Academic journal article Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration

The Adoption of White Collar Computerization by Canadian Business Firms

Academic journal article Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration

The Adoption of White Collar Computerization by Canadian Business Firms

Article excerpt

Many observers (Ives & Learmouth, 1984; Parsons, 1983; Porter & Millar, 1985) have argued that the effective use of information technology has become a key factor in business competitiveness. In recognition of this, companies have spent enormous sums in recent years to provide direct access to computing power for their white collar employees. For example, it has been estimated that corporations in the United States purchased 57 million personal computers during the 1980s (McCarroll, 1991) and that service companies alone are currently spending more than $100 billion a year to computerize their white collar workers (Roach, 1991). Canadian firms have not distanced themselves from this trend (Blackwell, 1992).

However, despite the massive investments, very little is known about the extent to which white collar computerization has actually been adopted by Canadian business firms, the patterns of adoption across industrial sectors and occupational groups, and the factors that differentiate firms that heavily adopt white collar computerization from those that do not. Since the adoption or nonadoption of this technology may be a crucial determinant of company performance, or even company survival, these are clearly important issues. This paper attempts to address these gaps in our knowledge using data collected from 110 major Canadian firms located in 17 different industrial subsectors.

Before proceeding, however, it is necessary to define more precisely the phenomenon under study, which is the extent to which computing power has been dispersed to white collar employees throughout the organization. This power could be in the form of a terminal connected to a host computer, a stand alone microcomputer, or a microcomputer networked to other micros and/or to a central host. The proportion of white collar employees who have been so equipped is termed the level of white collar computerization, or simply "computerization level," for short.

The term "white collar computerization" (WCC) is used throughout this paper in preference to the more commonly used "end user computing" (EUC), because considerable ambiguity currently surrounds the term EUC (Clark, 1992). Huff and Munro (1987) note that EUC can be delineated broadly or narrowly. Broadly defined, EUC "encompasses all end-user tasks in which a computer is implemented, ranging from simple word processing to setting up and using a sophisticated data base to building individual transaction processing or decision support systems" (Huff & Munro, 1987, pp. 1-2).

However, many observers, especially information systems (IS) specialists, adhere to a much narrower definition that "restricts EUC to only those activities that result in user developed computer applications" (Huff & Munro, 1987, p. 2). This would exclude, for example, a secretary who uses a microcomputer for word processing, an accountant who uses a standard spreadsheet in preparing financial statements, or a sales manager who uses a computer terminal to check the latest sales figures. White collar computerization includes such individuals, and is thus analogous to the broader definition of end user computing.

In developing a picture of this phenomenon, there are at least three important aspects. First, what is the level of white collar computerization in Canadian industry? Second, and more important, what are the patterns of variation in white collar computerization across firms, industries, and occupational groups? And third, what factors account for this variation? This paper will address all three questions.

Theoretical and Empirical Background

There has been virtually no broad-based empirical research into patterns of adoption of white collar computerization in Canada, and very little elsewhere. What empirical evidence does exist is obsolete (e.g., Honeywell Technalysis, 1984). Lacking such evidence, it would be useful to at least have some type of theoretical framework that would predict patterns of adoption, in order to help organize investigation of this topic. …

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