TO LEAPFROG INTO
THE INFORMATION ERA BY CHANGING OUR MACHINE AGE MINDSET
by Prem Kamble
Table of Contents
are proliferating business organisations and entering every walk of our
life. But a closer look will reveal that man is still not at ease with
this device. He is perplexed, foxed, fidgety and sometimes angry when
dealing with this creature.
the computerisation scenario around us may look very euphoric, if we peep
into what is happening in most of the companies trying to automate
processes using computers, it will be evident that deep inside, this
technology is still foreign to us.
not uncommon to have computerised application systems designed and shelved
simply because the people for whom the application was built do not accept
it, or are not too keen to use it. The same people who seem very
enthusiastic when they view the system , seem to have cold feet and seem
disinterested when it comes to putting it to actual use. "This system
just does not meet my requirements. This is just not the way how I wanted
it. You have not understood my requirements." These are familiar
words that most systems professionals have heard from the users
of computerised systems. Most systems look beautiful on the screen, but
fail miserably when implemented.
reasons can be many: the requirements were not given properly or
understood properly, no serious thoughts were given by the end user to
identify his exact information requirements, the user wants the system to
be modified to meet his new requirements and the IT personnel want more
time to modify the system…. Whatever be the reasons, the gap between the
IT personnel and the end user, or the computer technology and the end user
is very evident.
of the problems of acceptance of computerisation stem from the fact that
the technology changes fast but man takes generations to change.
Human psyche and habbits do not change so easily and psychological
evolution is real slow.]
aren’t computers having a smooth entry into the minds and lives of human
beings? Why this confusion ? Why is it that
there is still a problem of acceptance of computers?
situation is not so only in developing countries, it is so even in
developed countries as the problem relates to the human species as a
whole. It is a problem of the evolution of human psychology.
found two very basic problems in man’s perception of computers. Man has
made two fundamental mistakes while understanding computers due to which,
however hard he tries to be at ease with them, he finds himself jittery
first problem has to do with his very mental make up which has been shaped
and groomed in the machine age and is unable to fit or adjust itself in an
age of computers. His very concepts of machines which have been developed
and formed in the machine age, fail miserably when applied to computers.
second one deals with his understanding of computers itself. Man has made
three basic mistakes in his understanding of computers. There is a very
subtle difference in the way he should look at computers. When he realises
this distinction, there will be a marked difference in his comprehension
of computers, and his understanding of computers will be much more clear.
is this subtle difference that man has to see? How should a machine age
man now look at computers and how should he change his outlook in order to
see computers in the right perspective? We shall try to find answers to
these questions in the following paragraphs.
Let us look at some historical and psychological reasons for this state of
THE BACKGROUND AND THE LEGACY
long time, man was accustomed to doing things manually both at home and at
work. With the onslaught of machines came the Industrial Revolution. The
industry changed and these changes brought with them their own cultural
shocks. The turmoil of Industrial Revolution cannot be forgotten.
Machines changed the work culture, changed everybody's jobs, increased the
scale of operations and created need for organisational restructure and
took considerable time to get used to the industrial culture and to the
idea of work being performed by machines several times faster than man
could do. As centuries passed by, machines and mechanical thinking started
seeping into man’s mind-set. Slowly, man got used to the industrial and
machine culture. He knew how to deal with machines. Man went
through the pains and emerged victorious. It took generations for man but
finally he created an industrial culture. A new era dawned over mankind
and man had mastered the change.
was evolving from the xxx to the industrial psychology, and to the
automation culture of speed, machines too were evolving. Initially there
were mainly mechanical machines. Then came electrical machines and finally
the electronic ones.
came computers. As the industrial culture was deeply ingrained into his
mental makeup (or mind-set), he thought that the computer was just another
machine. Armed with his centuries old knowledge and the experience of
handling the the change brought about by introduction of machines, he went
about adopting the same old approach to tackle the introduction of
computers. He thought it was just another electronic machine.
man soon started to see some differences in the two machines. Whereas a
machine always did the same task, this electronic machine seemed capable
of doing almost anything. Somewhere it was maintaining a/c, somewhere
preparing salaries and somwhere else controlling the factory. He had seen
one machine perform one type of task. E.g. car did the motor task. Whereas
in case of this new electronic machine, one machine could perform various
machines looking exactly alike were actually doing completely different
was something bewildering too about the computers. While the machine did
simple mechanical tasks which were clearly understood. Most case they were
simple motor tasks. You could see something happening, and some moving
part delivering the final output. The delivery process was relatively
obvious as there were moving parts. Whereas in computers there were no
moving parts. Something happened inside and it delivered wonders.
