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Definition of Information Technology

According to NDCC 54.59.01 Information Technology means the use of hardware, software, services, and supporting infrastructure to manage and deliver information using voice, data, and video.

To further define information technology and what should be included as far as the IT budget, the following information is provided:

Information Technology includes:

  • all computers with a human interface
  • all computer peripherals which will not operate unless connected to a computer or network
  • all voice, video and data networks and the equipment, staff and purchased services necessary to operate them
  • all salary and benefits for staff whose job descriptions specifically includes technology functions, i.e. network services, applications development, systems administration
  • all technology services provided by vendors or contractors
  • operating costs associated with providing information technology
  • all costs associated with developing, purchasing, licensing or maintaining software

Agencies may wish to include other costs at their discretion. For example, an agency may wish to include digital cameras in their IT budget even though they can be operated stand alone. Data entry personnel may be included if they are considered part of the technology staff. Costs that are excluded above may be included if they are an integral part of a computer applications or would be difficult to break out because the costs are included with other information technology costs.

Examples of Information Technology:

  • Telephone and radio equipment and switches used for voice communications.
  • Traditional computer applications that include data storage and programs to input, process, and output the data.
  • Software and support for office automation systems such as word processing and spreadsheets, as well as the computer to run them.
  • Users' PCs and software.
  • Data networks and all associated communications equipment such as servers, bridges, routers, hubs and wiring.
  • Peripherals directly connected to computer information systems used to collect or transmit audio, video or graphic information, such as scanners and digitizers.
  • Voice response systems that interact with a computer database or application.
  • Video conferencing equipment.
  • The state radio communications network.
  • Computers and network systems used by teachers, trainers, and students for educational purposes
  • "Open" computer systems that monitor or automate mechanical or chemical processes and also store information used by computer applications for analysis and decision-making, such as the Metasys building management system.
  • All operating costs, equipment and staff time associated with supporting the technology infrastructure of the agency, possibly including items excluded above, such as video equipment used for technology training that is included in the information systems cost center for the agency.

Examples of items excluded from the definition:

  • "Closed" computer systems that monitor or automate mechanical or chemical processes, such as the fire alarm system in the capitol building.
  • Audio-visual equipment which can be operated as a standalone piece of equipment, such as televisions, tape recorders, VCRs, video cameras, and overhead projectors. Stand-alone video editing equipment is excluded.
  • Copy machines and fax machines.
  • Licenses or subscriptions to electronic information provided to users in lieu of books or magazines.
  • Salaries of staff who use technology but are not directly involved in developing, implementing or supporting technology as documented on their PIQ. Data entry staff, staff who digitize drawings, staff who do desktop publishing are excluded. "Power users" who use advanced features of spreadsheets or word processing software are excluded.
  • Data entry services

Table 1 Using Data and Information



In brief, data and information may be:

  • "Captured" – extracted from the environment (e.g. by sensors such as digital cameras or devices for detecting specific chemicals), or
  • Input – deliberately introduced into the system by human agents (e.g. through keyboards, pointing or drawing devices, or microphones);
  • Stored – held in some recording medium – which may be fairly permanent (e.g. CDs) , or much more volatile (e.g. memory held in RAM on a computer chip) -- from which it may be retrieved;
  • Transmitted – communicated over a distance to a point where it can be received by other users or devices – which requires communications media (such as cables or the radio spectrum) and peripheral devices (such as radio receivers and modems);
  • Processed - transformed (especially by means of mathematical or logical operations performed on data represented in digital form - in the case of contemporary computing devices, performed by means of instructions encoded in software);
  • Output – in the form of informational outputs as in the case of printed text on paper, audio output, or more particularly
  • Presented in Visual displays – where the symbolic output is presented as a variable image on a screen or projection of some sort;
  • Used for actuation – where the output controls some device in order to effect physical or chemical operations (e.g. a robot arm, an automated power generation system).


Tables 2-4 From Ancient to Modern Information Technologies

Table 2 Preindustrial Era

Traditional "Information Technologies"

(up to early Industrial Revolution)


While the notion of a programme was elaborated in the early C19th in the context of Babbage and Lovelace’s work on mechanical computers, in practice all operations were carried out by human beings following specific routines (e.g. with early calculating machines)


Data stored in the form of signs crafted into materials by human expertise – even when this is aided by machinery such as printing presses allowing for large scale reproduction (i.e. multiple retrievals) of stored material.


Stored signs (e.g. written texts) transported by physical means, or else signals conveyed over distances through auditory or visual signals by human skills.

Visual Displays

Nothing equivalent to modern displays; physical media may be used as temporary repositories for impermanent signals crafted by humans (e.g. blackboards).


Input devices are determined by the specific technology; range from pens to drumsticks.

Output devices

Output devices are also determined by the specific technology, representing the original information in analogue form as encoded by the human operator, and ranging from parchments to rows of abacus beads.


Nothing equivalent to modern actuators, though mechanical valves and switches to regulate, e.g. the flow of water, have a long history.


Nothing equivalent to modern software, though detailed lists of instructions for human craft workers again have a long history.


A wide variety of systems accomplishing specific purposes with specific underpinning technologies developed more out of practical experience than from codified scientific knowledge. Use often restricted to those with skills that were highly specialised in their era (e.g. reading and writing).

Supplementary Technology

Clockwork used in some early automata and calculating machines, but in general the main power sources are human effort.

Table 3 Early Industrial Eras

Information Technologies in the Electrophysical Era

(mainly first half of twentieth century, but some major advances on earlier systems developments in the later nineteenth century are necessarily mentioned, and there is similarly some blurring of the end date.)


Programmable mechanical computers envisaged by Babbage but not created (Analytical Engine); valve-based computers of huge size and low power (by present standards) created toward the end of this era.


Analogue storage of data, by physical and chemical means, and then increasingly by electrical and electronic means (e.g. the shift from vinyl recordings to magnetic ones on audiotapes).


Development of telecommunications and broadcasting technologies, involving metal cables and radio spectrum, with rapid increases in geographical reach of systems.

Visual Displays

Motion pictures utilising projectors used mainly for entertainment purposes; cathode ray tubes developed for display of television signals and for specialised industrial and military applications (e.g. radar) – but early computer output in form of printed paper (teletype).


Wide range of specialised analogue data capture devices introduced – microphones, cameras, temperature and pressure sensors, etc. Complex data captured in highly device-specific form, and limited scope to apply more generally; some very simple on-off signals in the form of electric currents could be produced by sensors.

Output devices

Much use of paper media for photographs, texts, etc; other specialised outputs such as loudspeakers for radio and recording systems, TV and cinema screens, etc.


Electronic technology, coupled with more sophisticated mechanical engineering, allows for more complex control of devices, but this is not governed by substantial information processing.


Some industrial era "software" developed to control specialised equipment such as knitting machines; first practical computer software developed at end of this period, and initially required manual setting of switches.


Many specialised systems, but active information processing systems only emerge at the end of the period, remain extremely rare, large, and cumbersome, and are applied to highly specialised purposes (e.g. military cryptography).

Supplementary Technology

Electricity grids established and provide the relatively large amounts of power required by most of the electrical and electronic devices described here (though some battery-operated valve-based electronic devices like radios).


