The recent decades have seen outstanding triumphs of information and communication technology (ICT) industry in UK which was worth 120 €billion in 2006 increasing to 123.7 €billion (Members of the European Information Technology Observation, 2007) in 2007, the second highest in EU. The industry has become bigger; their products ranges from mobile telecommunications, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls relying on fast broadband speeds, audio conferencing to highly sophisticated product of videoconferencing and the market for these products are increasing at unstoppable pace. The value of mobile telecommunications market was 14.7 £billion in 2007 (Key Notes Ltd, 2008), increasing 5.0% when compared with 2006 while the value of videoconferencing market in 2005 and 2006 were 180£m and 202 £m (Key Notes Ltd, 2008) respectively. Such development in technology has paved the way for UK-based companies such as HSBC or TESCO to become more competitive in the world market, assisting them to saving expenses that used to be spent on travelling, conducting meetings (Menon, 2008). However, accompanying with advantages are always drawbacks. Although technology has transformed UK firms and some gurus in Communication highly appreciate ICT, managers of some companies which are adversely affected by them do not think the same. Standing at the two opposite flow of information, companies which are intending to adapt ICT to replace their traditional equipment are now torn between whether to do it.
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This essay will focus on ICT applications that have been harnessed in UK-based companies. More specifically, it will look at Instant Messaging application, blogs, telepresence and ‘hot-desking' that have facilitated of procedures in processing data and ways of handling works amongst British companies. Moreover, it will also examine negative effects that come along with adoption of ICT in working.
One of the main aims for the invention and revolution in ICT is to facilitate the increasingly complicated business world. In fact, most British managers have to deal with a lot of works simultaneously and it should be supreme efforts for them to resolve them if ICT were not invented or developed. How can a company like HSBC with just only 330,000 employees deal with huge date of 128 million customers without latest ICT tools and gadgets? (HSBC annual report, 2007) How much time spent by LLOYDS TSB to inform to its 16 million (LLOYDS annual report, 2007) different customers with their own information in the heading of the same letters without the Mail Merge function of Microsoft Word?
Firstly, among ICT facilities that have been deployed in UK firms, Instant messaging (IM) software such as Yahoo Messenger and iChat is the most prevalent and highly accepted among employees. Compared with other forms of communication like email or telephone..., IM software is cheaper, more convenient and really helpful. In fact, this software assists employees in handling different works simultaneously. How many different clients with different problems can you contact with at one time before the birth of IM software? With IM software, the number just depends on partners' requests but not what a machine can do.
Secondly, blogs are also prevailing among British firms as a mean to deal with customers' requests and as a marketing tool. Actually, blogs can be divided into two types: internal and external blog (Carmichael and Helwig, 2006) but we just mention about external blogs at this paragraph. External blog can aid firms in coping with customers' troubles. The fact is that problems of a customer of a firm is usually the problem that other customers have experienced and companies do not want to reply to customers about a problem that they have answered for the others before. Hence, they post problems and solutions for them on their blogs and if a customer has trouble with companies' products, they just need to log on their blogs. In the case that customers can not go to a firm's store because of any reasons (for example, they have to work at the opening time of the store and they are just free at the closing time), they can post description of their adversities to the firm's blog and get the solution in the next day. Furthermore, external blogs can be utilized in keeping contact or inform companies' news to customers. “Corporate blogs can convey information from employees and management to company audiences” (Joshua LC et al., 2008, p.5). Companies prefer to post their sales or promotion policy on their blogs rather than their homepages because while their formal websites have to follow strict rules, the information in their blogs is more flexible so their new policies are easier to be seen by customers. In fact, several authors have concerned about this thing. In their research, Lee, Hwang and Lee (2006) has though that “It is highly doubtful whether they have fully utilized the capabilities of those new faces as a two-way communication tool because most corporate home pages have been primarily used as a platform to push mundane advertising messages”.
