Technological Advances and Their Impact On Business


The age of electronics and more specifically, computers,
has caused a tremendous paradigm shift in the way we do
business today. Just 15 years ago, innovations such as the
Facsimile(FAX) machine, and the Personal Computer(PC) were
state-of-the-art and considered cutting edge. Today, many
business people wouldn't be able to function efficiently
without these tools. Furthermore, communications as we know
it, would almost cease to exist without E-mail,
fax-on-demand and teleconferencing. We have gotten so
accustomed to the presence of computers and the services
they provide that many of us don't remember what it was
like before. This paper will attempt to discuss the
evolution of some of today's technologies and their impact
on how we do business.
The Changing Workplace
Business spent US$1 trillion in the last decade, but showed
little gain or efficiency.1 Only now are we seeing the
payoff. Some of this latency is due to some people's
natural resistance to the types of change introduced by
evolving technologies. 
Many employees are anxious and/or resentful of being forced
to change the way they perform their job function. Every
organization has individuals that would much prefer to be
operating "the old way". Slowly, these individuals are
either embracing the change or face elimination. This
elimination can take the form of either attrition or in
extreme cases - termination or layoff. It is not uncommon
for an organization to go through a cleansing process that
eliminates "dead-wood" and individuals who refuse to obtain
the required skill sets. 
Because computers can perform repetitive tasks so well,
their evolution has taken a somewhat predictable path and
has eliminated many jobs that were once performed by
people. Although many of these tedious jobs have been
reduced or eliminated, computers created a whole new set of
jobs focused on computer manufacture, programming and
support. A major challenge for the government and business
sectors, is that these new jobs demand highly skilled,
adaptable, innovative workers who are constantly upgrading
and learning new skills.1 
Flexible Workspace
In the past, workers were required to be physically present
in the business office during "normal" business hours. That
is where they performed their job function and interacted
with other employees. Today, many organizations are
permitting, if not encouraging, flexible work environments. 
Telecommuting is the technology that made this flexibility
possible. Some employees connect from their home computer
to the office network and perform their job function from
home. More than two million corporate employees are now
telecommuting full-time, and three times that number are
involved in this type of communication one or two days a
week.3 If an individual's duties don't require them to be
physically in the office, this flexibility is an excellent
way of performing their job while controlling their own
schedule. For example, if an employee is working on a
project and prefers to do this type of work in the evening,
he/she could simply logon to the corporate network at their
convenience and access the required data, use E-mail etc.. 
The drawback to this type of working arrangement is the
inherent lack of interaction between the employees who are
working at home and the employees in the office. In the
example stated above, the employees in the office would not
get a response to their E-mail until they logged in the
next morning, conversely, the employee at home would not
get any further communications until they logged in to the
corporate computer in the evening. Obviously this type of
arrangement requires common sense and coordination to make
it work. When all else fails, and instant communication is
necessary, the employees could use the telephone (an old
technology based on analog audio signals converted to
digital signals and subsequently transmitted over
copper/fiber-optic lines providing instant bi-directional

Computer Architecture
The first widespread use of computers consisted of a
centralized mainframe computer acting as a server and
"dumb" video display terminals(VDT) which were on the
user's desk and provided a window to applications which
resided on the server. These applications included
character-based versions of software such as WordPerfect,
Lotus 1-2-3 and E-mail. Since the VDT could not store any
data, this too was stored on the server. 
Eventually, VDTs disappeared and were replaced by Personal
Computers. This represented a major paradigm shift in the
way we thought about serving applications and data storage.
In essence, every user had their own server on their desk
and the mainframe was only for legacy applications that did
not lend themselves to porting.
Today, we have come almost full-circle and are using
high-power UNIX or Windows NT servers with a majority of
the applications "served" from these machines. Conversely,
the client PCs have minimal local applications and
typically store their data on the server. This
client-server configuration provides for centralized
backups and easy software upgrades or modifications. In
addition, the trend is leading towards a diskless Internet
machine. This machine will have copious amount of memory,
but little or no hard drive. All of the applications will
either be served via the internal Intranet or the external
The Internet
The Internet began as a government effort to provide fast
communications for scientists working on national security
issues around the globe. Today, the number of Internet
users is doubling every 6 months Studies show that one out
of every eleven people are connected to the Internet.2 The
Internet is a replete source of information, software and
communications. Many would agree that the future of
communications and business commerce liens in the Internet.
The Word Wide Web (WWW) is another name for the Internet,
but "The Web" is best known for its graphical hyperlink
based "pages". Depending on their purpose and how they are
configured, clicking on these hyperlinks can play audio,
display graphic images or text documents or simply route
the user through additional Web pages, all linked by a
common logical thread. The Web is extremely popular for
recreational use as there are enormous amount of FAN Clubs,
hobby centered and general interest sites as well as some
extremely bazaar sites. For example - you could visit one
out of the hundreds of Elvis Fan clubs, discover carpentry
techniques and learn about UFOs, Devil worship, and how to
build a bomb out of fertilizer, all in the same sitting.
While the number of users is doubling every six months, the
number of these Web pages is doubling every 53 days.2
Although the Web is great for recreation, its primary focus
is business. Most medium to large companies have their own
"Home Page" and use these pages to provide information and
services to their customers. For example, a computer
hardware distributor could provide a means for customers to
search through online catalogs and manuals, download sales
presentations, software and hardware drivers. In addition,
a customer could fill out a shopping list and make a
purchase right from their computer. 
In addition to the World Wide Web, the Internet offers
other services including Newsgroups where people can post
and reply to messages that are grouped by subject matter
and Electronic Mail(E-mail). E-mail over the Internet
provides extremely quick correspondence and helps to
further the growth of the global market.
Changes in Communications
The growth and innovations of the computer brought along
with it many aspects of the business world. Communication
is an example of one of these business processes that have
grown in parallel with the computer and like the computer,
this growth has been exponential. The global market has
created the need for fast communications over a great
distance. Teleconferencing and E-mail are two excellent
examples of technologies that have met these needs and have
literally transformed the way the business world operates. 
Teleconferencing - In some companies, Teleconferencing has
all but replaced "physical" meetings, thereby drastically
reducing travel costs and the loss of productivity as a
result of the travel time required to attend the meetings.
Teleconferencing is particularly useful when remote teams
are working at different locations, but on a common
project. It also provides a means for adhoc meetings where
spontaneity is desirable or necessary. 

