Computer Literacy and Human Resource Management: A Public/Private Sector Comparison

By Elliott, Robert H.; Tevavichulada, Siriwal | Public Personnel Management, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Computer Literacy and Human Resource Management: A Public/Private Sector Comparison


Elliott, Robert H., Tevavichulada, Siriwal, Public Personnel Management


It is difficult to pick up any professional publication in the field of Human Resource Management (HRM) today without noticing the number of web pages available on-line for the use of personnel professionals, or without seeing advertisements by private companies touting the latest advances in software developments for a Human Resource Information System (HRIS). Computer technology has been available now for several decades, and HRM offices in the public and private sectors have increasingly made use of the new technology.

There is also considerable literature available on the basic differences and similarities between management and administration in the public and private sectors or our economy.1 Although authors may disagree about the significance of many of the differences between the two sectors, not many disagree that substantial differences exist. Few studies have focused on the differences between the two sectors in the use of general informational technology,2 and none have focused specifically on differences between the two sectors in the use of HRIS and the Internet.

This manuscript examines the extent to which HRM professionals in both the public and private sectors are using HRIS systems to carry on basic and advanced personnel processes, and the extent to which they are employing the Internet as an information resource to help them solve HRM problems. Using results from a national questionnaire sampling human resource professionals in both sectors, this study seeks to bring some data to bare on the types of software applications taking place, the integration of HRM activities and computer software, rates of satisfaction with the use of computer software in HRM applications, rates of computer and Internet training across both sectors, and the use of the Internet as an information resource in HRM decision-making and problem solving.

Data were obtained from a questionnaire mailed to human resource professionals in public and private sector organizations during the summer months of 1996. The response rate for the public sector group was 54% (n=77), and for the private sector group was 29% (n=77). There was a total response rate of 38% with 154 usable questionnaires. For a more detailed breakdown of the sample please see appendix A.

Editor's Note: See "Why There Are Five Million Types of Statistics," (Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 1999) for a statistical significance overview.

Survey Results

Types of Software Applications

According to Mayer and De Luca,3 "Finding the appropriate software and applications is the most important part of the system. A computer that runs faster with a great deal of storage space and high-resolution graphics capability is useless without software that fits the organization's needs." According to Table 1 there is widespread acknowledgment among organizations in both sectors on the most needed software applications. Windows programs for word processing, creating databases, and creating spreadsheets are the three most commonly used programs. In contrast, both sectors in our sample are less likely to use statistics applications (more so in private organizations). A chi- square test was employed in order to test for significant differences in mean scores of each particular category of software between the two sectors. The results of the comparisons reveal that most software applications used in both sectors are not significantly different except statistics and utility programs (chisq value p= 14.535; p-value 0.001 for statistics programs and chisq value 8.472; p-value = 0.004 for utility programs). The lack of differences for most programs can be explained because such applications are ubiquitous and are widely used for the same HRM purposes.4

Table 1. Software and Applications

 Government  Business  Total

 (N=77) (N=77) (N=154)

Word Processing 100% (77) 99% (76) 99% (153)

Spreadsheet 95% (73) 100% (77) 97% (150)

Windows 94% (72) 99% (76) 96% (148)

DOS 91% (70) 84% (65) 88% (135)

Database 90% (69) 81% (62) 85% (131)

Graphics 81% (63) 77% (59) 79% (122)

Utility Programs 78% (60) 56% (43) 67% (103)

Telecommunications 77% (59) 65% (50) 71% (109)

Statistics 41% (41) 23% (18) 38% (59)

Integration of HRM Activities and Computer Software

Now that we have established that there are a wide variety of software applications being used to perform numerous activities by the organizations in our sample, let us turn to the HRM function. …

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