Inside Business: Computers transform British office culture

Office staff in Britain spend nearly half their working days using computers - a much greater proportion than four years ago, according to a survey published last week.

The report, by the London School of Economics, finds that workers in North America spend even more of their time in front of their screens, 67 per cent of the day, compared with 48 per cent here. Moreover, the way in which business operates and works with customers and suppliers is being dramatically changed by the finding that 57 per cent of external communication now relies on information technology, an increase of 21 per cent on 1993.

However, it comes as Computer Sciences Corporation's latest annual survey of European information systems executives finds fresh evidence to suggest that European managers are falling behind their Asian and American counterparts in exploiting information technology for global business advantage.

The tenth poll by the US-based company, which, with EDS and Andersen Consulting, is one of the leaders of the outsourcing revolution, reveals that aligning goals with those of the organisation overall is cited as a principal concern by 70 per cent of information services (IS) executives, making it easily top of the critical issues list.

John Cooper, European vice-president at CSC Research and Advisory Services, said of this report: "Misalignment between IS and the business topped the CSC critical issues list last year and has done so again in 1997, and is symptomatic of the failure of companies in Europe to generate economic value from IS.

"Industry figures like Bill Gates and Andy Grove have recently pointed to Europe's widening 'technology deficit'. This survey, together with our research and consultancy work, shows that European IS executives recognise the urgency of the need to make IT the driver of their companies' plans for long-term growth."

The LSE report, meanwhile, goes on to argue that the automation of offices and administration procedures that has become predominant since 1993 has not only meant that staff today spend most of their time working with computers.

Technology is also transforming traditional office culture and supporting the growth of "new-style" companies. Kit Grindley, Price Waterhouse professor of systems automation at the LSE and organiser of the survey, said: "In the short space of three years traditional secretaries, with a monopoly control of communication channels, are giving way to groupware systems of direct communication between decision makers, work teams and information sources. Office supervisors are being replaced by screen-based progress trackers."

The report points out that utilities are joining the finance and retail/distribution sectors as the leaders in the adoption of automated systems. It adds that IT is having a great influence on the closer ties developing between companies, suppliers and customers and therefore helping the development of the increasingly popular concept of "partnerships and alliances".

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