Electronic Mail (E-mail) - E-mail has transformed business
communication like no other technology. In addition to
simple inter-office communications, E-mail has helped to
advance the global market and provides immediate
information transfer. In the modern business world, E-mail
has all but replaced conventional postal mail for simple
communications and has put a significant dent into the
overnight delivery services. In addition, although the
telephone is an immediate means of communication, some
people would still prefer to communicate via E-mail. Their
logic is E-mail gives them an opportunity to better
articulate themselves and expound on their thoughts. This
is particularly effective for technical communications
where specific details are important and would be
prohibitively tedious to transcribe over the phone. E-mail
also tends to reduce encoding when forwarding
communications through a workflow. Unlike verbal data,
E-mail does not decay while traversing from one e!
mployee to the next. Lastly, E-mail is self-documenting and
is an excellent means of providing an audit trail when
working on important projects. 
Computer Aided Design
The methods for producing technical drawings has evolved
from using drafting tables, ink and mylar to using
high-tech Computer Aided Design (CAD) applications. CAD
provides an environment in which the user can produce
technical documents three to four times faster than was
done previously with manual methods. In addition, the CAD
drawings are far more accurate, flexible and manageable.
Since CAD drawings are in electronic format, they can be
attached to E-mails and passed though a workflow to
initiate an approval process. With the proper software,
engineers required to review drawings, add their remarks
and attach these "redlines" to the drawing so these
comments can be included in the next revision. 
Historically, CAD drawings were produced as 2D orthographic
representations of real-life 3D elements. Some
organizations have extended this 2D approach to what is
sometimes called 21/2 D. This is simply a 2D drawing with
database attributes attached to the graphical elements.
This permits us to create such extracts as
bill-of-materials and process balance sheets. Within the
last eight to ten years, some organizations are performing
their design by creating true 3D models of the facility to
be built. 
This 3D model provide many advantages over its 2D
counterpart. 1) The primary advantage of the 3D model is
the fact that all of the designers are working in the same
spatial plane, on the same model. This means that an
architect "sees" the steel created by the structural
engineer and the piping designer sees the vessel placed by
the mechanical designer and therefore places his pipes,
valves etc. accordingly. This provides a means of clash
detection, where we can be sure that we did not design a
facility that has a pipe designed to run through a twelve
inch steel beam. Of course this would be caught in the
field during construction, but the design changes are
extremely costly and can be avoided by the use of the 3D
model. In addition, the 3D model lends itself to the Review
walk-through as was previously stated. 
2) You can not physically build a manufacturing facility
from a 3D model. Although it is a great representation of
how the facility will look when it is completed,
construction teams need detailed, 2D, fully dimensioned
drawings. The software we use to create the 3D model
automatically creates these 2D orthographic drawings.
Dimensions are placed by simply selecting the individual
components and "pushing a button". Furthermore, if a piece
of equipment is moved in the 3D model, the dimensions in
the 2D drawing will change accordingly. Figures 1 and 2
show a 3D model and its orthographic counterpart.
Technology is growing at a rate that is faster than many of
us can fathom. An ancient chinese curse states "May you
live in interesting times!". We are extremely fortunate to
be living in such interesting times. It is our duty as
members of the business community and as common
shareholders in this point in history to embrace these
technologies and assimilate and integrate them into the way
we do business. 
Works Cited
1 Party of Canada, The Changing Nature of Work (Online,
Internet 1996) :Pg 1
2 Richard Steinnon, Business Plan for Dial-up Internet
Service Provider (Online, Internet 1995) :Pg 3
3 Pamela S. Lewis, Stephen H. Goodman and Patricia M.
Fandt, Management - Challenges in the 21st Century


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