SPRU: Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
In this chapter, I shall speculate about the future development of firms' activities in systems integration. 1 I shall do this by exploring the long-term changes in industrial organization that are likely to emerge as a consequence of present trends in technical change. A certain humility is required in such an exercise, given the many failed attempts over the past 20 years to foresee the consequences of what is now called the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution, the nature and implications of which have often turned out differently from what had been expected earlier.
My main assumption is that two long-term and related trends have underpinned the processes and organization of technical change since the industrial revolution. The first—clearly identified by Adam Smith—is the continuous increase in specialization in both the production of artefacts, and in the production of knowledge on which they are based. The second is the appearance of periodic waves of major innovations based on rapid changes in specific technologies. It is in the context of these two trends that the effects on industrial practice and on organization of the latest of the periodic radical changes in technology (ICT) can best be judged.
These technical changes are of course embedded in wider processes of economic, social, and political change, which they both help to create and to which they respond. These processes include the search for profit in a world of competition, increasing wages, changing tastes, urbanization, the progressive destruction of distance, uneven development across regions and countries, and changing methods of corporate governance and regulation. But, as Rosenberg (1974) and others have demonstrated,