new machine created by man was certainly very versatile, he thought. Since
man was emmensely satisfied with machines, such a versatile machine
obviously should cross all boundaries of human satisfaction.
rose. Machines did simple mechanical tasks but did so much better than
humans. So expectations on computers to exceed humans capab.
has seen computers do so many different thing that he expects them to
satisfy any and all his fancies.
show clearly in offices when people expect to do wonders. The user has
seen so many computers do almost anything so he expects the computer to
satisfy his requirements immediately, to give result immediately, to do
anything and to change instantly the way they change their methods. He
changes his needs and expects instant response to his changed
he may change his requirements on the fly and expects the software to be
changed immediately to suit his revised requirements.]
reality was unfortunately different. To his utter disbelief, he found
nothing happening although the computers were in place. ("Its been
ages since we bought computers but things have not really changed").
He was surprised that his requirements were not been immediately taken
care of by computers. When he asked for a change in the computerised
procedure, he was surprised that it could not be done so quickly.
"What is the use of the computer then", was his reaction.
everything in the office was being done manually, the manager was so used
to changing methods by simply instructing his clerk to do it in a
different way. Since habbits die hard, the
manager did not changed his habits and suddenly told the programmer to
change the method of calculation and would expect things to change
immediately, just as he used to tell his clerk in the manual system. When
the IT department could not
react so quickly to his changed need as his faithful clerk used to in the
manual set-up, he found it unacceptable.
initial awe and respect for computers soon turned into bewilderment and
the surprise, awe and bewilderment turned into utter confusion and
disillusonment. This was different from what he had experienced in the
industrial age. The frustration is evident in offices. When computers do
not give exaclty what you need, when computer people do not understand,
they seem to you to be totally incompetent to deliver, cannot change the
system immediately when you change your ways, ask too many awkward
questions. The computer people seem to expect too much from you.
say, "Why do you expect so much from us when machines never demanded
so much. A telephone equipment never expects so much from me. An aircraft
gives me so much benefit but does not expect anything from me. I don't
change to use the aircraft whereas the IT persons want me to change and
learn to use the computer." We shall see later the biggest falacy in
the statement, "An aircraft does not expect anything from me."
we did not realise was that it was not just the introduction of one more
new electronic machine, but a dawn of a new era altogether, a change from
the industrial era to the information era. We did not realise that just as
Industrial era required a new culture, new thinking and new approach,
Information era also demands that we give up old ideas and methods and
adopt new ones to deal with computers and computerisation.
changes very fast but it takes generations for man to change his basic
outlook. The main problem of acceptance of computers today is historical,
psychological and cultural. We haven’t changed our outlook from the
machine age to the age of computers. We have now got so much used to the
machines of the industrial age that we look at computers too as just
may ask, "What is wrong if we look at a computer as an electronic
machine?" There lies the biggest problem. The basic mistake we make
is that we look at computer too as a machine of the machine age, and
expect it to work in similar ways. We expect similar results as we
expected from the machine. And we interface with it (or handle it) just
like any other machine.
the disillusionment, confusion etc. is a result of following
misconceptions about computers. The following three statements, I am sure
will add to the confusion, but trust me, with a little patience, it will
is not really a superior machine. In fact if you compare it with the
machines of industrial age, it is far far inferior.
is not the machine. The real "machine" is the software running
inside. Computer is only the fuel running the machine.
add further to the confusion, software is also not really a machine. It is
not the machine of the industrial age that we know. There is a world of
further complicate issues, we not only look at the computer as another
machine, but we think it is a superior machine.]
THE THREE BASIC MISCONCEPTIONS
make some very basic mistakes when we look at the computer as a machine:
the computer is not the machine which does our job. The real 'machine'
which gives us the desired results is the software, or the application
program developed for our specific needs. Computer is merely the fuel
which runs the "software machine".
even as we correct our perception and start looking at the software as the
machine, we would still be erring. There is a world of difference between
the 'software machine' and the machines of the machine age that we are so
used to. One of the major mistakes we make is that we look at it the same
way as our mind is tuned to look at other machines.
not only do we look at it as a machine, we think that the computer is far
versatile and superior as compared to other machines. We cannot be more
wrong as exactly the converse is true. The fact is that in their
respective roles, and in terms of the human functions that they attempt to
automate, the machines are far superior to the computers.
look at each of these misconceptions.
