Essay: Technological Knowledge in the Modern Global Economy

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¶ … Technological Knowledge in the Modern Global Economy

Discuss the role of technology in the practical application of business management. Can a charismatic leader with tremendous interpersonal skills be effective in management if he/she lacks technical expertise? If you were starting an organization from scratch, how much emphasis would you place on technical infrastructure, marketing, and staff? Specify how technology has impacted the scope of global business.

Once upon a time, what an individual majored in college was thought to have very little impact on what he or she did in 'the real world.' in-house training meant everything. Even MBA programs had 'math camps,' or grilling sessions in the basic mathematical skills for an individual to assume a role of senior manager. In other words, personal attributes of leadership were deemed more important than the technological skills for managers -- these skills could be learned after college, in graduate school, on the job, and elsewhere. The CEO (Chief Executive Officer) was responsible for running the company, and positions such as the CIO (Chief Information Officer) were unheard-of, as technology was relegated to experts. Managers were supposed to focus on refining their 'people skills' -- supervising, motivating, and measuring the performance of individuals, not on the technological nuts and bolts of the organization.

Today, even a lower-level employee must be fluent in using the Internet. Simply filling out a job application often requires online skills. For individuals at the managerial level, using technology to monitor and compare employee and organizational performance benchmarks, contemplating outsourcing of labor through the use of the technology, utilizing global online communication, and deploying technology to maximize efficiency regarding the manufacturing and delivery of a product or service are critical dimensions of almost every organization. This is why it is fair to say that no manger can lack technological expertise, even if technological expertise is no substitute for being a good and hopefully charismatic manger in a human fashion. Part of being a good manger today is availing one's self of the current offerings and competitive strengths offered by technological developments. "As we move toward networked organizations, a global society and knowledge workers, our organizations are changing" along with organizational processes, infrastructure, and the roles of management (Buhler, 1998, p.1). "Peter Drucker [first] identified the importance of information in today's organizations and the move to knowledge workers....Drucker has suggested these knowledge experts will dominate our organizations -- not managers. The management ranks will continue to shrink. And the remaining managers will be required to fill very different roles" (Buhler, 1998, p.1). Those mangers that persist in identifying themselves as generalists must still have an understanding of the technological knowledge and processes that a modern, organization requires to function.

The classical functions of management, as first defined by Fayol are planning, controlling, directing and staffing (Buhler, 1998, p.1). A manager with insufficient technological know-how may not be able to appreciate and plan to protect an organization's software against threat posed by a computer virus, and fail to allocate enough financial and human resources to establish the necessary threat protection. Knowing what new forms of technology look promising, when to upgrade company software, and which applications can be outsourced and which should remain in-house can be delegated to or done with consultation with the it staff, but ultimately managers cannot be in the dark about all of the details surrounding such enterprises when exercising management's controlling and directing capacities (Bort, 2007, p.1).

Even in terms of staffing, if the manger is too unfamiliar with technology, he or she may very well find him or herself either ignoring the it department, or become overly dependant upon it's advice on technical matters, neither of which is salutary for his or her position in the organization. However competent the it staff, there are inevitable departmental biases in favor of one's own turf, and an upper-level manger must have the organization's global, long-term strategy in mind, not simply the needs and perspective of a single department. In short, some managers may continue to be generalists but part of being a good generalist is to understand how critical components such as technology must impact managerial decisions of various kinds. The division of technological knowledge and interpersonal skills is, or soon will be, effectively done away with in terms of managerial functions.

Even the non-technical duties of modern managers have been changed by technology. As globalization renders more functions of large organization increasingly complex, "today... all managers are being asked to engage in strategic planning. The responsibilities for strategic management are being delegated down the organizational pyramid with all managers responsible for taking a long-term view of the organization" (Buhler, 1998, p.2.). Likewise, the role of control has been supplanted in many cases by computers, "as they monitor employee performance on jobs that was once monitored by human managers" (Buhler, 1998, p.2). Directing may be conducted in a far less hands-on manner than before, as managers direct employees who telecommute. Managers may also be responsible for supervising individuals working for the company half-way across the world, connected only via the virtual world, rather than through face-to-face contact. Finally, in terms of staffing, managers must be able to appreciate a prospective employee's technical expertise, when considering him or her for promotion. Additionally, having a realistic view of the difficulties of an it project helps a manager to set feasible time frames and know when to push and when to hold back in terms of acting as a motivational coach. A manager with a basic understanding of it is more likely to gain the respect of the it staff members and to motivate them to achieve new standards of excellence.

2006 McKinsey and the London School of Economics study on the relationship between management and performance surveyed 700 midsize manufacturing companies in France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom and found there was a clear link between management's adoption of proven best practices in it, lean production methods and flexible work practices and how well a company performs overall ("Upfront: How important are managers," New Zealand Management, 2006). "The command and control manager is a dinosaur. There is no longer a place in our progressive organizations for this manager. Instead, our businesses need managers that can fill the new need for these new roles -- those of coach and mentor" (Buhler, 1998, p.3). Greater flexibility and willingness to change were characteristic of the best managers. Interestingly, the study found that in general, the younger companies were better managed - "possibly because they have more incentive to be innovative" but also because their younger managers were more comfortable with the necessary it functions required to prosper in the modern global business environment ("Upfront: How important are managers," New Zealand Management, 2006).

Good managers exhibit a confluence of human and technical knowledge in their decision-making. Of the qualities listed as most important for managers of tomorrow the Canadian Manager, was not simply understanding technology, but understanding technology's impact upon human relations. More and more in the future, "managers may have to communicate regularly with employees they seldom see, Managers will need to know how to take advantage of the latest in communications technology. In fact, since advancements in technology are affecting all areas of business, managers will have to stay 'in the loop' of technology's progress" (St. Amor, 2008, p.1). Knowing how to motivate employees in an online format requires the critical 'people smarts' always demanded of mangers, but it also demands an understanding of the media's full potential. How can a manger have the necessary visionary capabilities to lead employees, if he or she cannot apprehend the full potential of the technology at his or her fingertips? Without understanding, for example, the ability of a new form of technology to create an efficient inventory tracking system to limit products piling up in factories, unwanted and unsold, as was done at Wal-Mart and Dell, how can a manger truly lead? "As the economy changes, as competition becomes more global, it's no longer company vs. company but supply chain vs. supply chain super successful companies such as Wal-Mart and Dell, major value-added business strategy is their effective use of the supply chain" through deploying a sophisticated understanding of technology and the power of globalization (Brau, 2008, p.1). Wal-Mart's use of inexpensive labor abroad, Dell's unique direct marketing techniques that cut costs to the organization and the consumer, all require the use of new forms of technology.

True, relying upon managerial knowledge of technology alone "is not a replacement for an astute analysis of a situation on a human level,' and "technology can inform us so we can avoid asking people for information, but we lose key elements. We lose not only the human interaction, but also the tacit knowledge a person can give us based on his or her experience and history" (Kaplan-Leierson, 2008, p.1). But rather than eschewing technology and its capabilities, a wise manager knows how to take technology, deploy it to its value-maximizing potential,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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