Table 4 Late Industrial Era

Information Technologies in the Microelectronic Era

(second half of twentieth century, especially last quarter of century, and beyond.)


Rapid progress in microprocessor systems based on semiconductor technology in Integrated Circuits, allowing for large-scale manipulation of data in digital form.


Storage media of numerous forms developed for digital data: semiconductor memory devices, magnetic media (digital tapes, floppy and hard discs), optical media (CDs, DVDs, etc), and many others.


Optical fibres allow for transmission of larger volumes of data; cellular systems allow for more efficient use of radio spectrum, as does the broadcasting of material in digital form; satellite communications allow for increased global reach and access to remote areas. Data communications grows more rapidly than conventional voice communications, and with the development of the Internet a world-wide computer system is effectively established.

Visual Displays

Cathode ray tubes remained dominant in twentieth century, but were increasingly complemented by a variety of flat screen technologies for lightweight portable devices (and specialised products like watches, calculators, etc.). Projector s for large-scale presentation of digital material.


Keyboards used for a vast range of devices (some specialised devices require specific input systems – e.g. flight simulators, video games consoles); "mouse" and other pointing devices also popular in personal computers and some remote control devices; growing use of voice input. Many sensors used in specialised industrial, medical, environmental and other applications.

Output devices

Wide range of printers introduced, though little challenge to paper as the recipient medium; audio output used as signalling system in computers.


Many specialised actuators in industrial and medical applications. Some consumer appliances (e.g. automobiles) host numerous actuators (e.g. for motor and braking control).


Extensive development of programs – e.g. operating systems software, languages for writing applications, generic and industry-specific applications software, etc. Software engineering is an established discipline, with elaborate systems, tools, and libraries of components for software development. Still much software production remains craft-like in practice "Dataware", - informational content presented in interactive digital formats (e.g. CD-ROM encyclopaedia) – also becomes a major activity. Like other digital information products, while production costs may be high, reproduction costs are minimal.


Successively mainframe, minicomputers, desktop and laptop (and other portable) computers develop and gain increasingly huge markets. Embedded computers (and associated inputs and displays) incorporated into a wide range of devices. "Convergence" of devices like computers and telephones, computers and televisions.

Supplementary Technology

Semiconductor devices have relatively low electricity requirements, and battery technology for portable devices is improved, but more demanding devices continue to push limits of power availability. Electricity grid still major source of power. Standardsbecome critical as need for interoperability grows.



Table 5 Generations in new IT

Successive Information Technologies in the Microelectronic Era

· precise chronology will vary from element to element, and according to how far a technology’s development and diffusion needs to proceed before inclusion. But a rough dating would be:

· 1st Generation: c1950; 2nd Generation c1960; 3rd generation: c1970; 4th generation: c1985; 5th generation: c1995


  • First Generation: vacuum tube valves
  • 2nd Generation: stand-alone transistors: 32k memory; 200 thousand instructions per second
  • 3rd generation: Integrated Circuits
  • 4th generation: VLSI
  • 5th generation: ultra- large-scale integration, RISC (reduced instruction set) systems
  • and beyond…: new chip architectures e.g. parallel processing, eventually perhaps biochips, optical chips. 3-D chips.


  • First Generation: Magnetic drums
  • 2nd Generation: magnetic core memories
  • 3rd generation: semiconductor RAM, magnetic disks
  • 4th generation: bubble memories
  • 5th generation: optical discs (CDROM, DVD)
  • and beyond…: vastly powerful memory systems of all sizes.

Transmission and Telecommun-ications

  • First Generation: traditional telephone
  • 2nd Generation: digital transmission; pulse code modulation
  • 3rd generation: introduction of satellite communications; microwave systems; networking; optical fibres; packet switching; telex
  • 4th generation: ISDN (Integrated Services Digital network); packet switching data communications; some development of videotex and similar telematics systems, take-off of fax (business use)
  • 5th generation: ATM, Intelligent Networks; take-off of Internet e-mail and World Wide Web; cellular mobile voice and data communications
  • and beyond…: Internet telephony, take-off of video communications

Visual Displays

  • First Generation: basic cathode ray tube (CRT) displays
  • 2nd Generation: colour TV
  • 3rd generation: flat screens for small devices, enhanced Visual Display Units
  • 4th generation: flat screens for portable devices, large CRT displays
  • 5th generation: large flat screens, video projectors, widescreen and enhanced TV
  • and beyond…: virtual reality displays, both portable and large-scale


  • First Generation: manual setting, punch cards
  • 2nd Generation: punch cards
  • 3rd generation: keyboard entry, command line prompting, scanners and plotters
  • 4th generation: mouse and other pointing devices, "windows"-type interfaces, digital cameras and microphones
  • 5th generation: some natural language input
  • and beyond…: more sophisticated visual and speech inputs

Output devices

  • First Generation: teletype
  • 2nd Generation: large typewriter-like and matrix printers, plotters
  • 3rd generation: small dot matrix printers
  • 4th generation: laser printers, inkjet printers, speakers
  • 5th generation: colour laser printers, hi-fidelity loudspeakers
  • and beyond…


  • First Generation: simple physical and electromechanical switches and valves
  • 2nd Generation: electronic switches, power chips
  • 3rd generation: basic computer controlled machine tools, robotics
  • 4th generation: advanced manufacturing technology, machine tools, robotics
  • 5th generation: chematronics, mechatronics
  • and beyond…: nanotechnology devices of many sorts and at various size levels


  • First Generation: machine code, autocode.
  • 2nd Generation: high level languages
  • 3rd generation: very high level languages; structured programming methods
  • 4th generation: fourth generation languages (4GLs); widespread use of packaged programs for huge range of applications; object-oriented languages
  • 5th generation: visual programming, Internet delivery of programs
  • and beyond: widespread use of expert systems, neural net systems, and other sorts of "intelligence" within programs and to produce new software.


  • First Generation: computers large beast with perhaps with 2kilobyte memory, and very low processing speeds.
  • 2nd Generation: mainframes still dominant
  • 3rd generation: timesharing systems widely used by large organisations; minicomputers; memories of 2 megabytes, processing speeds of 5 mips (million instructions per second)
  • 4th generation: microcomputers, Personal Computers; distributed systems with Local Area Networks (LANs); 8 meg memory, 30 mips processing speed
  • 5th generation processing speeds of giga and tera instructions per second; increasing
  • and beyond: High levels of systems integration, access to information networks by numerous devices in practically any location. Vastly powerful chips embedded in numerous communicating devices.

Supplementary Technology

  • First Generation: mains electricity
  • 2nd Generation: materials science applied to semiconductors
  • 3rd generation: space technology important for communications satellite launch; issue of standards posed as devices required to intercommunicate and share data,
  • 4th generation: small rechargeable batteries for portable devices, optical fibres for telecommunication infrastructures
  • 5th generation: lightweight, long life rechargeable batteries, low-energy chips and energy conserving software
  • and beyond: application of biosciences and nanotechnology?