3.1 Machine Outperforms Humans, Computer Fails Miserably
misconception is that the computer is a far superior and versatile
machine. We think that the computer is very versatile and far superior
when compared to other machines of the machine age. Since we are immensely
satisfied with the machines, we expect bigger miracles and more
satisfaction from computers. This is where lies our biggest folly. With
such high expectations, naturally there is more frustration. Actually, the
computer is far inferior when compared to a machine. This may sound
incredible, but we shall soon see how this is true. The fact is that
the other machines are far superior to man and computers far inferior to
man when it comes to the respective functions of man that they substitute.
Whereas the machine is clearly superior to man with respect to the
physical functions that it automates, the computer falls far short of man
and his brain in the mental functions which it attempts to simulate.
normal machine of the machine age attempts to automate operations which
man would have to do by physical labour. Machines serve our physical needs
- they reduce our physical strain. Machines automate physical functions of
man. A car does something which your legs would be doing otherwise. A
lathe does the work of your hands.
machine does the physical task several times faster and better than humans
can do it. It is much faster, untiring and far more accurate than man. The
machines have a clear edge over humans and we are immensely satisfied by
the results. There is a clear benefit.
other hand, a computer attempts to automate the mental functions of man.
Computer attempts to reduce your mental and intellectual work. The
computer attempts to automate the function of man's brain, but it falls
miserably short of the human brain. Although the Computer does the
calculations more accurately and much faster than the humans, it fails
miserably when it comes to other mental processes like decision making or
logical thinking. The computer just cannot do the mental activity.
there is a change in the working procedure, all you have to do is to tell
your clerk and the change is affected. A human brain can quickly
comprehend the changes and change the methods. The human being quickly
adopts to the changed environment. Whereas if the activity is on the
computer, it cannot be changed very fast. The
Software machine needs to be changed, then it has to be thoroughly
tested. The entire process is quite tedious and slow.
are some simple facts that we have not come to terms with. We still see it
as the same machine and expect it to give similar benefits that machines
gave. The computer can post and print a thousand ledger entries in no time
which a man would take days - but where a human being could detect a
common sense error, the computer fails miserably. This is simply
intolerable to us. We have not yet realised the difference between
Industrial Revolution and Information Revolution.
is the Real 'Machine', Not Computer Equipment.
main source of confusion about computers is our misconception that the
computer does the wonders that we normally see as computer outputs. It is
not the computer which is primarily responsible for the miracles that you
see from the computers, but the program running in it.
computer output depends on the software program which you run on it. When
you run an astrology program on the computer, it tells your fortune, when
you run payroll, it prints your pay-slip and when you run an accounts
program , it maintains your accounts. What gives you the desired result
(output) is the program or software which is running on the computer. The
real machine therefore is the software and not the computer.
is only the fuel that runs the software machine. Just as the fuel in the
car gives the piston the strokes one after another, the computer only
kicks off the execution of each instruction of a program one after
another. Just as what happens after the fuel ignition in an engine -
whether it moves a motor, a railway engine, or drives a generator -
depends on the rest of the machinery, what happens after the kicking off
of the instruction depends on each statement individually and the program
(software) as a whole. Moreover, whether a machine is running on
electricity, diesel or petrol makes little difference to its user, say the
car driver or the passenger. Similarly, running the same program on one
computer instead of another gives you exactly the same result, may be a
little faster or slower.
we see the same computer perform different tasks, the computer has wrongly
attained an image of being very versatile. We think it is a machine which
can perform multiple tasks. What is versatile is not the computer but the
software. Very often we expect results the moment the computer arrives.
(Rephrase remaining part of this para) But today in most cases, the
software does not come ready made with the computer. It has to be either
developed or tuned to your requirements, tested and implemented. But we do
not know that the real “machine” or the software may still not be
are used to seeing one machine perform one task, as in a
car which performs the motor task. Since we wrongly look at the
computer as the machine performing our task, we get bewildered to see the
same machine performing so many tasks. Somewhere it is keeping accounts,
somewhere else paying your employees the salary, somewhere replacing your
astrologer to give you your forecast, somewhere designing a machine,
somewhere else controlling a factory, and so on. This leaves the common
man awe-struck, and really confused. This gives rise to his unrealistic
expectation from the computer. He feels the computer can do anything.
such an image of the computer in our minds, we start expecting results
instantly. We expect computers to perform miracles at the keystroke. We
expect the computers to react and perform instantaneously. But when it
does not, we get frustrated. We mistake it to be flexible also and expect
it to adopt to our ways, whereas we do not want to change.
such an image of the computer in our minds, we start expecting results
instantly. We expect computers to perform miracles at the keystroke. We
expect the computers to react and perform instantaneously. But when it
does not, we get frustrated. We mistake it to be flexible also and expect
it to adopt to our ways, whereas we do not want to change.
confusion will be removed if we see that it is one software performing one
job just like a machine. Just as the same fuel somewhere drives a car,
somewhere a train or ship and somewhere else it drives a turbine to
generate electricity, the same computer can run different programs to give
amount of confusion about computers and computerisation will be removed
once we start looking at the software as the 'machine' instead of the
computer. Most of our problems will be solved once we realise that the
"machine" we have to get used to is the software program and not
the computer equipment..
