When Comfortable Tradition Meets Jolting NoveltyThe Interaction Between Modern Information Systems, Platforms, Transmission Media, And Their Understanding Vis-à-vis Current Issues And Management Precepts With A Non-Exclusive Focus On The State Of Malta
The past half a century has seen dramatic improvements in technology and standards of living worldwide. Productivity has increased spectacularly and the major enabling factors – productivity-augmenting technologies – are now available at lower costs and on a broader base than has ever been the case in history. With the twin advents of large-scale international trade (buttressed by new transport technologies and new logistical capabilities and management techniques that have rendered the transport of even the lowest value-added-to-weight-ratio merchandise worthwhile) and wise liberalisation (and the attendant removal of artificial barriers to international trade where trade is truly free on the other end of the table), nowadays any country with the right political-economic framework in place may hitch a hike on the international bandwagon with socio-economic prosperity as its destination. Of course, this does not mean that the things needed to go down this road automatically crop up and work harmoniously. A conscious effort must still be made to bring prosperity about, and to encourage prosperity-augmenting human action, and knowledge and technology, especially when systemised and available almost instantaneously, are certainly very important pieces of the puzzle at hand.
Meanwhile, the world has also been seeing a paradigm shift from the ‘machine-centric’ culture, where man was seen as being the extension of the machine and which necessitated the adaptation and subjugation of man to the machine, to a ‘man-centric’ ethos, wherein the machine has now become independent of man in some cases and an extension of man in others, and where technologies are developed with considerations relating to the human being at their core or not being there at all.
On this showing, a deep musing over this topic is paramount because of three things. Firstly, although Malta is striving to be at the forefront in Information Communications Technologies (ICTs), there seems to be a strong digital divide along somewhat unusual lines, between the technology-base in use in traditionally ICT-rich sectors (e.g. telecoms, i-gaming, software development and finance) and the technology-base being employed in traditionally less ICT-rich sectors (e.g. shipping and logistics, clinics, regulatory agencies and retail service providers). Secondly, some studies exist for big foreign countries that cannot be readily imported into Malta due to the different political, social, economic, technological, legacy-related and geographic differences that exist between these countries and Malta. This study will, in that way, try to identify any existing gaps and bridge them where possible. Thirdly, by focussing more on technologies that are currently available or introducible in Malta and on the characteristics of the Maltese operating environment, physical distances, geographical insularity and the like, it will provide an understanding that is, at the moment, very limited, as to the opportunities and threats that Information Systems (ISs) bring to the table and the potential critical success and failure factors of ISs, while at the same time shedding light on the management precepts that have been necessitated on the one hand, and enabled on the other, by this set of convergent technologies.
ICTs-oriented enterprises have nowadays gone into a new age where information foraging and sharing within the ambit of the organisation no longer takes place on an application-to-application or even machine-to-machine basis. Conventionally, these platform-centric computing platforms and applications have offered benefits that fulfil the functional requirements of a particular organisation, a particular department within an organisation, or even a particular individual within a department. This is no longer the case today, where a new network-centric view of business practice that provides bottom-line benefits seems to be coming to the fore. A networked business environment that can provide reliability, performance, and access to core business processes and information functions is not only an ideal environment for the enterprise of the generation to come but a sine qua non of survival within the corporate world of the not-so-distant future. The fact that this comes at a time when the world seems to be headed towards a global recession is unfortunate inasmuch as the deferral of the requisite investment is concerned, but the state of the economy can be a limiting factor only for a limited (though possibly long) period of time. The boom that has turned into a bust will eventually turn into a boom again and though there are always numerous arguments as to why ‘it is different this time’, this inescapable economic reality seems to be set to stay with us for as long as we embrace the present monetary regime.
Notwithstanding the recession, we are now seeing a massive convergence and migration of services onto digital platforms that are concomitant to the convergence in technologies and that generate and store data for further uses. Since such systems still require a hefty capital outlay and are affordable and economic only to certain categories of businesses, and since in Malta and other small countries with small markets, the majority of business organisations are of the micro or small size, take-up of these platforms is still below advanced countries’ averages, especially in retail sectors targeting local markets.
In this milieu, therefore, this piece of applied scholarly research will endeavour to:
- provide an overview of the operating environment of organisations operating within different political-economic and social spheres with respect to ICTs, and with a special focus on Malta;
- provide a summary of existing ICTs and their interplay in an IS(s) context;
- provide a picture of the evolution, coalescence and consilience of technologies, particularly those that have been or may be easily adopted in Malta;
- provide an epitome of the potential of these converged technologies and systems built around them;
- make readers who occupy (or aspire to occupy) managerial tiers in organisations realise the impetuous potential of this new consilience of technologies and systems and to give these readers ideas about how to enhance their productive potential and better tailor their products and services to maximise earnings from their foreign-market ventures;
- try to understand the implications of the interaction of these environmental variables on the different Maltese sectors at the aggregate level.
The foregoing objectives are addressed through the document structure that follows and which, in the compromise and trade-off between detail and breadth, tips the scale in favour of the latter. This document has also had to assume a vague rudimentary familiarity with databases and ICTs jargon, although references and a list of acronyms are provided to fill the gaps that time constraints for the writing of this document would not allow the author to fill in himself.
Chapter Two, entitled “The Context” pins this study down to one of the contextual settings within which it can thereafter be effectively examined. It goes on to describe – in a shallow fashion so as to avoid digressions – the Maltese society, its relevant history, its economy and its demographics. Some basic statistics are also provided to help understand these facets better. Chapter Three, entitled “The Technology”, subsequently strives to give an overview of networks, database and office productivity solutions, conceptual IS models and the possibilities presented by the convergence of technologies that is currently taking place. It was felt that this section was important because if managers do not know what technical capabilities are at their disposal and how those capabilities can be employed, they cannot be expected to make full utilisation of them. In other instances, it is also sometimes the case that through the same ignorance of technical capabilities and because of the asymmetry of information that exists between technology specialists and themselves, managers and entrepreneurs end up paying big money for a solution, the usable functionalities of which could have been attained with another system at only a fraction of the cost. The threats and opportunities brought about by this tsunami of converging technologies are subsequently perused within the contextual environment identified before. Ethical, legal, security and philosophical issues that usually arise with ISs are thereafter explored in Chapter Four, while Chapter Five sheds light on generic pros and cons to be pondered in the process of deciding whether to invest in deploying or revamping an IS or not. Chapter Six, bearing the title “Information System Issues In Small-Scale Operations”, tries to identify differences between ISs in the context of SMEs and larger organisations, which can be used for the formulation of a generic strategy for Maltese institutions to be able to survive and excel in this fast-moving environment. Chapter Seven, lastly, sums up and concludes this study and identifies areas in which further work may be undertaken.
With the structure of this study thus laid down, it would now be both legitimate and in order to extend an invitation to the reader to go ahead and make use of this piece of scholarly research in the way that makes most sense to the attainment of her/his objectives from reading this text, either following the sequence of the arguments posited in here as they unfold as per the author’s logical structure, or haphazardly, using the Table Of Contents as a guide, depending on how s/he thinks that her/his objectives are best met.
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