"Information technology is the application of computers and telecommunications to the collection, processing, storage, and dissemination of voice, graphics, text, and numerical information "- Stephen Flowers, Success in Information Processing (1988). In 1958, Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler coined the phrase when they described the emergence of a new computer-based information processing technology in a widely-acclaimed Harvard Business Review article, Management in the 1980s. Their work reflected concerns about whether new technology would impact the future of workers and also predicted what business would be like 30 years later.
One of the crucial questions asked by many people was whether those who were employed below senior managers but above white collar workers would be helped or hindered by the use of computers. Some worried that middle management would be replaced by computer-controlled information systems; while others believed that certain aspects of production management would be boosted as workers took on the role of solving technical problems.
In Information Technology and the Nature of Managerial Work: From Productivity Paradox to the Icarus Paradox (1998), Alain Pinsonneault and Suzanne Rivard discuss the work of some important contributors in this field. They cite the research of Robey and Sahay in 1996, who defined IT "as a tool that organizations use to facilitate change and generate opportunities for organizational change." Robey and Sahay believed strongly that IT could be used to "facilitate major strategy and structural shifts and to produce managerial activities that are better aligned with the firm's new strategy."
Pinsonneault and Rivard examine how organizations have invested substantial amounts of money in IT. For example, in 1991 U.S. service sector companies spent over $100 billion on hardware, equating to more than $12,000 per information worker, with up to 40% of American capital spending being used to acquire IT. In 1996 American banks alone spent almost $18 billion, while U.S. and European financial institutions together invested over $75 billion. Pinsonneault and Rivard report that much of this investment was directed at modifying office work and improving productivity. However, they explain that others felt the benefits of IT were disappointing in terms of productivity gains.
Patrick Dawson, Ruth Drinkwater, Nicky Gunson and Martin Atkins, in an article in Labour & Industry (2000) refer to the work of Rosemary Stewart, who directed a research programme consisting of five case studies about the impact of computers on management. Stewart concluded that it was misleading to generalize about the impact because "the nature of the effects varies considerably because of differences in the type of application, in the method of organizing the process of computerization and in the use that management made of the system."
Dawson, Drinkwater, Gunson and Atkins examine the important modern phenomenon of access to a broad range of IT in terms of a ‘virtual office,' whereby employees can seek alternative work arrangements outside of the conventional concept of a physical place of work. The widespread increase in the use of mobile devices has led to the notion of the ‘virtual organization' where the office and factory building become redundant as employees spend periods in ‘virtual space' carrying out their daily activities and work tasks.
According to Stephen D Tansey in Business, Information Technology and Society (2003) IT has had "an enormous impact on modern business and society." This book emphasizes the worldwide impact of new trends and draws upon examples from the United States, Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim. Tansey highlights the differing use of information technology in a variety of organizations, including case studies within manufacturing, services, the public sector and not-for-profit organizations.
Tansey, working as a member of the Information Systems Group of the Business School at Bournemouth University in England, believed that modern information technology is "the result of a convergence between modern digital computing and communication technologies and that the importance of IT is as the core of an ‘information system,' which consists of a series of interactions between people, data, hardware and software, organizations and their social environment." Tansey concludes by examining the future of IT and refers to a vision in which many individuals have access to information technology and an ‘alternative' future, whereby everyone is nominally free to use IT, although few people may have the actual resources and know-how to take full advantage of the opportunities. On a darker note, he considers the most "unhappy possible future" as one where the extensive powers of surveillance and manipulation offered by this technology are used to undermine democracy.