Software is Not Really a "Machine"
is more reason to add to the confusion. We said that the computer was not
the machine but software was the real “machine”. The software which we
have so far called the "machine" is not really a machine, at
least not the same machine of the industrial era that we are so used to.
It is a different concept altogether.
are so used to the machine age that we expect computers to behave exactly
like any other machines. Man has over the centuries got used to the
machine of Industrial age. This is the reason why children adopt to
computers much more easily than elders - because their minds are not
trained to think 'mechanically' (or in terms of mechanical sequence of
movements or actions). In case of elders, the mechanisation culture has
seeped into their very mind-set which they need to unlearn. Software
machine is different from the Industrial age machine. Therefore, we need
to look at software not just as any other machine but in its right
look at the differences between the industrial-age machine and software
will help us to correct our perception.
are three fundamental differences between the machine-age machine and
Whereas in the case of a machine, the machine is visible and the fuel is
hidden, in case of computer, the machine (software) is not visible, and
the fuel (computer) is visible.
Whereas the normal machine automates the Physical activities of man,
Software machine automates the mental processes. While the physical
activity is similar in all human beings, Mental processes are not uniform.
Unlike the industrial age machine, software “machine” is easily
alterable and flexible.
you can see the machine, whereas the fuel acts behind the scene and is not
visible. You can actually see the machine perform, you can see the
physical movements, and thereby easily understand its operation,
limitation, etc. In case of the computer, you can see
the "fuel" (computer) but not the machine. In any case you
cannot see any physical operation of the machine. It all happens behind
the scene and you only see the result - how it happens remains a suspense
to all but a few. Hence the entire operation is very bewildering,
confusing and mystifying.
case of computers, as the 'machine' (software) is invisible but only the
'fuel' (computer) is visible, we think that the computer is the real
Software Machine Automates Mental Process which is not Uniform
that the machines serve your physical needs - they reduce your physical
strain. Machines automate physical process, computers automate the mental
does something which your legs would be doing otherwise. A lathe does the
work of your hands. The computer attempts to automate the function of
physical process is the same for all human beings, their mental processes
vary from man to man. While
physically we all do things in the same way, mentally we work in different
ways. For instance, a car has the same basic human need to satisfy, that
of moving from one place to another. In the absence of the car or any
other transport machine, everyone would be doing it the same way - by
walking across. The computer is used for various diverse tasks, and for
each task, there are umpteen different ways that different people would do
it manually. So whereas the same machine can serve all humans equally
effectively, the software machine has problems satisfying all. To automate
the mental processes, you need a machine which is flexible to accommodate
different mental styles and mental make-up.
take a crude example. Imagine that different people had different body
structures and different ways to move - some walked, some hopped, some
flew and some walked on hands. Imagine what would be the plight of the car
manufacturer. He would have to provide flexibility in the product to
provide for the different styles and body structures of individuals.
People would have to tailor the car to their requirements or amend their
ways - maybe change sitting positions, use body parts in a different way -
to make the maximum use of the car. Cars would have to be tailor-made and
no standardisation would be possible. In spite of that people who could
fly naturally would say that the car was of no use - it does not help them
with all their tasks.
because there is a standard way there is no problem. Not so for the
computer. The manual functions it automates are not performed in the same
standard way by all.
standardisation of procedures is now becoming a reality, one of the major
hurdles to computerisation is the differences in everyone's ways of
4.3 Software Machine is Easily Alterable: Flexibility
that the computer is used for various diverse tasks, and for each task,
there are several different ways one could be doing it manually.
Therefore, to satisfy the varying requirements, the fundamental
prerequisite of the software machine is that it should be flexible. The
software machine needs to be very easily modifiable to satisfy varying
human mental processes.
software machine indeed gives you the flexibility and modifiability to
enable you to change its specifications so as to tailor to a particular
requirement. Its behaviour can be easily changed.
behaviour of the machine depends on its every character of instruction. A
change in one character, word or full-stop can change the program
completely. Hence it is so easy to change the specifications and there are
so many variations. This is very unlike other machines where the
specifications depend on hard physical objects like plugs, carburettor,
steel pipes, etc. which cannot be altered or modified so easily.
this flexibility comes at a heavy cost. The cost we pay is that there are
no standard methods and procedures and no standard software.
