Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Information society, work, and the generation of new forms of social exclusion: Technical restructuring

The concept of technological practices indicates that it is not ICT itself that can guarantee the leaps of productivity and innovation activities companies need in order to maintain their position in an increasingly competitive environment. Instead, it is a cluster of social changes, including organisational restructuring, cultural changes, changing business aims and achievement criteria as well as new skills and competencies, that contributes to the strengthening of competitiveness along with the use of modern ICT.

Modern ICT is of course, an important part of technological practices and the technology itself has an impact on companies’ competitiveness. Modern ICTs have developed dramatically in the last decade. Such technical performance as storage and processing capacity, for example, has increased significantly. This indicates that modern ICT is a powerful technology already in stand-alone configurations. But the full potential benefits emerge when modern ICT is used in the form of integrated systems. For example, the standardisation of microprocessors, communication intersection, system components and user software enable the compatibility of various technical subsystems, forming a large platform that can be used for information and knowledge exchange and for collaborative production. While there is a trend towards network applications, a significant number of companies still make use of isolated computer systems only. Particularly SMEs use advanced ICT systems comparatively seldom. And the fact that companies often apply a variety of different systems, which can hardly be connected to each other, also becomes an important hindering factor that increases competitiveness significantly.

Policy makers should support particularly SMEs in modernising their technical equipment to be able to gain the benefits from network applications. We have argued, however, that it is the use practice of modern ICTs in the first place that determines both the nature and extent of benefits being gained from this technology. There is no single logic of using modern ICT, which can be derived from the technology itself; instead, modern ICT represents a multifunctional technology, which can be used for different purposes. This means that we have to change from an artefact perspective to a perspective that focuses on the functions that modern ICT can serve. In this respect, we can differentiate between an automation function, a control function as a surveillance function, a tool function, an organisational function, an informating function and a communication function.

The application of modern ICT systems and more advanced use practices focusing on the organisation, informating and communication functions become increasingly important, because the rules of the competition game have changed together with the globalisation of markets. Companies now require quality, innovation, costs, and speed to market for business success and among these factors particularly innovation will become even more critical in the future. Modern ICTs can be crucial for supporting innovation processes, because they make it easy to transfer knowledge-based information from one place to another and to disseminate information worldwide. The more companies are forced to improve their innovation capacity, the more they can profit from applying modern ICTs and making advanced use of them. Furthermore, the technical potential of modern ICT can motivate companies to reflect on their strategic aims, focusing more on innovation activities.

The use of modern ICT, as our empirical findings show, is closely linked to companies’ dominant achievement criteria. The network character of modern ICT and its potential as communication technology is of particular importance in an economy dominated by innovation competition because it allows knowledge sharing and, as a consequence of this, specialisation processes within and between companies. A policy aiming at accelerating ICT use needs to underline the close relationship between innovation and ICT use. This means that the diffusion of modern ICT and its adequate use should become an important part of company-oriented innovation policy. A policy aiming at encouraging innovation should integrate measures to support the application of modern ICT and its advanced use.

Our research shows that policy makers are faced with a huge task. On the one hand, only a small minority of companies considers innovation to be the most important achievement criterion. On the other hand, many companies have to be convinced to focus on the communication function and network potential of modern ICT. Even companies with modern ICT systems make limited use of the multi-functionality of this technology. They turn to more traditional functions such as automation and process control, while hesitating to use the full potential of ICT systems.

Elaborating our argument further, it is important to mention the Internet’s key infrastructure applications, the World Wide Web and the browser, that have greatly expanded the potential of ICT. These technologies integrate the existing computer and communication systems at a relatively low cost in an open network that significantly increases their utility. The use of the Internet for electronic commerce provides a faster, more reliable and potentially more cost-effective way of connecting companies; through the application of electronic commerce technologies, existing business processes can become more efficient. When applied to business-to-business relationships, these technologies may lead to significant productivity gains. According to our company survey, nowadays almost all companies have access to the Internet, but generally they make only limited use of it. For example, business-to-business applications are still rare and also connections to paid databases can be found very seldom.

Contact

Gerd SCHIENSTOCK, (Professor)
Tel.: +358-3-2157202
Fax: +358-3-2157265
E-mail
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