In the past twenty years the statement ?The World is becoming a global village? has gained increasing popularity through the i

The Influence of technology and communication on leadership

Burbank, California; November 3, 2001; Joan Marques, MBA

(URL: http://www.angelfire.com/id/joanmarques/PR)


Introduction

There are many ways to approach the subject of the influence of technology and communication on leadership. Humphrey & Stokes (2000), for instance, state, that the 21st century supervisor should be more acclimated to software programs and should find new applications that can complete daily work routines faster and provide more accurate information sooner (p.189). The variety of approaches toward technology and communication as leadership tools becomes even broader given the fact that leadership itself is not a fixed phenomenon but rather a dynamic process that is dispersed throughout all segments of the society (Wren, 1995, p.5). Leaders need to understand the connection between technology and leadership; the capabilities of these technologies, and how they should be applied to their organization (Kowalski & Campbell, 2000, p. 52).

 

IT as a communication tool

In the past twenty years the statement ?The World is becoming a global village? has gained popularity through the increased effectiveness of technology and, as a partial result of that, communication. A tremendous change in business philosophy has manifested itself, due to the emergence of Information Technology. Myburg (2000) states, ?IT has moved beyond data management within organizations and now influences the way in which organizational communication takes place? (p.4). In almost every organization, whether it is a Business Corporation, educational institution, or non-profit foundation, email, newsgroups, the World Wide Web and other technological facilities are part of the daily tools of information exchange and networking. Myburg (2000) asserts, ?We are now witnessing a profound change in the way in which organizations perceive, understand, and manage their information. There is now clear recognition of the value of information, the creation of new information, the retrieval of existing information, the storage of important information, and the disposal of redundant information. There is also greater awareness of the cost of not getting the right information to the right person at the right time? (p.6).

 

Within companies there are continuous technological developments focused on increasing efficiency, profitability, and customer satisfaction. Management in these companies mainly focuses on improving the communication within and outside the organization through technological facilitation. Several companies experience that ?by leveraging the power of the Internet, it has become possible to realize the integration between the shop floor and supply chain? (Abramic-Dilger, 2000, p.13). Quick responses seem to be the best way for these companies to get ahead of competitors. The ones that can afford the investments anticipate on every new technology that is introduced. One of these new gadgets is called ?plant floor.com? (Abramic-Dilger, 2000) and was introduced by Sun Microsystems Computer Co., who uses Java and Jini technologies to enhance communication between the shop floor and the supply chain.

 

On a broader scope, companies can interact more efficiently with suppliers and satellites in other regions or even continents through aforementioned technological communication tools like email, newsgroups and the Web. The now four-year-old CU-SeeMe World software, for instance, enables people on different ends of the globe to actually see each other while communicating. The main convenience with this software is that ?through the cuseemeeworld.com Web site, people who have paid $50 or $100 for a little camera to mount on top of their computer monitor can set up video chat rooms ?on the fly? ? (Howe, 2000, p.1). Even though it is understandable, like with every other development, that there will be people who use this technology for less noble reasons, CU-SeeMe World brings the great advantage of eradicating the previous lack of visual contact between business partners at different locations. Howe (2000) states that ?the new CU-SeeMe version is initially designed to support three images at a time, but it can go up to 12 images at a time or more or down to just one person for more face-to-face conversation? (p.1). An increasing number of companies use this communication-facility as an attractive cost- and time-saving alternative.

 

While the CU-SeeMe video chatting system is still in a phase of being perfected with its focus mainly based on visibility, other software developers are working on eliminating keyboards as the interface to transmit messages to computers. Voice recognition software will eliminate the use of keyboards over time. Roger Matus, vice president of marketing for Dragon systems, a voice interface software maker, explains, ?in 10 years it will be very rare that you?ll get a device with a keyboard? (Zito, 2000, p.2). According to Matus keyboards will be completely unknown in the next century. Still it has to be admitted that voice recognition software only makes slow progress and is not yet as widely used, as the developers would like. Unlike Cu-SeeMe, which is used by business people and home PC-users alike, voice recognition software is currently mostly used in large organizations, ?particularly those with busy customer service centers where voice recognition helps them route calls? (Zito, 2000, p.1). Selected groups such as medical and legal professionals and disabled people also prefer voice recognition software for convenience. Some of the major problems that voice recognition will have to overcome are the limited vocabulary of the software and its lack of understanding accents. Nevertheless, it will be a matter of time before a solution to those relatively futile shortcomings will be found and every computer-user will be seen mumbling to his or her wireless computer while driving from one destination to another.