PROBLEMS DUE TO MODIFIABILITY AND
that the main hurdles to the acceptance of computers were the three basic
misconceptions in our outlook towards computers. We also saw how the
software machine is different from the other machines. Moreover, we saw
that to automate the mental process we need a flexible machine like the
computer has to satisfy varying mental processes, it cannot be as rigid as
the machines. The prerequisite is that it should be flexible, versatile
and modifiable. To satisfy varying needs and mental styles, man has been
able to make an equally flexible device which is the software machine.
this flexibility has been the major cause of low acceptability of
computers. Flexibility of the software machine has given birth to some
major problems and complexities which are characteristics of the software
machine only and are unheard of in case of other machines. We get
frustrated with computers because we have never seen such problems in
other machines of industrial era.
discuss each of these problems.
working Program can Go Haywire by Small Modification
(machine is conistent, software is not)
flexibility or modifiability of the software machine has actually become a
machine cannot be changed so easily as the specifications depend on hard
physical objects like plugs, carburettor, steel pipes, etc. which cannot
be altered or modified so easily. So we are used to seeing a machine
perform the same task consistently for ages. Machine may stop working, but
when it works, it is consistent. But in software machine, it can be
changed so easily by changing just one character in the program. So it can
suddenly start misbehaving. A program which is working perfectly today may
stop working or start giving undesired results tomorrow with a small
change in the program.
the versatility and flexibility of the software machine, it has lost
consistency as it can be changed easily.
similar thing happening in a car. Imagine a car made of components whose
shape can be easily changed. The characteristics and the behaviour of the
cars would easily change with the change in shape of its components. You
may suddenly find your car going left when you turned your steering right
or hitting somewhere when you did nothing wrong. Each day you will see
your car behaving differently, probably because someone changed the shape
of one component without your knowledge. You will be frustrated,
particularly having seen your friend's car working perfectly. Sounds
ridiculous! But that is exactly what is possible in the software machine.
A program which was working to your satisfaction can easily get disturbed
by a small change in the program. This
is more common in companies having their own developed software than those
who use packaged software.
when man sees other person's computer performing but not his, he gets
frustrated. Also the behaviour of the software keeps changing (because
there are so many parameters and each one alterable so easily). So when he
finds a computerised system behaving differently, he gets frustrated. He
only sees it as the computer machine performing, what he does not see
beyond that is that it is a different software machine sitting inside.
leads not only to frustration but also mistrust.
following is a very common situation in most offices: All is working fine
and the computerised system is running fine. Suddenly on a fine morning,
there is a big goof up by the computerised system. Everyone starts cursing
the computer department. Such a situation may arise on two accounts.
There was a minor change in requirements and the amendments carried
out to improve the system created a bug in the system leading to the
mishap. Another possible reason for this situation could be that the
software team thought of an enhanced version, but the new version had a
Lack of Discipline
the software is so easily alterable, the user of this tool needs to
exercise strict discipline not to alter it unscrupulously. In our analogy
of the modifiable car, a person who is more disciplined in his use of the
car and does not make frequent arbitrary changes will find his car serving
him well. A disciplined user of such a car will not only minimise changes
on the fly, but will also test the car well every time he makes a change
to ensure that the change has been done correctly, and that the car is
behaving as desired. Another person not doing so will wonder what was
wrong with his car and curse his car, when actually the fault did not lie
with the car but with him, with his habit of frequent modifications.
Innumerable machines, No Standardisation
outcome of flexibility and modifiability is that there are innumerable
variations of the same software machine. There must be so many different
types of software to keep a company's accounts. Whereas in case of
machines, there are a few brands, e.g. brands of cars, etc. There is
standardisation. As there are fewer variations, we know their behaviour
case of other machines (say a car), all machines are mainly alike , at
most there are a few standard brands (or variations). But each of them
performs exactly as per its specifications.
case of the software machine, there are thousands, almost millions of
machines. In Financial Accounting software itself there must be thousands
of variations world-wide. Each Financial Accounting software package made
on this earth is a different machine.