IT: the great opportunity


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Replies to This Discussion

What's enterprise resource planning


By Irfan iqbal ghaziani

ERP provides a backbone for enterprise. It allows a company to standardize its information systems. Depending on the applications, ERP can handle a range of tasks from keeping track of manufacturing levels to balancing the books in accounting. The result is an organization that has streamlined the data flow between different parts of a business. In essence, ERP systems get the right information to the right people at the right time.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is defined as a software architecture that facilitates the flow of information between all functions within a company such as manufacturing, logistics, finance and human resources.

It is an enterprise-wide information system solution. An enterprise-wide database, operating on a common platform, interacts with an integrated set of applications, consolidating all business operations in a single computing environment. Ideally, the goal of an ERP system is to be able to have information entered into the computer system once and only once.

For example, a sales representative enters an order for widgets into the company's ERP system. When the factory begins assembling the order, shipping can check on the progress to date and estimate the expected transport date. The warehouse can check to see if the order can be filled from inventory and can then notify production of the number of widgets still needed. Once the order gets shipped, the information goes directly into the sales report for upper management.

What does ERP really do? ERP provides a backbone for enterprise. It allows a company to standardize its information systems. Depending on the applications, ERP can handle a range of tasks from keeping track of manufacturing levels to balancing the books in accounting. The result is an organization that has streamlined the data flow between different parts of a business. In essence, ERP systems get the right information to the right people at the right time.

How can ERP improve a company's business performance? ERP automates the tasks involved in performing a business process - such as order fulfilment, which involves taking an order from a customer, shipping it and billing for it. With ERP, when a customer service representative takes an order from a customer, he or she has all the information necessary to complete the order (the customer's credit rating and order history, the company's inventory levels and the shipping dock's trucking schedule).

Everyone else in the company sees the same computer screen and has access to the single database that holds the customer's new order. When one department finishes with the order it is automatically routed via the ERP system to the next department. To find out where the order is at any point, one need only log into the ERP system and track it down. With luck, the order process moves like a bolt of lightning through the organization, and customers get their orders faster and with fewer orders than before, ERP can apply that same magic to the other major business processes, such as employee benefits or financial reporting.

With ERP, the customer service representatives are no longer just typists entering someone's name into a computer and hitting the return key. The ERP screen makes them business people. It flickers with the customer's credit rating from the finance department and the product inventory levels from the warehouse. Will the customer pay on time? Will we be able to ship the order on time?

These are decisions that customer service representatives have never had to make before and which affect the customer and every other department in the company. But it's not just the customer service representatives who have to wake up. People in the warehouse who used to keep inventory in their heads or on scraps of paper now need to put that information online. If they don't, customer service will see low inventory levels on their screens and tell customers that their requested item is not in stock. Accountability, responsibility and communication have never been tested like this before.

How long will an ERP project take? Companies that install ERP do not have an easy time of it. Don't be fooled when ERP vendors tell you about a three or six month average implementation time. Those short (that's right, six months is short) implementations all have a catch of one kind or another: the company was small, or the implementation was limited to a small area of the company, or the company only used the financial pieces of the ERP system (in which case the ERP system is nothing more than a very expensive accounting system). To do ERP right, the ways you do business will need to change and the ways people do their jobs will need to change too. And that kind of change doesn't come without pain. Unless, of course, your ways of doing business are working extremely well (orders all shipped on time, productivity higher than all your competitors, customers completely satisfied), in which case there is no reason to even consider ERP.

The important thing is not to focus on how long it will take - real transformational ERP efforts usually run between one to three years, on average - but rather to understand why you need it and how you will use it to improve your business.

What will ERP fix in my business? There are three major reasons why companies undertake ERP:

1. To integrate financial data - As the CEO tries to understand the company's overall performance, he or she may find many different versions of the truth. Finance has its own set of revenue numbers, sales has another version, and the different business units may each have their own versions of how much they contributed to revenues. ERP creates a single version of the truth that cannot be questioned because everyone is using the same system.

2. To standardize manufacturing processes - Manufacturing companies, especially those with an appetite for mergers and acquisitions, often find that multiple business units across the company make the same widget using different methods and computer systems. Standardizing those processes and using a single, integrated computer system can save time, increase productivity and reduce headcount.

3. To standardize HR information - Especially in companies with multiple business units, HR may not have a unified, simple method for tracking employee time and communicating with them about benefits and services. ERP can fix that.

In the race to fix these problems, companies often lose sight of the fact that ERP packages are nothing more than generic representations of the ways a typical company does business. While most packages are exhaustively comprehensive, each industry has its quirks that make it unique. Most ERP systems were designed to be used by discreet manufacturing companies (who make physical things that can be counted), which immediately left all the process manufacturers (oil, chemical and utility companies that measure their products by flow rather than individual units) out in the cold. Each of these industries has struggled with the different ERP vendors to modify core ERP programmes to their needs.

Will ERP fit the ways I do business? It's critical for companies to figure out if their ways of doing business will fit within a standard ERP package before the cheques are signed and the implementation begins. The most common reason that companies walk away from multimillion dollar ERP projects is that they discover that the software does not support one of their important business processes. At that point there are two things they can do: They can change the business process to accommodate the software, which will mean deep changes in long-established ways of doing business (that often provide competitive advantage) and shake up important people's roles and responsibilities (something that few companies have the stomach for). Or they can modify the software to fit the process, which will slow down the project, introduce dangerous bugs into the system and make upgrading the software to the ERP vendor's next release excruciatingly difficult, because the customizations will need to be torn apart and rewritten to fit with the new version.

Needless to say, the move to ERP is a project of breathtaking scope, and the price tags on the front end are enough to make the most placid CFO a little twitchy. In addition to budgeting for software costs, financial executives should plan to write cheques to cover consulting, process rework, integration testing and a long laundry list of other expenses before the benefits of ERP start to manifest themselves. Underestimate the price of teaching users their new job processes can lead to a rude shock down the lines, so can failure to consider data warehouse integration requirements and the cost of extra software to duplicate the old report formats. A few oversights in the budgeting and planning stage can send ERP costs spiralling out of control faster than oversights in planning almost any other information system undertaking.

What does RP cost? The cost of an ERP system is extremely variable, depending on factors such as the size of the company, the number of users, the number of modules purchased, whether first year support is included. There are also costs associated with upgrading hardware to support the system, consulting costs for implementation and training costs for users. Initial software costs are anywhere between $4,000 and $20,000 per user. Thus a company with approximately thirty users can expect to pay about $300,000 for a basic ERP system. Consulting and training costs are estimated at a 2 to 1 ratio with software costs [9]. Hence, the same company will have a minimum of $600,000 in consulting and training costs. Bear in mind that thirty users is a very small company, a larger company must expect to spend several million dollars on their ERP system before it goes live.

Due to the nature of ERP systems, implementation is almost always accompanied by business process reengineering. "The largest part of our (ERP) project cost, up to 70 per cent to 80 per cent, is doing the business process reengineering itself," says Bjorn Andersen, director of strategic business applications at IBM Corp.

However, there are several opportunity costs that must be considered when evaluating the true costs of an ERP system. Returns on investment may not be immediately apparent, but the costs associated with continued use of legacy systems are also very high. Legacy systems must be adjusted to keep up with software and hardware developments. However, the implementation of ERP systems usually requires the elimination of legacy systems. At the University of Waterloo, every VMS, PL1, MARK IV system will be eliminated within the next three to five years. All of these factors must be considered when estimating true costs of an ERP system.