 

Not too long ago everybody would have brushed wireless computers off as ridicule, but with the breakthrough of wireless connections in the past years, ?handhelds have become wildly popular? (Adam, 2000, p.86). In Adam?s article titled ?Internet everywhere? he cites Dave Oros, CEO of wireless startup Aether Systems, who states that ?they used to say every home will have a PC. I believe every pocket will have a handheld? (p.86). Even though handhelds are still a little slower than desktops, their development and hence, their speed-increase is picking up fast. The speed is currently already higher in buildings than when walking on the streets or driving. Whether the predictions in Adam?s article are accurate or just utopian is hard to tell. He mentions the possibility of your handheld alerting you when you walk pass a store that has one of the items on your to-do-list, merely by picking up information from that particular store through the Internet. Adams illustrates yet another revolutionary development in handhelds in the aforementioned article by stating, ? as handheld devices evolve, users will be able to choose their preferred way of getting this instantaneous information; they?ll decide, for instance, whether they want to listen to information, read it or both? (p.93).

 

The importance of technology and communication as tools for human well being was recently emphasized when Motorola presented a new message alert system to physicians and hospitals shortly after President Clinton had mentioned that U.S. hospitals needed to take steps to reduce medical errors. ?According to the Institute of Medicine, medical errors kill more Americans than traffic accidents, breast cancer or AIDS? (PR Newswire, 2000). In the same article Jim Hubbard, business communicator of Motorola?s Healthcare Communications Solutions group explains that ?inadequate communication technology is considered one of the factors contributing to the medical errors problem? (p.1). Motorola?s new DocLink system will reduce cycle- and response time between drug orders, deliveries, and clinician availability.

 

With all these dazzling developments going on, it needs to be clarified that there is a significant threat that organizations, especially the ones operating in the business environment, nowadays are so caught in the process of applying the latest technology gadgets, thereby heavily investing in information technology, that they sometimes forget to also focus on other important aspects in the process. In his article ?Information technology and New Product Development; Opportunities and Pitfalls?, Ozer (1999) explains that issues like ?up-front market and technical assessment, having a sharp product definition, market orientation, and implementing a complete new product development process without any corner cutting? (p.8), sometimes suffer from the attention given to innovative technology and communication. It is important for leaders and managers to understand that ?because IT is relatively new to companies and individuals, companies need to adopt a flexible strategy to adjust their systems based on the unanticipated outcomes of IT? (p.7).

 

Of course there is always another side to the coin. When IT is not implemented at all, companies, or even countries, will suffer tremendously. The rapid changes in a rapidly changing world are not as easy to keep up with as some may think. At a Singapore meeting in March 2000, professor Lester Thurow argued that ?the key source of wealth creation for individuals and countries in the New Economy is the possession and control of knowledge, and that the acquisition of skills is the single most important requirement for individuals to thrive in a knowledge-based world? (Tan, 2000, p.60). Thurow?s speech included a comparison between countries that are holding on to natural resources as a way to generate wealth, and countries that timely shifted to the New Economy, in which they generate wealth ?through creating, possessing and controlling knowledge? (Tan, p. 60). He strikingly illustrates the problem by setting an example of a person, comfortably speeding along the Old Economy road, only to find that there is now a ?new superhighway called the New Economy? (p.61). The art will be to ?safely turn off from the Old Economy road? (p.61) and drive up to the superhighway.