Lack of Trained Personnel ("mechanics")
there are few variations in the car, there are more trained people who are
trained as car mechanics. The mechanics have full knowledge of the
machine. Now car mechanics have only a few brands to learn. In our analogy
of a modifiable car, you would not have trained mechanics to look into any
car. There would be no car experts. Every mechanic would first have to
learn the car insides before he would diagnose because he would be only
having the general principles and no knowledge of the specific car he is
case of software machines, there are no standard machines and hence less
trained personnel on these machines. The software personnel have the basic
skill but if they were to diagnose a program, they have to first
understand it and then diagnose it. In case of software machine, there is
only one fully trained person, the person who developed the machine
(software). He too tends to forget the details over passage of time unless
he has fully documented it. To make matters worse, there are various
programming languages using which software is developed and not all
software developers know all languages.
to the problem appears to be the standardisation of procedures. When all
offices will have the same way of keeping accounts, same formats, same
rules, there will be standard few software packages, tested and proven.
Betters skills would be available because people would have to learn the
Lack of Familiarity and Adaptability
is the most critical problem caused by easy modifiability and lack of
standard software. We shall therefore discuss it at length.
the computer, where the same computer appears to perform several diverse
tasks, the same machine of the industrial age always performs the same
task. As a result, we know the behaviour of the machine very well.
Moreover, machines have changed very little over the years - at least what
they expect of human beings has changed marginally. As a result, man has
learnt (although the hard way) what are his responsibilities and what is
expected of him while using a machine. He knows under which situation it
is useful and under which it is not. He knows what to expect from the
machine and what he needs to do to get the best out of a machine.
is an illustrative diagram to show how man has changed his
lifestyle, thinking, behaviour, expectations and attitude to suit the
machine. The figure shows two parts which have to fit together. In fig 1a,
because of the odd shape of the two parts, they are unable to fit
together. The part on the left represents the machine of machine era and
part on the right represents man. In the three figures 1a to 1c, you will
notice that the part on the left remains almost the same in shape. The
part on the right in each figure has slowly changed to match the part on
the left so that in fig 1c, the two parts match together. Whereas machine
remained the same over the years, man has changed slowly to coexist with
the machine. At least the user interface of the machine has changed very
little over the years, whereas man has changed his style to fill the gaps
and developed a compatible interface with the machine.
fact man has got so used to the machine that he does not even realise how
he has adapted to it, how he has changed his habits and lifestyle to take
advantage of the machine.
case of computers, there is no standard machine and the user interface has
also changed over the years (from centralised batch processing to
distributed end user computing). As a result man has not so far been able
to develop a suitable interface (Fig. 2).
figure 2, the part on the left in the three figures (which represents the
machine of the information age (computer)) keeps changing constantly and
hence the two parts do not match.
case of computers, because of modifiability of software, the same software
behaves differently from time to time. So man can't easily get used to or
familiar with its behaviour. He finds it difficult to get used to the
software machine because there is no standard machine. As there is no
standard machine, there can be no standard protocol. Each one has to
design his own interface the hard way and therefore takes more time to
utilise his machine.
there is no standard 'software machine', there is no standard man machine
interface. Man has not got familiar or has not adapted to this machine.
this diagram has not been able to convey enough, we will soon take an
analogy of an aeroplane and a car from the machine era, which will make it
once discussing this issue with a friend. I said that we fail to use
computers effectively because we are quite ignorant about computers. We do
not have enough computer awareness. His immediately response was,
"Why do I need to know about computers in order to use it.? You are
asking for too much from the users. When I travel by aeroplane, I do not
know how it works. I do not know its internals or its aerodynamic
principles but I can still make full use of the aeroplane to the best of
my advantage. I may not know how my car works. But that does not stop me
from getting the most out of my car. Then why do I need to know about
computers to effectively use it. Why is
the computer so demanding?"
argument sounds very logical and justified on the face of it. But there is
argument that we do not know anything about aeroplane or motor car is not
really true. We know far more about them than we know about computers. The
funny thing is that we are not even aware of what we know about aeroplanes
and cars and what we do not know about computers.
may not know anything about the internals of a car or an aeroplane, but we
certainly are very clear of what is expected of us to use them
effectively. We at least know that the aeroplane cannot be used unless
there is a long airstrip and a big open space to take off. We know that
however far is the aerodrome, we have to take a taxi and go to the airport
to avail of the services of the aircraft.
know that the aircraft benefits us provided we take the pains to get up
early, labour our way to the remote airport, go through the inconvenience
of security checks, etc. We know what is our responsibility, we know that
the aircraft is not going to pick us up from our residence, that we have
to slog our way to the far off airport, we have to check in, etc.
know that a car can pick us up from our house and take us to the airport,
but it cannot take us from Bombay to Delhi in two hours. We know that a
car cannot be used effectively unless we build good roads.
have learnt to benefit from their merits and live with their shortcomings.
