The Information Society

The Potential of IT - the next five years

Preparation for the seminar:

The technology which suppliers will roll-out in the next few years is already under test and development in their laboratories, it contains nothing very surprising in itself, the surprises will come in the applications to which that technology is put:

Advances in information technology provide opportunities for dramatically increased connectivity, enabling new forms of interorganizational relationships and enhanced group productivity. [Madnick (1991), page 29.]
The characteristics of that technology are:

Rapid progress is being made in networking, both public and private, in terms of bandwidth (capacity) through optical fibre cables and in terms of accessibility through satellite and mobile services. The importance of telecommunications is accentuated by the increased ability to inter-connect systems from different manufacturers, achieved by the growing adoption of technical standards for computer hardware and software in commercial and governmental organisations.

Telecommunications applications for the individual consumer include advances in video and mobile services. Improved data compression techniques and falling costs now make possible video-telephones, though it is uncertain how strong the market demand is for such services.

The installation of optical fibre cables and improved data compression techniques make possible video-on-demand, currently being tested, for example, in Canada by Rogers Cable and in the UK by BT. This allows consumers to view a video of their choice at the time of their choice, effectively emulating a combination of a video cassette recorder and their local video shop, with a potentially limitless range of videos to view. A major cost here is the last one hundred metres from the local ‘hub’ or concentrator in the street into the house, where digging the trench is more expensive than the cable to put in it. If this has to be rewired it adds enormously to the expense.

There has been much speculation over High Definition Television (HDTV), taking the domestic television to full cinema quality. However, development has been held back by the failure of governments, manufacturers and broadcasters to agree on a global standard.

The market in mobile telephony continues to grow as sales volumes help to drive down costs and so create the potential for new groups of customers. For example, Mercury has launched One-2-One, a new low cost service, with free local calls between 20:00 and 08:00 weekdays and all-day at weekends. Increasingly mobile services are being used for data transmission linked to personal computers. At the top end of the market is INMARSAT, the International Maritime Satellite Organisation, which provides services to ships and to individuals such as news reporters for television stations such as Cable News Network (CNN). A global mobile telephony service is being developed by Iridium a consortium led by Motorola which will require some sixty satellites and offer a truly worldwide service; it will compete with similar services from INMARSAT, TRW and Bill Gates.

Table A.1 shows the capacity for data transmission and times taken to set up calls on a variety of networks while table A.2 shows how this has been translated into dramatic increases in capacity for Trans-Atlantic telephony.

Table A.1 Characteristics of telecommunication networks

	Call			speed	call set-up times
				(bps)	(seconds)

	modem (slow)	        300	15
	modem (fast)	     14,400	15
	KiloStream	     64,000	4
	ISDN basic	    128,000	0.5
	ISDN primary	  2,068,000	0.5
	ATM		 25,000,000	0.2
	IBC		150,000,000	0.1
ISDN = Integrated Services Digital Network, ATM = Asynchronous Transfer Mode, IBC = Integrated Broadband Cable.

Table A.2 Cost and capacity of selected Trans-Atlantic Cables
	Year  	Name	     Cost per voice 	Capacity 
	in		     channel (US $)	(in voice channels)

	1956	TAT-1		557,000		     89
	1965	TAT-4		365,000		    138
	1970	TAT-5		 49,000		  1,440
	1976	TAT-6		 24,500		  8,000
	1983	TAT-7		 23,000		  8,400
	1988	TAT-8		 9,000		 37,800
	1989	PTAT		 6,000		 85,000
	1992	TAT-9		 5,500		 75,600
	1993	TAT-10		 2,500		125,000
	1993	TAT-11		 2,000		125,000
	1994	CANTAT-3	 1,000		338,000
	1996	TAT-12		 1,000		600,000
Sources: International Institute of Communications (1991) and Communications Week International.