When will I get pay back from ERP - and how much will it be? Don't expect to revolutionize your business with ERP. It is a navel gazing exercise that focuses on optimizing the way things are done internally rather than with customers, suppliers or partners. Yet the navel 'gazing has a pretty good payback if you're willing to wait for it - a Meta group study of 63 companies found that it took eight months after the new system was in (31 months total) to see any benefits. But the median annual savings from the new ERP system was $1.6 million per year.

Who are the vendors of the ERP? There are several vendors who have entered the ERP market with complete enterprise solutions. Some have tried to focus on a niche market by offering more industry specific applications. However, five companies dominate the ERP market:

SAP - SAP AG is the market leader in ERP software systems. A Germany-based company, SAP has been selling manufacturing software for 25 years. The company remained fairly unknown before it introduced its R/3 product in 1993 - the first enterprise resource planning software suite to hit the market. This new technological development put SAP in the number one spot in terms of ERP; other vendors have been playing catchup ever since. Even with zero growth at SAP, it would take any competitor a couple of years of triple-digit growth to overtake this German powerhouse.

Some companies that have successfully implemented SAP R/3 include Colgate Palmolive Co. and Nortel.

Oracle - Oracle Corporation grew out of being a database company. It introduced its first application modules approximately three years ago. With original software roots in financial applications, Oracle now has more than 35 modules covering every facet of enterprise computing, from manufacturing and production control to human resources and sales force automation. Recently, Oracle has focused more attention on its applications business as a growth engine and seems to be reaching aggressively into the territory targeted by middle-market accounting players. General Electric is one of the companies standardizing its business units on Oracle's applications.

J D Edwards www. - founded in 1977, J.D. Edwards is headquartered in Denver. OneWorld is the company's version of its ERP application suite. They distribute, implement, and support their products worldwide through a network of direct offices and over 190 third-party business partners. The company's products are available in 18 languages, and are supported around the globe through a worldwide network of support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

PeopleSoft - PeopleSoft is one of the newer players in the ERP market. Barely ten years old, this Pleasanton, California-based company has experienced annual growth rates during the past five years exceeding 100 per cent. One of their biggest advantages was being first to offer human resources and payroll applications for client/server model systems. PeopleSoft then expanded into the financial software arena, and in the fall of 1996, PeopleSoft offered its first integrated ERP system.

PeopleSoft's nine industry specific ERP definitions cover most possible industries. "We have every one of our target markets into one of those nine definitions," says Albert Duffield, PeopleSoft's senior vice-president of operations. The nine units are: service industries; financial services; communications; transportation and utilities; health care; public sector; higher education; retail; and manufacturing.

A particular strength of PeopleSoft is its focus on people. They are known as being one of the easiest companies to do business with and their products are among the best for ease of use. Some PeopleSoft customers include the University of Waterloo and the United States Treasury Department.

Baan Co. - Baan Co. has two corporate headquarters, one in the Netherlands and one in Menlo Park, California. While there have not been any grand pronouncements from either site, Baan's actions over the past three years are a clear indication of a desire to be the dominant force in worldwide enterprise resource market. Baan entered the North American market in 1994 with its Baan IV ERP suite and promptly sold major companies like Boeing on its ability to support complex, multi-national manufacturing operations. In 1995, it expanded further, establishing sales and distribution centres in over 40 countries.

What is the future of ERP? Today, the big trend among manufacturing companies is the "expansion of their ERP systems by integrating with supply-chain and front office software". These companies are subsequently linking their enterprise resource planning systems directly to the diverse applications of their suppliers and customers. By mixing existing enterprise systems with custom or best-of-breed software, manufacturers are expecting to add functionality and provide companies with an important competitive edge.

ERP vendors have thus changed their focus from internal processes to applications that can extend past the boundaries of the enterprise. SAP led this change of focus by releasing business application programming interfaces (BAPIs).

These facilitated third-party vendor applications linking with R/3. Vendors are also certifying third-party products on their respective application packages. By creating alliances with the top two or three best-of-breed (the best software for a company-specific function) players in a niche market, ERP vendors give their customers any number of choices. However, some vendors, such as Baan and PeopleSoft, are acquiring companies in a particular market. Recently, Baan bought Aurum Software, Inc., a maker of customer service and sales force automation software, while PeopleSoft acquired Red Pepper Software to enhance its supply chain offering.

Looking ahead through 2004, AMR Research anticipates compound annual growth of 32 per cent for ERP software suites and related revenue by $50 million annually in just five years.- Pakistan Accountant

IT & Accountants' Education


By Mujahid Eshai

Tradition-bound accountancy profession is under threat. The threat, in an IT environment, comes from non-accountants, whether business graduates with IT skills or IT experts. These competitors are now the preferred employees of the accountancy firms worldwide. In the SAFA region too as business, finance, trade and even governments move forward to adopt IT as a mode of conducting their business, the professional accountant is only able to hold his/her own provided he/she exhibits necessary knowledge and skill in IT.

"Information Technology is pervasive in the world of business. Competence with this technology is imperative for the Professional Accountant." These are the opening lines of the preface to IEG-11, the International Education Guideline on "IT and Accounting Curriculum" issued by IFAC, emphasizing very succinctly the need of the time.

A report entitled "Entry, Education, Training, Post Qualification and CPE" prepared by a SAFA Task Force, reads thus: "The Accounting profession (in South Asia) has not yet realized the importance of its power in the new millennium and we have been very complacent in our attitude towards IT. This will be very harmful to the profession particularly if we do not reorientate our thinking and actions."

The first quote was an advice, the second reality. And reality bites!

We are living in rapidly and constantly changing times. Change is around us, about us, within and without us. There is today a need to rethink and update the traditional and time- tested approaches in favour of newer techniques and methodologies to help understand and meet the challenges posed by the increased use of information technology in all facets of our lives and learning.

Education plays a key role in bringing about change. A change which has to ensure a departure from rote learning to the concept of learning to learn. A change which has to incorporate the extensive knowledge and impact of Information Technology on our lives, learning, relationships, environment, health, medicine, business, trade and every other aspect of life for the purpose of bringing about a sorely needed improvement in the living standards of nearly 25 per cent of the world population inhabiting the area referred to as SAARC.

Those who understand the need for education must therefore be geared to adapt themselves to the new challenges, techniques and emerging opportunities for advancement in life. In so far as the developing countries of the world are concerned, it should be clear that the road to development lies through education alone. It is time that a much greater percentage of the respective SAARC country budgets are devoted to educating the people in partnership with the private sector. The use of Information Technology in furthering the cause of education and literacy is clear.

Tradition-bound Accountancy Profession is under threat. The threat, in an IT environment, comes from non-accountants, whether business graduates with IT skills or IT experts. These competitors are now the preferred employees of the accountancy firms worldwide. In the SAFA region too as Business, Finance, Trade and even Governments move forward to adopt IT as a mode of conducting their business, the professional accountant is only able to hold his/her own provided he/she exhibits necessary knowledge, expertise and skill in IT.

