Sadly, there are a lot of wretched things I am obliged to do professionally, one of which is reading tomes such as [email protected] Speed of Thought, Bill Gates' encomium to the digital revolution. Unsurprisingly, Gates bangs on about how businesses will flourish if they embrace IT throughout the value chain, while those who fail to subscribe to the digital nervous system, or e-commerce in particular, will go under.
The analogy is clear. The internet is creating global cyber villages and online traders will thrive, while those who resist are doomed. And it doesn't just apply to commerce, Gates suggests. In the future, some of us will have information at our fingertips and the rest will be village idiots. But this assumes two things - the ability of IT to mastermind value chains in a coherent and profitable way and the gain from having access to an infinite amount of data.
In Europe, e-commerce has yet to prove itself and still accounts for less than $727.6 million in sales, mainly travel and financial services. As for selling bulk PCs via the internet, think again.
If anything, vendors such as Gateway, Time and Tiny are returning to the high streets in droves as they realise the Net's limited potential when it comes to punters who like to touch and feel goods. For OEMs, too, the digital revolution is a mixed blessing, especially in enterprise resource planning (ERP). Manufacturers have invested millions in ERP, only to find it fails to add to the bottom line. ERP is expected to provide a top-to-toe infrastructure, masterminding everything from payroll to stock handling and invoices to supply chains. In fact, everything that Gates advocates.
But what is happening? The big ERP players are losing money as their monolithic systems are rendered obsolete by best-of-breed packages. In the same way that mainframes gave way to mid-range systems, which in turn yielded to client/server, the technology is forever moving on. But if the industry can't standardise on technology, how can corporates rely on it to build even vaguely solid foundations?
For office workers, the digital revolution is more of a bane than a benefit. In a fortnight, Gallup will present the latest findings on information overload, confirming, it seems, what I've long suspected - that the welter of emails, faxes and voicemails cascading through your average office, and often duplicated courtesy of the internet, mitigate against real work.
Your average executive, it seems, has to deal with no less than 190 messages a day and 42 per cent are interrupted at least once every 10 minutes.
Humans are fighting back - by ignoring emails and faxes and, best of all, permanently enacting their voicemail mechanisms so that, irony of ironies, machines end up speaking to each other, thus circumnavigating any mortal intervention. Doubtless this is how Armageddon will start.
Dave Evans is a freelance IT journalist.
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