We are not aware of the pains we take in order to take advantage.
so used to the machines now that we immediately know that if we have to go
to a distant city, we must use a plane; if we want to go shopping in town,
we must take the car. If one doesn't own a car, he should look for the
right bus route, should walk up to the bus stop, should stand at the right
bus stop and wait till the bus comes however great be his urgency. Or he
should walk up till the taxi stand if he can afford it. If we have to
deliver a message to a friend a few blocks away, we would rather walk up
to the friend than use the car. We are now so used to these machines that
we know immediately when to use which machine. We take these decisions
subconsciously in split seconds.
you call that knowing a lot about cars and aircrafts? Yes. Because in case
of computers we do not even have this basic awareness.
case of computers we do not even know our responsibility. If we were to
draw an analogy with computers, what we do is expect the aircraft to reach
us to our office a few kilometres away, or sometimes want the scooter to
reach us to far away towns. What is worse, we are not ready to even go to
the airport and expect the aeroplane to come to our house and pick us up.
If it doesn't, we curse the "aircraft". This leads to
frustration. We don't realise that the "aircraft" is not
designed for such services. If we expect the service of a car from an
aeroplane, then something is wrong with our expectation. This exactly is
the scenario with computers.
does not know that he has to change his methods and practices to
effectively use the computer. In other words,
man has not been able to design the right interface to computers. He has
not been able to evolve the right protocol to use a computer. He does not
know what are his obligations.
possible to design a software and write a book on how to use the software.
But no software developer designs the manual interface or writes a about
it. It is not possible because it differs from organisation to
organisation. So each organisation has to design its own manual interface
and reinvent the wheel.
not uncommon to see computerised systems made which look excellent on the
screen, perform all functions but fail miserably on implementation. Most
often the reason is that the manual system interfacing with the
computerised system was not designed or suitably amended. Same old methods
were used on the computerised system, and the same discipline continued as
was there in manual system.
at the pains we have taken to use technology of the industrial age. We
built roads to use cars, air-strip and airports for aircrafts, long rail
lines for railways, etc. We built tall transmission towers and insulated
wiring to use electricity. Electricity can be very useful, but at the same
time it can also kill. When this technology was introduced I am sure there
must have been a great deal of resistance to use it. But now we do not
complain. We make the safety provisions
and use it. There are mishaps when lives are lost. We no more blame the
technology for such mishaps. But for software implementation we do
nothing. We do not want to do anything nor do we want to change our ways
to use the technology of information age. We do not know our
responsibility. We only blame the technology if it does not yield results.
have got a new tool but our methods are the same old ones. I will take a
real life example to illustrate this. The case is of a very simple
application like payroll, which most companies start their computerisation
business unit of a company I once worked with was in oil exploration
business. It had rig sites at remote locations where only mode of
communication was wireless and radio telex.
salary was prepared by the accounts clerk manually. He used to get data
related to attendance and other employee details from sites directly on
wireless. Most often, the attendance came piecemeal one by one from sites.
Sometimes, having sent the data, the sites would send in
amendments quite late. Sometimes they never sent the data or the
data sent was incomplete or unclear, and the accounts clerk used to call
up the sites on wireless to get data or clarifications.
manual system, this did not create major problems as, in the worst case,
salaries of a few employees were held up due to non receipt of data, or
lack of clarity. Most of employees got their salaries on time.
joined them, the system had just been computerised. Now accounts clerk
gave the data to the computer operator (who incidentally was in IT
department. Distributed end user computing was the buzz word then, so the
computer had been shifted to the user department, but so had been the
computer operator! ). In the new set up, the same old practices continued:
data used to come piecemeal, there were last moment corrections by sites,
some data was not available (particularly for the new recruits) for which
the accounts clerk called up the sites on wireless.
Salary processing essentially being a batch process, used to be run
and re-run several times due to last minute changes. In a manual system it
was easy to correct individual cases where corrections came in, whereas in
the computerised system, all salaries had to be processed together. So
even if one employee's data was not available, everybody's salary was
stuck. Even if one employee's particulars were changed, the salary had to
be reprocesses. As a result, all employees started getting salaries late.
There was a big hue and cry. There were complaints from sites that they
were not getting their salaries on time. Very senior people spent time
meeting and trying to analyse the cause for the delays. All that only
resulted in the cut off date for attendance getting advanced to 20th of
the month! Still complaints from sites did not stop.
knew who was to blame - the sites, the accounts department or IT
department. Naturally as most often happens, in such a situation, the
blame fell on IT and their computerised system. Everything was fine before
the computerised system, so naturally the system was the culprit.
could easily see that this was a case of old methods being used with new
tools. I will cut a long story short and describe here how the methods,
procedures, responsibilities and discipline were
changed to adopt to the new system:
department was made responsible for providing and ensuring the accuracy of
all attendance data and employee additions/changes. They would give a
department was instructed to give the monthly data by a cut-off date. It
was made clear to them and all site employees that any changes in data
coming after the cut-off date will be incorporated in the next month.