The profession of accountancy is no longer bookkeeping or auditing or filling out of tax returns. The first and the last activity are now being performed by IT professionals and any one with business knowledge, whilst auditing has changed in character from good old ticking, casting and vouching to Computer systems audit, security audit, risk assurance and on line audit. The management consultancy assignments, systems and procedures development, financial analysis and advice are today incomplete without an in-depth knowledge and skill of IT and requisite expertise in use of the tools available to work in the new environment.

Globalization and in its wake the expanding business and capital markets, e-commerce, internet and various other developments have caused a complete change in the hitherto traditional markets enjoyed by the Professional Accountants. The traditional money earning activities are no longer valid; particularly when we are informed that nearly 60 per cent of the Gross Revenue earned by the big five in the USA is being earned from IT-related work.

Professor Boritz in an update paper on IEG - 11 states: "Whereas business entities in IT domain live by slogans such as 'only the paranoid survive' many accounting academics and practitioners do not seem to have grasped the importance of IT's transformational power in our society and the role of professionals in that transformation, especially information - oriented professionals such as accountants. Decades of complacency in connection with IT have left some of our professional bodies, practitioners and students unprepared to cope with IT as users or business advisers. The end result of this will be a reduced role and reduced influence in society compared to what it has been and what it might be."

Having outlined very briefly the changed environment, the questions that need to be answered are:

i) What steps have the Regulatory bodies of the Accountancy Profession in the SAFA region, taken to meet the challenge?
ii) What are the causes of this slow changeover or inaction?
iii) What should be done on a regional and individual country level to overcome the situation?
The SAFA region comprises eight member bodies. The importance given by them to IT in their respective syllabuses, notwithstanding any recent developments, is reflected in that:

  • Only one of the five Chartered Accountant bodies in the region introduces the students to IT at the foundation stage. Three teach the subject at one of the professional stages.
  • The three Cost and Management Accounting bodies touch upon various aspects of the subject at different study levels.
  • Nearly all member bodies require basic knowledge of IT and usage skills in spread sheet and word processing.
  • None of the Institutes has declared IT as a core subject and given it the same status as Accounting, Auditing or Taxation.
  • Nearly all member bodies have set up IT Committees tasked with the objective of redefining the IT syllabus and examinations in accordance with IEG-11.

Barring one or two members the general emphasis, at the moment, appears to be establishing the Accountant as a user of IT, the minimum prescribed by LEG-11. This position may be based more on the expediencies of a practising firm rather than much else.

The IEG-11 defines three other roles, namely, designer, manager and evaluator. And it is one of these roles that one would expect the Professional Accountant to adopt in order to retain its market as a business consultant. However, a mere reproduction of IEG-11 in the syllabuses will not solve the problems as the ground realities that face us in the SAFA region, generally, demand a different approach. These realities in my opinion are:

  • The General Education System does not offer students a formal introduction to the subject of IT, therefore the onus on member bodies to ensure basic IT education.
  • The majority of the student body does not either have access to computers or afford to go to IT schools because of relatively high cost.
  • The faculty required to impart IT knowledge with reference to accountancy subjects is in short supply, if not scarce.
  • Academics with Accountancy and IT knowledge and expertise, to carry out essential research and work in adopting the integrated approach, are virtually non-existent.
  • The traditional conceptual and strategic approach in imparting accountancy education has to change in favour of a technical approach, a must, keeping in view the market requirements and expectations of a Professional Accountant.
  • With the position as stated for the majority of the student intake, the changeover challenge for the member bodies and their respective IT Committees in the SAFA region is daunting. So what should be done?

In the words of Professor Boritz: "Member bodies must adopt an appropriate vision for the future and take leadership roles in their areas, assess the current state of affairs, help develop a plan to address the problems and obstacles in implementing LEG - 11 and a monitoring programme to encourage progress."

The members bodies should request and prevail upon their respective governments to:

1. Take up the issue of introducing the subject as a mandatory requirement at the school and college levels.
2. Providing higher budget allocations for the purpose of setting up computer laboratories and creating awareness, knowledge and usage skills in IT. This may take some time given the overall financial constraints of most governments in the region.
3. Ensure that suitable level of expertise in the subject is made mandatory for promotion in the civil service and more particularly for all officers in the Audit and Accounts service.
4. Grant exemptions from import and other levies on the hardware and software as well as communication facilities deemed necessary for the promotion of Accountancy education.

The Accountancy bodies have, notwithstanding efforts of the respective governments, their work cut out for them with time posing the greatest challenge. The strategy being proposed as follows to meet the challenge shall have to be adopted and applied by the member bodies individually and by SAFA as the regional body working for the uplift of the profession in the region:

  • First, all member bodies in the region should adopt and declare IT as a core subject. This may require a change in the existing weightage given to other subjects and may even result in discarding certain topics which continue to be part of the syllabuses notwithstanding their relevance to the modern day business environments. This would also entail redefining the IT syllabuses to incorporate the minimum prescribed in LEG- 11 with addendum to include the latest developments in the field, for example, Web and Sys Trust assurance and E-Commerce. Examinations at the Foundation stage and each of the Professional levels will need to be conducted to examine the various aspects in some detail. Hands on training must be mandatory and should be subject to an examination conducted by the Regulators before certification.
  • Second, the member bodies may consider to offer an option to the students at the professional stage in that they may elect to stick to the normal IT (as laid down in IEG - 11) route or choose a more specialized path leading to a specialization as a designer, evaluator or manager of IT systems. If the option is made the student would have the right to drop one of the other subject having similar weightage.
  • Third, the IEG - 11 requirements are meant as much for the qualified member as they are for the Accountancy student. The qualified members, in particular those in practice, must acquire the, in-depth knowledge and expertise in IT to be able to continue offering their services as a " Complete Business Consultant." Accordingly, the member bodies may introduce a two- year programme, leading to proper certification, under the C.P.E. programme, specifically aimed at the qualified members with the objective of achieving the minimum standards in IT education prescribed in IEG-11.
  • Fourth, the member bodies may, in view of the particular shortage of IT faculty well versed in the accountancy subjects, introduce a teacher training programme. The trained teachers may form the core of a distance learning programme and be available for research and developmental work, which without doubt, will have to be undertaken on a regular basis in view of the rapid developments in IT.
  • Fifth, all member bodies, must under the guidance of their respective IT Committees, set up fully equipped computer laboratories for the use of students, generally, and qualified accountants, particularly, in each of the cities that they have a presence in. These laboratories would be staffed by suitably qualified persons who could impart the technical knowledge required under the various programmes outlined (in three) above. Further more, they could act as the coordinators for any distance learning programme that may be launched by a member body.
  • Six, distance learning programmes are, in my opinion, the best method of reaching out to the maximum number of students and members and ensuring that the level of knowledge required to be imparted by the Regulatory body is in fact delivered uniformly to all in a cost effective manner. The member bodies are recommended to consider the use of distance learning programmes to deliver not only IT but also other subjects to the student. This would also help in reducing the dependence on the classroom syndrome and hopefully achieve the objective of creating a 'learning to learn' habit.
  • Seven, member bodies must allocate a percentage of their gross annual revenues for the purposes stated (in five and six) above. They may ask the major accounting firms in the country to contribute to the total funding requirements as well as making efforts to raise funds from international donor agencies or local sponsors.
  • Eight, the member bodies may also review the current criteria for training in firms, as IT usage and skills advancement must form an important part of the training henceforth.
  • Nine, SAFA, as regional body, must immediately announce the setting up of a SARA IT Committee, whose responsibilities would include:

