In the rush to join this “revolution” in education and to gain the $50 million originally promised on its investment, UCLA invested a large amount and dropped the amount of returns to $400,000 over five years in order to partake in the perceived “next big thing” in information. The result was that THEN only returned the $400,000 of the contract, and UCLA was left with the realization that they had overestimated the impact of online education, and underestimated the cost of technology and training (Noble, 2001).

In part this problem was due to the classic info enthusiasts belief in the myths surrounding information. For UCLA the myth was that online education is a revolution that has been entirely technology driven, that in order to join the revolution they needed to buy into the technology that THEN was offering. When recalling the correspondence classes popular before computers, it becomes clear that distance education is in fact profit driven rather than technology driven (Noble, Nov 1999).

Effective IT managers will not become caught up in mythology and overlook basic principles of business like proof of profit return when investing in new technologies. Another important basic principle of business that must not be forgotten is that the smallest unit of business is in fact the original information processors, the human brain and heart. The tendency of info enthusiasts is to always believe that the answer to a business problem lies in technology.

Steve Sawyer gives the example of the health care field where human error in diagnosis has lead to developing computers to diagnose patients. When errors in this system occur the info enthusiasts answer is to further invest in the computerized system and training to handle it rather than re-looking at triage and diagnosis processes and seeking to improve the human process (Sawyer, 2005). The rise of technology has also highlighted some moral issues that the IT manager must bear in mind.

Although technological advancements may make information and business opportunities more accessible to the poorest in the future, it is currently widening the divide. In addition, moving away from paper and low technology means of communication means that these services are further deteriorating (Steyart et al, 7). Our lives are increasingly monitored and controlled by the very networks perceived to simplify our lives, and the simplest transaction is subject to theft and fraud by technologically saavy criminals.

This means that the IT manager must constantly strive to look for and solve these gliches in the system caused by human hands. While info enthusiasts have a lot to offer in developing new technologies, they are far more valuable as teaching tools to help IT systems managers understand the pitfalls of ignoring the human impact on technology. Technology is not a work of art to be admired and placed on isolated display, but one part of the human experience that should be considered in context.

References

Browning, Frank. “New Paris Art Museum Finds Many Critics” Weekend Edition. National Public Radio, 13 Aug 2006 Available at http://www. npr. org/templates/story/story. php? storyid=5640888 Noble, David. “Fools Gold” Digital Diploma Mills, Part V. 2001 Noble, David. “ Rehersal for Revolution. ” Digital Diploma Mills, Part IV Nov 1999. Sawyer, Steve. Social Informatics: Overview, Principles, and Opportunities. Steyart and Gould. Social aspects of Information Society. 1997.

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