Mainframe and PC Computing in American Cities: Myths and Realities

By Norris, Donald F.; Kraemer, Kenneth L. | Public Administration Review, November-December 1996 | Go to article overview

Mainframe and PC Computing in American Cities: Myths and Realities


Norris, Donald F., Kraemer, Kenneth L., Public Administration Review


How much can PCs aid city management? This article is based on a 1993 survey that compares computing in cities that use only personal computers (PCs) with computing in cities that use central computer systems. The authors found that claims that PCs would speed up automation of governmental functions were not substantiated. Central system cities were more widely automated, had more widespread use among staff and were more likely to deploy leading-edge computer technologies than PC-only cities. Moreover, respondents in central cities were positive about computer impacts and satisfied with computing. PC-only cities had an edge over central-system cities in that they reported fewer problems with computers, but the test of statistical significance showed only a weak relationship. The authors argue that PC-only cities' reliance on ad hoc solutions, out-sourcing, or "computergurus, " results in a failure to develop ongoing support capabilities. In contrast, central-system cities have developed and enhanced these capabilities over time, thereby providing greater support for the computing function and a more stab1e technology platform.

Both elected officials and professional managers in local governments believe in the value of computers, especially personal computers (PCs), to their own work and the work of government. Various academic studies have demonstrated this belief over the years (e.g., Dutton and Kraemer, 1979; Perry and Kraemer, 1980; and Norris, 1989 and 1992). Yet, policy makers are continually confronted with claims about computing that they find difficult to assess and that occasionally defy rationality. For example, within recent memory it has been claimed that privatization or outsourcing would take the computing problem off the hands of local officials at less cost and that geographic information systems would enable officials to make Solomon-like judgments about such important matters as land-use planning (e.g., Richter, 1991; Loh and Venkatraman, 1992; Public Technology Inc., 1991). More recent claims are that client-server computing is the new low-cost way to governmental automation (Gagliardi, 1994) and that desktop computers are the means to increase employee productivity and to empower workers to deliver better services to citizens (Greisemer, 1983 and 1984).

One of the most persistent claims, which has at least a decade of history, is that the PC can effectively replace larger central computer systems in local governments (i.e., mainframes and minicomputers). For example, it is frequently asserted that, unlike mainframe computing, the introduction of PCs is an easy, low-cost solution to automation in government. It is believed that by adopting PCs, latecomers to computing can leap-frog the brain-dead mainframe and minicomputer technologies and still gain all the benefits of these earlier, cumbersome technologies--and then some. All that is needed is basic investment in the technology and the empowerment of workers to use the technology in their jobs. The need for Management Information Systems (MIS) departments will be only to help make the transition and to train users in the new technology (see, for example, Greisemer, 1983 and 1984; and Voss and Eikemeier, 1984).

PCs may be all that small local governments or even some small units within larger governments need to conduct their business. However, it is extremely unlikely that even the most powerful and sophisticated PCs on the market today can solve all of the automation needs of local government. Indeed, recent studies of the lifecycle cost of PCs, actual experience with PCs, and recent reports on PC-based client-server computing call several of these assertions into question. For example, while the initial cost of PC-based client-server computing has been shown to be lower than mainframe or minicomputer alternatives by 20 to 30 percent, the five-year costs of PCs were found to be two to three times as great per employee (Nolan, Norton, and Company, 1992; Miller, 1993; Ambrosio, 1993; and "Client/Server," 1994). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Mainframe and PC Computing in American Cities: Myths and Realities
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.