 

While in some regions of the world whole countries are still almost IT-illiterate, others experience an increasing affection toward technology and communication within their population. Even the older generation wants to enjoy the advantage of computerized communication. In the United Kingdom the ?Silver Surfers? are on the rise. Silver Surfers are the older generation people who find that for too long they ?have been excluded from the routes to political and social influence? (Papworth, 2000, p.8). Even if they do not have their own computers, they demand to be transported to public libraries and local colleges to get access to the Internet. Many websites have already started to anticipate on the growing interest of seniors in the Internet. Throughout her article ?Silver Surfers ride: Growing numbers of older people in our society are expanding their power and influence through the net?, Papworth (2000) mentions the existence of sites like www.helptheaged.org.uk, www.ageconcern.org.uk, www.bbb.org.uk, www.arp.org.uk, and several others that provide an abundance of useful information to seniors.

 

Through all the aforementioned influences of the Internet on organizations and people all over the world, American politics surprisingly seem to have remained scot-free. Bruce Bimber, a Santa Barbara professor in Technology, set up a research team to investigate on this issue. Bimber states that nowadays ?more people have access to more information, more quickly and at less cost than at any other time in history? (Lee, 2000, p. 12). Bimber formed a team of instructors from all interests to talk about the impact of the Internet on the American political system. Up till now the team does not think that the Internet has changed or will change political outcomes, because ?people who are better informed are not necessarily more active politically? (Lee, p.13).

 

What leaders should do

Today?s leaders should become increasingly aware of the necessity of incorporating the latest technological inventions within their organizational communication as an efficiency measurement in the application of their leadership. This is made clear by Humphrey & Stokes (2000) in their statement, ?the 21st century supervisor will need to be more informed and better equipped to make successful business decisions as well as to be able to develop people on the front line of the workplace? (p.185). However, the importance of effective communication driven by inventive technology is not just limited to functioning within organizations, but also extends itself to regional and global levels. As Coffman (2000) presents it, ?the competition we confront day in and day out is literally world-class? (p.490).

 

References

Abramic-Dilger, H. (2000). 'Dot-com' your plant floor. Business and Management Practices, 13 - 15.

Adam, J. (2000). Internet everywhere. Technology Review., 86 - 93.

Anonymous. (2000). Better Communication Technology Could Help Reduce Medical Errors. PR Newswire.

Coffman, V. (2000). Help wanted: "Busineers": Our ability to "out-invent" the world. Vital Speeches of the Day, 66(16), 488-492.

Humphrey, B., & Stokes, J. (2000). The 21st century supervisor. HR Magazine, 45(5), 185-192.

Howe, P. (2000). New Technology from Cornell University, N.Y., Allows Visual Communication. The Boston Globe.

Kowalski, R., & Campbell, M. (2000). Leadership skills help financial managers achieve career success. Healthcare Financial Management, 54(4), 50-52.

Lee, D. (2000). Science Watch: Taking a broader look at Internet's influence. Science Watch, 12.

Melymuka, K. (2000). Born to lead projects. Computerworld, 34(13), 62-63.

Myburgh, S. (2000). The convergence of information technology & information management. Information Management Journal, 4-16.

Northouse, P. (2000). Leadership Defined. Leadership Theory and Practice, (2), 3.

Ozer, M. (1999). Information Technology and New Product Development; Opportunities and Pitfalls. Industrial Mareketing Management, 29(5).

Papworth, J. (2000). Silver Surfers Ride: Growing numbers of older people in our society are expanding their power and influence on the net. The Guardian (London), 8.

Tan, T. (2000). "Creative destruction" needed in New Economy. The Strait Times (Singapore), 60.

Tapsell, S. (2000). Learning pays--so what? New Zealand Management, 47(4), 30-32.

Wren, T. (1995). The Leader's Companion. New York: The Free Press.

Zito, K. (2000). Voices of the future. The San Francisco Chronicle.

Zubac, A., & Dooley, J. (2000). Innovation: Positioning for the future. Australian CPA, 70(3), 20-22.