When the personal computer was first launched in the late 1970s the market was limited to a few hobbyists. However, it was predicted that the personal computer would achieve the ubiquity of the telephone and that level has almost been reached. One market that has proved extremely difficult to crack has been the home computer, which is still dominated by games machines. Today, state-of-the-art workstations, a wider term than just personal computers, offer facilities once found only in specialised terminals for 3-D Computer Aided Design:

User interfaces are almost exclusively defined in terms of Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), such as the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows. A further advance is the introduction of pen-based operating systems which recognises hand-writing, especially in palm-top machines, though this technology has still a long way to go, before it is easily used.

The ever faster adoption of new generations of processor chips is seen, for example, in the launch of Intel 486 and the Intel Pentium (586). The power of these chips has grown in line with Moore’s Law, which states that the number of components on a chip doubles every eighteen months and thus its processing power doubles. Similar stories are true for memory chips and for storage devices such as hard discs. Another crucial area of development has been in screen technology where advances in liquid crystal and plasma screens have made possible ultra-high resolution, light weight screens. Considerable efforts are being made to reduce the energy consumption of chips and to improve battery technology to extend the operational cycles of lap-top and palm-top machines.

Workstations are now, as a matter of course, networked to high-speed local and wide area networks, providing access to:

An example of a contemporary workstation is:

Sun SPARCstation

Sun Microsystems was a Silicon Valley ‘start-up’ to manufacture the Stanford Unix Networked workstation (SUN) based on the then new Motorola 68000 processor. One of the early keys to Sun’s success was the Network File Share (NFS) systems, allowing high power workstations to share disc space. Later Sun Microsystems developed its own very powerful RISC chips design, the SPARC, and then the SuperSPARC and HyperSPARC. The SPARCstation is a small footprint workstation with a SPARC chip inside it, giving it considerable processor power. The SPARCstation 20 operates at approx. 250 MIPS (Millions of Instructions Per Second), with a clock speed of 100 MHz and has 32 to 96 MB of RAM, a minimum of 525 MB of hard disk and costs £15,000 representing extremely good value. Sun have developed ShowMe™ to allow broadcast television to be shown in a scaleable window on the workstation, with a plug-in camera this facility can be used for desk-top video conferencing. To run application software developed for Microsoft Windows, such as Microsoft Office™ and Lotus SmartSuite™, there is Wabi™ which ‘emulates’ Windows.

There has also been the launch of smaller machines, such as lap-top computers and hand-held devices such as the:


Apple Computer created the commercial market in personal computers in the late 1970s and redefined that market with its easy-to-use Macintosh, launched in 1984. The Apple PowerBook™ 180 is currently on sale for £1,849 monochrome and in colour for £1,999 (exclusive of VAT), complete with the Microsoft Office™ suite of software, including Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Mail. The PowerBook weighs 3 kilos and measures 136 x 186 x 59 millimetres. The battery life is 2.5 to 3 hours with the monochrome screen and 1.5 to 2 hours with colour. The technical specification is 4-14 Megabytes of RAM, 33 MHz Motorola 68030 processor with maths co-processor, to handle difficult calculations. It has a 120 Megabyte hard disc drive and 1.44 Megabyte floppy disc drive. The screen is 640 x 480 pixels. Two expansion slots are provided to take extras, one of which may be used for a modem for communications.

Hewlett-Packard HP 200LX

In 1991 Hewlett-Packard, a well-established supplier of both computers and electronic calculators, launched a new product the HP 95LX™ which was both computer and calculator. It is a ‘palm-top’ device weighing 300 grams, with a screen of 16 lines by 40 characters. It has the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet built-in, together with HP Calc, a business calculator to work out cash flows, net present values and other financial calculations. It also comes with the features of popular pocket organisers: appointment diary, telephone directory, memo-pad, file manager and communications program, allowing data to be exchanged with PCs and with other HP 95LXs. It has a range of plug-in cards for additional software. At the time of the launch, May 1991, the price was US$ 699. The 95LX was later replaced by the 100LX. In August 1994 the HP 200LX was launched, with additional software, including cc:Mail (electronic mail) and Quicken (tracking personal and business expenditure), data communications (terminal emulation) and with a PCMCIA-2 slot allowing the device to take peripherals and ‘add-ons’ originally intended for lap-top PC, e.g., a modem. The suite of tailored applications for the device is now over one thousand programs.