Accounts department was made responsible for providing and ensuring
the accuracy of all financial data like loans and advances/recoveries.
as a part of the IT department took full responsibility of the accuracy of
computer programs - that given the correct inputs, the programs would
process the payroll correctly.
effect was that salary preparation which was earlier taking more than 10
days was now taking 3 days, with scope for further improvement. No longer
did the accounts clerk have to make last minute calls on the wireless, no
longer did sites insist on last minute changes. This is a simple example
where the system was made successful not by changing the system, but by
changing the manual interface.
example which we discussed in the previous section, it will be interesting
to analyse what the users of Information Technology gave in order to get
the benefits which they got from successful computerisation. What they
gave was their willingness to change their expectations and their
thinking. They were ready to postpone the effect of last minute changes to
next month. They changed their behaviour and style of working. They were
willing to own responsibility and be accountable. They changed their
attitude to work - no longer was there a casual way of giving data. They
realised that giving accurate and timely data was most important.
from these, this technology demands something more from the user for
effective use. Apart from changes in behaviour, attitudes, expectations,
thinking, etc., there are certain responsibilities to be shouldered when
the computerised application software is developed, customised and
computerised system, you would need to think in advance what you want,
give details specifications so that there are minimum changes after
programming or customisation. In a manual operation, you would start and
keep instructing your clerks to change methods wherever you notice a flaw.
They themselves are also capable of making improvements in their own
testing is difficult and modification is easy, one small change in the
program renders the product untested and needs re-testing because it is
not very easy to see what will be the effect of the change on the rest of
the program. By avoiding changes after programming you would avoid risk of
malfunctioning caused by tampering a tested program.
would need to give a detailed set of instructions, called program,
absolutely error free in all respects. The instructions should have
correct syntax and should have the right order so as to give the desired
output until the last dot.
the system is in use, you need to give the data together and timely, as we
saw in our example of payroll system. You need to change the working
environment and the style. You need to reallocate duties. Whereas
initially the emphasis was on the accuracy of posting, calculating, now
the emphasis has to be on the accuracy of coding, timeliness of input data
and daily checking the accuracy based on some control checks. Whereas
manually you kept on posting and left the checking work to the end of the
year, here you need to check the accuracy daily to ensure no work at
demand that you change your working style, your thinking. In short, you
need to change your 'Industrial culture' to 'Information culture'.
this asking for too much? Common perception is that computer technology
asks for too much from its users. But do we realise that even other
technology which we have put to effective use asks for too much and we
have given it - for instance, airstrips for aircraft, roads for cars, rail
lines for railway, tall transmission towers and fail-safe insulation for
electricity, etc. It is only when we do so much that this technology helps
us, not otherwise.
problem of acceptance of computers is evolutionary. Man will evolve out of
it. The evolution can be faster, the faster we correct our outlook.
need to look at computers in the right perspective. We have to give up old
methods and approach of dealing with machines and adopt new ones. We must
recognise computer as an entity different from a machine, and devise
altogether new and fresh methods of dealing with its introduction in our
lives. In other words we have to evolve an entirely new approach towards
computers, probably by first unlearning what we learnt in the industrial
encounters with computers will be far less frustrating if we appreciate
is the machine and not the computer.
expect the same result as a normal machine. Keep in mind that the software
is not the same kind of machine that we know of and are so familiar with.
Do not expect it to be similar to other machines. Expectation leads to
that computer and software are far inferior to humans, whereas the
machines outperform the
humans in the physical activity. Once we are clear of this fact, we will
stop expecting the moon.
that man has changed his life style to take maximum advantage of the
machines. He has got adjusted or adopted. Ask yourself what do I need to
do to make the maximum of the Computer technology.
important of all, acknowledge that humanity and the world is in a state of
flux. It is in the process of change and a change is always unsettling.
Soon standards will emerge or evolve and water will settle. The world is
going through the turmoil of change from Industrial age to Information
age. The Industrial revolution had its own upheavals, doubts, problems. We
are now going through the same phase of scepticism, criticism, doubts with
respect to the Information Age. Soon we will know what to give in order to
get the most of computers. Soon we will stop complaining about giving what
we have to give as the benefits of what you get will be obvious - as clear
as the benefits of electricity.