a) Ensuring that each member body in the region has redefined the IT urricula in accordance with IEG- 11;
b) Ensuring that each member body has installed a proper system of examining the IT knowledge imparted and the practical experience required;
c) Offering technical guidance and assistance to all those member bodies who may need help in either redefinition of syllabuses or setting up the examination system;
d) Setting up a Regional IT examination and certification programme acceptable to all member bodies;
e) Setting up or providing assistance in setting up a distance learning programme to be used by each member body to supplement their own education programmes;
f) Undertaking research and developmental projects in the field of IT and liaisoning with the IFAC IT Committee on matters of mutual interest.
g) Establish on a cross border basis a core IT faculty which would be involved in achieving the objectives set out in (e) and (f) above. h) Pursue the International and Regional Funding / Donor Agencies for grants and financial aid for the purposes of setting up the distance learning programme and the promotion of IT knowledge, skills and usage among the accountancy profession in the region.
i) Undertaking the task of reviewing the accountancy curriculum from the point of view of integrating IT with the other core subjects.

These are some of the suggested tasks that SAFA and the member bodies will have to undertake immediately in order to meet the emerging challenges not only of Information Technology but also globalization. It is necessary to state here that the Regulatory bodies owe it to our future generations to adopt a forward looking approach, a visionary approach, to ensure that the stature of the accountancy profession grows and that the profession is continued to be considered as the most prominent business solution advisor in the world of Information Technology. The time to act is now for the sake of a prosperous tomorrow. Let us not procrastinate but start building a better future.- Pakistan Accountant

Poverty alleviation through IT


By Aftab Mohammad Khan

The problem of poverty can only be solved through improving the total economic and social opportunities and equitable distributions of the benefits of growth to all particularly the poor thereby providing security to people who are unable to participate in the contribution of economic growth and governance.

The present government of General Pervez Musharraf is making all-out efforts through construction activities , income generation and providing services for the betterment of the people and improving the quality of life of man. Information technology is providing wonderful opportunities in this respect. It is therefore suggested that besides other capital intensive activities including the construction of roads, buildings and other hard wares, the computer literacy program may also be started through establishing a chain of multipurpose community centres known as POP'S (point of presence) to provide computer literacy, particularly to those who are poor, handicapped and disadvantaged.

A master plan for the comprehensive and coordinated development of all the sectors and sub-sectors, including IT infrastructure may then be finalized.

The major purpose of such a master plan is to arrive at a degree of consensus among the various independent agencies operating in the area and to give them a continuing vehicle, by which they may coordinate their separate actions in a coherent set of policies and programmes. The effort is to bring together the scattered human and material resources in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.

Good government: About 900 million people of the world are earning about US$1 a day and are said to be poor. However some have defined that all those who cannot cope with survival and security and are not getting everyday needs as such shall be considered poor. According to this definitions the number of poor people will be much larger.

The poor are always short of access to economic welfare, quality education, health care and virtually do not get the infrastructure and the use of modern IT technology. The poor are completely cut off from the main stream and have no opportunity of participation in the governance and self-development, which is necessary for healthy democracy and therefore the Chief Executive, very rightly has decided to create district governments.

The challenge of poverty: Despite the vast advances in the fields of science and technology, medicine, capital mobility, income disparities are ever widening within countries, and also among the worlds rich and poor nations. The process of lop-sided wealth accumulation in the hands of a few individuals in the individual countries and on a global scale is on the increase.Poverty encourages corruption, anti-social activities like drugs, smuggling, and all sorts of deviant behaviour. Poverty is considered as an unacceptable human condition. The trends in poverty reduction have recently worsened. The population growth in the developing countries is also adding to the absolute number of poor. Overcoming poverty therefore remains the single most important challenge facing those involved in the development activities; presently this is the mission of the Chief Executive of Pakistan.

It has been generally recognized that expected outcome could not be achieved through tackling poverty reduction alone. The problem of poverty can only be solved through improving the total economic and social opportunities and equitable distributions of the benefits of growth to all particularly the poor ( this has rightly been pointed out by the Chief Executive ), thereby providing security to people who are unable to participate in the contribution of economic growth and governance.

In the past decade, the advances particularly in the field of information technology have been so rapid that it has changed the shape of all economic activities in the world, and pushing the world towards globalization. However, in Pakistan efforts were never made to deliver the benefits to the poor, like improved basic services including education, health care, and in equipping the poor with necessary information and skills to bring them into the mainstream of society so that they can be the productive partners.

The information gap is increasing between the haves and havenots resulting into increased power flow towards the elite who already possess the power and are weakening those who are deprived thus further increasing in the population of the poor, consequently the potential social disasters. The world will experience increasing gap between the rich and poor countries and rich and the poor within developing countries. There is therefore an urgent need to bring information technology to the doorsteps of the poor, information technology is changing the world rapidly and dramatically, and if actions are not taken properly and intelligently, the gap between rich and the poor will increase. IT is creating a distance-less world where communication is becoming instantaneous and has placed immense power into the hands of, the haves and elite. This needs to be addressed and soon.

It is simultaneously impacting on: education, health, and quality of life of a man. And on culture, leisure, arts, scientific and technological world etc. The way people do business, globally will change things beyond imagination. It is helping economies to expand at an unprecedented rate, and competitiveness has become the order of the day. Rich countries will continue to become richer and rich people will become richer faster than ever before ,resulting into an ocean of the worlds poor.

IT can introduce new ways of participation by the poor man, women and young people in the global economy, in cost-effective and poor-friendly ways and thus creating opportunity to address the issue of poverty reduction. This shall be tackled and soon.

Our biggest challenge today is to maximize the power of information technology in addressing the issues relating to rural development and poverty reduction.

The gap between rich and poor could further increase as a result of modern advances in information technology that remains a powerful tool in the hands of the urban elite. There is, therefore, a need to design, test, and learn from innovative electronic media-based strategies, supported by information technology on strategies and ways of increasing participation of the poor in governance, make use of market information, and increase their access to a variety of resources to address the basic issue of poverty reduction. It is vital to bring information to the doorsteps of the poor (the beneficiaries). Todays communications media are excellent vehicles for conveying much-needed information. Hi-tech based internet and digital technologies are not only becoming a lot smarter, they are growing more user-friendly and can help communities in fighting poverty by arming them with information, knowledge and technologies.

As a policy, the present government is investing more in manpower development infrastructures and communications; thus more and more rural areas are being electrified. With the availability of energy in the villages, all types of information technology could be brought without much additional costs. However there is no need to wait for roads and civil works; since the dissemination of messages, using computer as a tool are not dependent on these basic infrastructures like roads and buildings . Rather, the availability of connectivity, facilities, and other mobile connections are needed for the dissemination of information to most of the rural and remote villages.