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In addition, companies also prefer blogs because blogs have proved to be extremely useful marketing tools. In fact, people are willing to believe information from popular blogs or websites of pundits rather than formal websites of companies because customers always have an assumption in their mind that information from formal sites have been manipulated by advertising experts so they can not be trusted completely (Wilson, 2005). In reality, blogs have been used by several large firms because of mentioned advantages. Bentley has made use of this function several years ago. At Bentley Community Blogs, members can discuss, update information and gain some tips about Bentley's products such as Continental GT Speed coupé or Bentley Continental Flying Spur... Others British firms also adapted blogs as a kind of communicating with customer ranging from British Telecommunications to Guinness beer.
Thirdly, turning to telepresence or videoconferencing, arranging meeting between colleagues or between head offices and divisions in multinational companies is always a big issue for firms, especially for organizations that have divisions around the world or organizations that began to develop groups and team with the aims of having better decisions, increasing productivity.... Indeed, the costs of travelling, hiring places... are not cheap for these companies. “business travel will reach $110 billion, up from $103 billion last year” in US (Nyberg, 2001) while “Business trip cost to rise 5%” in UK (Frary, 2008). Moreover, according to a survey conducted Tandberg, a global leader in visual communication, 600000 travelers surveyed (or 19%) (Tandberg, 2006) in UK admitted that business travel make them less productive. Because of these issues, the subject of videoconferencing has been concerned and adapted within many organizations. In the UK, nine out of ten companies are using some form of virtual collaboration to enhance the quality of their work (Financial Times, 2008). These companies range from telecommunication companies like BT to law-specialized companies like Clifford Chance. While BT are increasingly consulting their managers whether their trips are important or not and requires pre-information about their travel (Bray, 2008) and if their business can be done by means of videoconferencing, Clifford Chance spent 3.5 million on videoconferencing and had good comments about this form replacing face to face meeting. Telepresence, a more general word for videoconferencing, also proved useful to Bevan Ashford, which has office in Bristol, Birmingham and London. Its CEO of Stuart Whitfield (cited in Wade 2004), think telepresence was useful in interoffice communication and enabled meetings to take place among the partners who instead have travel a long-haul.
Fourthly, ICT also play a critical role in the process of utilizing workspace more efficiently with ‘hoteling' function. Framingham (cited in Albin, 2008), MA-based PeopleCube says that, “As of 2007, 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer ‘hot desking' or unassigned workstations”. What is ‘hoteling' and why is it so useful that 73 percent of top companies are utilizing it? Actually, ‘hoteling' or ‘hot-desking' is solutions for companies who have not make use 100% of their work space.These companies are accounting companies or service companies which workers usually work at clients offices. Hence, it is not a best approach to assign desks for their workers who may use them once or twice a week. Instead of renting workspace for every employee, they can rent a smaller space and rotate the use of office space between employees.
‘Hoteling' is really useful for big UK accounting companies like PricewaterhouseCooper but it will not be invented if technology had not existed. Advanced information and communication technologies have been behind the development of ‘hoteling'. Thanks to laptop, broadband network and wireless network..., employees can work from anywhere. They can receive email by means of a iPhone or summit their documents to their superior or clients with a click in their laptops and they do not need a desk to do this. Software also has been developed to support ‘hoteling'. With EMS Workplace v5.0 employers can arrange workspaces for workers.
“Instead of conversations taking place at the convenience of the initiator, IM allows genuine social negotiation about whether and when to talk” (Nardi et al., cited in Garret and Danziger 2007). It is the fact that Instant Messaging or ICT in general has made revolution in communication at work. However, IM still has received some complains. According to Rennecker and Godwin (2003), IM has five characteristics of presence awareness, within-medium, polychronic communication, “pop-up” recipient notification, silent interactivity, and ephemeral transcripts that can cause the interruption or discontinuing in work. In fact, can managers focus 100% percent on their work if they know that they can chat with their friends about their favorite team's match that they missed last night? The answers may be ‘yes' but the number of who can do that are very low when compared with the number of who can not. Although some recent studies has claimed that IM can control the interruption because it is widely used as a substitution of more disruptive forms of communication such as telephone or face-to-face conversations(Science Daily 2008), reality has proved the different thing. A research conducted by Chronicle Solutions( cited in Raisbeck 2006) revealed that over 66% of workers use IM at work for private matters and only a 20% of workers do not know that they are breaching the law of their companies. From here, we can infer that nearly 50% of workers can not resist the attraction of talking with their friends and family in working time if Instant Messaging applications are available to them even when they know that they are breaking firms' rules.