Apple Newton

The Apple Newton™ is described by Apple Corporation as a MessagePad™. Locally it can communicate using an infra-red beam with another Newton, while the addition of a modem allows the sending of faxes and electronic mail. It allows users to take notes in their own handwriting, which it can convert, after a fashion, into typed characters. The software includes: notepad, diary and address book. It can be linked to both Apple Macintosh personal computers and PCs running Microsoft Windows™. The Newton is 185 x 115 x 20 millimetres, weighs 400 grams and costs around £500. The difficult question is to know whether it will ever succeed.

There have been continued reductions in cost and increases in performance of computers. These are not small increases, but can be a factor of ten, which creates a discontinuity in applications, because it make possible whole new categories of applications.

The falling cost of processing power is shown in table A.3. One effect of this is to undermine the cost base of installed equipment. It is often financially worthwhile to replace equipment long before it ceases to work. Although some people argue that the “silicon is free” the problem is to reconcile this with the increasing expenditure on IT, primarily the explanation is the rising cost of human resources.

Table A.3 Capital equivalency ratio for a 4.5 MIPS computer
	Year	Number of annual salaries

	1970	2,000
	1980	210
	1990	2
	2000	0.125	(estimate)
MIPS = Millions of Instructions Per Second.

Many information systems extend beyond the boundaries of the organisation and consequently rely on the co-operation of different organisations and individuals, such as:

For example, the adoption of electronic mail helps minimise ‘telephone tag’, it is also location independent and independent of time zones. Although originally developed in the academic community, the use of electronic mail has spread to the commercial sector and more generally in society. The business community has been particularly quick to pick up on voice mail.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is the electronic exchange of purchase orders, delivery notes, invoices and so on between trading partners. It is a very structured form of communication intended to interconnect information systems avoiding the re-keying of data.

Electronic conferencing can use voice, voice and white board or video. It has been around for many years now, but only with its appearance on the desktop is it becoming successful. It still has many problems for users who lack the social cues they have in everyday meetings.

In larger organisations, the development of information technology architectures includes:

This implies the production of industrial-strength applications, rather than mere academic test beds. It also relies on the adoption of standards, so that different organisations, with different computer systems can inter-work.

However exciting the technological developments, their success relies on adoption by individuals and organisations. Only through high volumes of sales can the suppliers achieve the fall in manufacturing costs that allows them to create a mass market which allows them to gather the profits to ensure their survival. Adoption by consumers faces many barriers (see table A.3).

Table A.3 Overview of enablers and inhibitors

			Enablers			Inhibitors

General			Technological advances

Communications 		Powerful, transparent		Effective network management
networks		internal networks

Distributed database 	Easy access to distributed 	Effectiveness of software
capability		data				Data management policies
							Capability of data dictionaries
							Installed base

Workstations		Ubiquitous, networked		Interface with data and 
			workstations			knowledge bases
			Artificial intelligence & 	Cognitive support and facilitation
			expert systems to simplify 
			usage and access to data  	
			network resources

IT architecture		Integration of existing		Application architecture for
			operational systems		organizational flexibility

IT infrastructure	Improved group processes	Effective IT standards 
/usage			and performance			General productivity
			IT-literate and IT-championing	Support of management 
			management			processes
							Systems investment rationale
							User attitude-readiness
							Quality of IT worforce
Source: Madnick in Scott Morton (1991) page 39.


Scott Morton, M S (1991) “The Corporation of the 1990s” Oxford University Press, New York.

Andersen Consulting (1993) “Trends in Information Technology” McGraw-Hill, London.


Copyright © Ewan Sutherland

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