Using mobile phones and following the community approach, the IT-based human development at the grassroots becomes viable because the village make their own workstations. The availability of these concepts will help in the efficient implementation of the concept of taking knowledge to the rural poor with relevant technology, more than 75 per cent of the rural populations can be reached which today are not served efficiently with even the basic services like education, health, information, skills, etc.

In this context, IT can help to empower the rural poor through equipping them with education, giving them information on market data anytime and anywhere thus helping them to get the benefit to market changes; likewise, health information can promote awareness about the importance of maintaining health from the viewpoint of quality of life, financial well being of the family, village productivity, and micro enterprise development. Their participation in governance can be improved and they can involve directly in e-commerce for productions to be sold to outside customers, thereby eliminating the need for expensive middlemen.

It is important to mobilize the media for awareness regarding poverty issues in Pakistan and to go for a multimedia approach in order to organize a maximum mobilization of the poor populations.

Realizing that the traditional methods of education have not been able to cope up with the educational needs of growing populations, in particular in disadvantaged areas Pakistan shall start exploring with the use of educational technology, distance education to provide education services to disadvantaged areas.

The governments of developing countries including Pakistan, either have already made or are going to make capital investments to set up the Open Learning Systems and similar alternative institutions with the potential to serve larger populations. The need is to restructure the open learning systems so that these resources and facilities POP'S, which are already in place, can dramatically contribute to poverty reduction. The restructuring should start with a change in the foci of activities and a reshaping of the vision of the concepts and practices of distance education as they impact into the lives of the poor.

There is also inability to upgrade their own systems and capabilities to make full use of the latest technological developments in the area of information technology (including internet technology and digital technologies) They have not been able to exploit the business potentials of these areas. So even if they have the power of IT they have not been able to use it in a productive and profitable way. Their programs have not been able to reach the disadvantaged and the poor who provide larger market. Open Learning systems are considered as second class by those who can afford to go to traditional universities. If this distance learning programme is able to reach the poor this can be considered first class. This is what to be done.

Setting up an institute: There is, therefore, an urgent need for a catalytic agent, which can stimulate these systems beyond their present situations to serve the poor, which remain the largest markets for these universities. The poor are also the largest human resource in any developing country.. But they are unable to organize and influence governance because they are unable to harness the needed information, knowledge, and organizational capability. They cannot lead; instead the urban elite take advantage of the situation and govern them.

District government devolution plan: A dramatic transition in the global economy is taking place. The globalization movement, which involves new economic world order and trade arrangements, has put developed and industrialized nations in the forefront of commerce. Then there is the shift-taking place from the oil-powered economy to the technology-driven economy followed by digital economy. In both movements, the wealthy economies and affluent sections of society in these economies will control the origination, maintenance and continuous growth in the decades to come. Now is the opportunity, to open up a corridor of empowerment for the poor. Otherwise, the poor will suffer even worst, resulting in a potential hot lid of social unrest.... if left to market forces of digital economy, the poor will be left behind in light years, creating tension and potential disturbance to society.

Information technology can open up this corridor of opportunity and shall be used as a key to empowering the poor and thereby gaining information to shape better decisions to determine their own destiny. Information technology can empower the poor like never before.

In this scenario, poverty has become more and more a global challenge and requires global communications strategies to address the same. Through information technology, large numbers of people, wherever they are and at whatever time they are available, can be provided much-needed quality and uniform educational services at an affordable cost. Similarly, the skills development programs, as per demands of new digital economies, can be conducted to equip the poor to face these challenges and seize opportunities for improvement.

Mobile with Internet access


By Kevin Washington

If you can check something quickly on the Internet through your personal computer, such as a stock quote, movie time or sports score, you can pretty easily do so through a cell phone equipped with WAP.

On more than one occasion, Jeff Grieves has gone to the airport to pick up a friend, only to learn that the flight was delayed and no one at the ticket counter could say when it might arrive.

He doesn't worry about such things anymore. Today, Grieves confronts the unanswered questions surrounding flight delays by whipping out his cellular telephone and using a wireless Internet connection to learn a flight's status and when it should land.

"With two or three buttons you can enter the flight number and find out where a plane is in the air," said Grieves, a technology developer and researcher in Baltimore.

If you can check something quickly on the Internet through your personal computer at home, such as a stock quote, movie time or sports score, you can pretty easily do so through a cellular telephone equipped with Wireless Application Protocol technology.

Led by Sprint PCS, with AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Nextel Communications not far behind, America's mobile telephone operators are carrying Internet content to the air for what many call a sweeping change in how we gather information while on the go.

Ten million subscribers in Japan are using the i-Mode wireless Internet system, less than a year old, to do everything from shop to carry on instant chat conversations on their screens. In Europe, wireless Internet activity has caught on with corporate executives. And in America, Sprint has made a hard push to attract consumers to connect to the Internet through their cell phones, said Bryan Prohm, a senior analyst with Dataquest, a market research company.

Almost 10 per cent of the 90 million cellular telephones in use in the United States have Internet capability, but how many users are actually connected and using it is unknown, Prohm said.

For many people, paying extra to make their cellular telephones connect to the Internet is a method of gathering information in search of a purpose. Just why you need wireless Internet service hasn't been made clear, said Brett Warthen, CEO of Infinite Technologies Inc., a Maryland company that provides wireless e-mail access and intranet access to corporations and mobile device companies.

"There really is a global phenomenon building with a lot of activity occurring all over the world. Here in the US, though, the biggest thing mobile operators have not done a good job of saying is why this is useful to (consumers)," Warthen said. "We're still trying to figure out what to do with it."Another part of the problem is this isn't your PC's Internet.

On the same World Wide Web that you surf at home is another set of Web pages built with tiny, powerful packets of information destined for the small three- to five-line backlit displays that Web phones sport. The bandwidth is narrow. And ordinary Web graphics and sound files aren't a part of the mix.

Wireless Internet isn't about surfing or reading dissertations on the Web. Wireless users get brief, succinct content. According to Pinpoint.Com, a behind-the-scenes builder of wireless Web page search engines, about 2.4 million pages for wireless users exist, of which it has indexed 1.5 million.

A mix of start-ups and established companies offer content including stock trading, sports scores, fantasy sports league play and auction listings, said Jud Bowman, president and co-founder of Pinpoint, which is based in Durham, N.C.

A quick look at the Samsung SCH-8500 offered by Sprint PCS shows a limited but useful group of tasks that people on the go can do with a cellular Internet connection. The telephone, which began selling in April, retails for about $199; Sprint PCS offers several plans to pay for airtime, whether for the Internet or voice calls.

The 4.5-ounce Samsung has programmed keys that allow users to punch in numbers, letters and symbols. To hit the Web, however, you need to click the Menu button twice, then the OK button to bring up the mini-browser window. The Menu, OK and Clear buttons are tools of navigation.

The tiny Web browser uses nine item listings to help readers navigate from one Web location to the next. Available in the first browser menu are Yahoo!, America Online, Amazon.Com and several other sites.

Yahoo! users who want to check their e-mail use the menu to reach a sign-in page. About 60 seconds after the first button is pushed, you can read your e-mail.

Writing e-mail is a tougher task. The small keypad allows for putting in letters through "alpha" mode. Some keys carry multiple letters. For example, to get the letter "r," you must punch in the "7" key three times.