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Furthermore, one of negative consequences of ICT is cyber-bullying. Examples of cyber-bullying range from threaten email to spreading lies and allegations to social public sites and it involves a lot of ICT appliances such as mobile phones, PDAs and websites, chat room.... This trouble is even considered more dangerous than sexual harassment. Pitcher (2007) has surveyed and concluded that one in 10 UK employees has suffered from cyber-bullying in their workplace. Some measures have been adapted and advised to victims in an effort to shield workers from cyber-bullying.
Finally, in addition to these troubles, there are other problems that managers who approach ICT usually meet. One of them is overwhelming data, email or messaging. Because of the fast pace of computers and internet broadband, they almost have to handle immediately after the tasks or data are sent from their superior. Instead of helping them, ICT in this case has created pressure on managers' work and sometimes substantially reduced their efficiency. In multinational companies, managers and employees are frustrated or having mental illness which usually related to extremely stressful works.
A survey has been conducted on 34 managers who come to Business Startup Exhibition to examine the trueness of above theory and data. In 34 people asked, 8 of them cope with about 30 to 60 emails daily, 11 have dealt with more than 60 to 100 emails and 15 out of 34 or more than 44% feel stressful with their amount of email. In these 15 people, there are only 3 people who have to deal with less than 30 emails a day and 4 people who handle with 30-> 16 emails. Because nearly a half of managers feel stressed with their amount of email, it is really a urgent time to ring a bell for firms because imagine that when managers feel very stressful, their productivity will reduce 30% so if a firm has 44% of managers feel frustrated with their work, the total productivity of the firms will reduce 13.2%.
Turning to the usage of IM software, nearly 62% or 21 people admit that they are using IM software in their work and only 7 or 33% of them consider IM as a distraction. The number seems to be opposite with the survey conducted by Chronicle Solution which revealed that 60% of people harnessing IM use it for private matters. Nevertheless, it is hard to say that which one does not reflect the true picture of negative effects. In fact, whether the IM is good or bad does not just depend on its nature but also other factors. For example, in workspace that a worker's desk or computer is near with others' one, it is not easy for them to use computer for personal things and communicating software should be used only for work if they do not want trouble with their superiors.
Numbers related to blogs usage is totally a different thing. 23% of people surveyed reported that their companies have utilized blogs and only 1 person considered blogs can be used as a marking tool. From this data, blogs seem to have a long road to go to convey managers that they are useful. In fact, most of companies still utilize websites for tasks or purposes that blogs have advantages on. They are adamant in this thing because information on blogs can be diverted, distorted or criticised by guests who can comment about their new policies. Secondly, there is a supposition amongst managers that websites are more suitable for their business and most importantly, there are afraid of some troublesome hurdles originated from adopting new kinds of communication like blogs.
The number of managers who know and use ‘hot-desking' is low too. Only 6 out of 34 said they have used ‘hot-desking'. However, unlike blogs, the picture of ‘hot-desking' is not bad. Actually, ‘hot-desking should use only by accounting or laws companies which employees usually work at other companies offices and 6 out of 34 in some way is similar to the percentage of accounting and laws firms out of the total number of UK-based firms. This deduction can explain a weird thing in the data of ‘hot-desking'. There have been 17 people or 50% of people asked reported that they know about it but only 6 who are using it. This thing said that 50% of managers have been trained with ‘hot-desking', a good percentage of but only 35% have chances to apply what they learn into their works.
In conclusion, the above numbers are not really good but it is too soon to say whether or not UK companies are obsolete. In fact, if managers who reported that they have not adopted ICT in their business are those who were not in direct contact with customers, it should be normal with the data got. Moreover, the fact is that firms working in ICT industry have gained unprecedented profits and new ICT companies like Mr. Sites or Hardsoft Computers are emerging more and more in large business exhibitions, as for example, Business Startup so it is hard to say that UK companies do not prefer ICT.