A programme called T9, however, provides faster word manipulation. Punch in the letters for "hello," and despite starting by typing out "g" and "d" on the display, it figures out the word you intend to spell. It works well for short messages with common words but doesn't compare with writing e-mails from a PC.

Outside of e-mail, the Sprint PCS service offers synopses of movies and the nearest theatre, reviews of restaurants in your neighbourhood and the latest baseball scores.

If you have a laptop and get tired of the tiny screen, you can use the telephone as a 14.4-kbps modem to connect with the Internet. You will need to buy a special cable and have an airtime package as well.

The big downside to wireless Internet is that Sprint and AT&T and other device operators control the start page for the mini-browser.

With Sprint PCS, you can add your favourite Web sites to a bookmark listing, but the place where the mini-browser starts is standard for the service.

"We call this the walled garden," Dataquest's Prohm said. "Operators have gone out of the way to deliberately control what users can use and access."

The big upside, though, is that the Internet on a cellular is as promising as any technology simply because it is coupled with a device with voice capabilities. "Voice is the killer application," Prohm said. "After all, these tools are about communication - everything else is secondary."

For now, handheld devices appear to be most useful to business travellers who want to check e-mail and get information from a corporate database.

Analysts, however, expect consumers to catch on as the technology evolves and the content continues to increase. For example, Sprint PCS adds two to three sites a week, according to Sprint PCS spokesman Larry McDonnell.

Meanwhile, early adopters like Grieves have found the freedom to move around while using the Internet through a wireless device indispensable.

"No one wants to be tied down to a particular device," he said. "People don't even want to go to their computer for everything."-Dawn/The Baltimore Sun News Service

Around the clock with a home computer

Computers changed the way we worked years ago, but now they are fundamentally changing the way we do things in the home.

It's 7:00am and the alarm blares. You stumble out of bed and go to turn on the radio. Only this is the 21st century. Instead of pushing a button on your stereo, you push a button on your computer. Instead of the chatter of local radio, you get a choice of the world's major radio and television broadcasts and newspapers, complete with video footage and full colour images - all in one box.

Computers changed the way we worked years ago, but now they are fundamentally changing the way we do things in the home. From the first light of day, they are offering round-the-clock convenience, entertainment and access to information - things most of us could not have imagined even five years ago.

Take the morning rush that follows the 7:00am alarm. Maybe it's still dark or the weather outside looks unpredictable. Can't figure out what to wear? Plug in your computer and log onto the internet to get the latest weather forecasts in full colour and with satellite images.

Listen to the BBC World Service or your local station while you prepare breakfast. Read the morning paper online while you eat or visit international sites like CNN for the latest breaking news with video footage.

As everyone shuffles into the kitchen before heading off to work or school, they can check important e-mails from the office, friends or family from around the world. These scenarios are within reach of even the most computer-illiterate. Thanks to a super fast processor, or computer "brain" and internet connections, you can experience the rich visuals and high sound quality offered by today's Internet and software applications - in your home.

Working parents, especially, can enjoy the convenience of online shopping, where you can view and buy gifts such as toys, clothes or books, send flowers and order groceries over the Internet in less time than it takes to go to the store and back.

You can use an online banking service to balance your cash account, transfer money, pay your bills and get instant statements. If you have stocks, check their progress in real time or explore the options offered by online investment houses (as with banks, it is wise to know who you are dealing with and what security arrangements are in place).

All the time you saved can free up an afternoon for pursuing other interests. Plan a family trip online, from booking flights and hotels to reading online guides published by companies such as Fodor's (www.fodors .com) and Lonely Planet ( Go on a virtual trip, such as visiting the Taj Mahal or an art museum in another part of the world.

As children return from school, they like to cluster around the computer and not just for travelogues or games. Multimedia educational software has been designed to make learning entertaining, with live-action footage and snappy graphics. Applications such as PowerPoint can help students add a professional look to their class assignments. There are also superb educational tools online.

As suppertime approaches, you can visit a recipe site as Bon Appetit ( Type in your family's favourite foods and see how many recipes you can create around these ingredients. Even better, if you forgot to send in your on-line grocery order, you can source recipes for supper based on the ingredients you have at hand.

After homework and supper, it's time to relax and watch the computer display its multimedia capabilities. Games from the Internet have become a major source of entertainment, thanks to their high-quality visuals and sound. Combat and action games are popular, as are games such as quiz shows, bridge and chess, where you can test your skills against online opponents.

Sports fans can listen to live audio broadcasts and get the latest information on their favourite international teams. For big events, such as the Olympics or football, there is a huge choice of Web sites with background information on the games and players and up-to-the-minute results.

The evening is also a great time to stay in touch with relatives and friends. Make a video-conference call over the Internet, compose an e-mail postcard using a digital Web camera, or send video footage of your family by e-mail. You can even set up your own family Web site to easily store all the images in one place for family and friends to access around the world.

At the end of the day, watch a DVD or VCD on your computer, or let your teenagers download their favourite songs off the internet onto an MP3 player.

So many things to do but before you collapse into bed, don't forget to turn on your computer-controlled home security system. And don't forget the baby monitor linked to your bedroom computer. Home computers not only link you to a wealth of information and images from around the world, they link you to the next room. Within a few years, people will wonder how they managed without them.- Argus

The 'pump and dump' in dotcom world


By Jamie Doward

With Internet companies rushing to enter new markets, online firms are ignoring lengthy auditing procedures in a bid to beat the competition. This highlights the extremely fragile, get-rich-quick nature of the dotcom sector.

"We saved them a lot of embarrassment," was the taciturn verdict of Tommy Helsby, senior executive with a corporate security firm. Embarrassment and probably a lot of money. Helsby was referring to one of the clients, a US-based Internet giant, which was recently poised to launch in the UK. What the US firm didn't realize was that the head of the company it had chosen as its UK partner had been convicted of peddling indecent material.

Maybe this was something that would not have worried the US firm's investors had they known. But the fact that the company had been kept in the dark by a potential business partner set the alarm bells ringing; the deal was pulled.

With Internet companies rushing to enter new markets as part of a frantic land grab, online firms are ignoring lengthy auditing procedures - designed to check the quality of their investors, business partners or staff - in a bid to beat the pack. This highlights the extremely fragile, get-rich-quick nature of the dotcom sector.

Typically, the security company would expect to find problems in 10 per cent of the people it ran background checks on - but the company sent shockwaves through the dotcom sector when it published a survey which showed that senior executives at Internet companies are four times more likely to have what it diplomatically describes as 'unsavoury backgrounds'. To put it another way, of the 70 'due diligence' background investigations performed on key Internet personnel by the security compnay between April and September last year, 39 per cent of the subjects had been involved in illegal activities such as stock market violations, undisclosed bankruptcy and insurance fraud. These are all issues which would have raised huge corporate governance concerns and sent investors fleeing.

Often those checked by the security company were the senior personnel drafted in by the young, relatively naive, founders of dotcom firms looking to add experience to the board in a bid to attract further funding. Venture capital firms are usually wary of injecting cash until the management board has been beefed up with executives who have experience of running companies, not just starting them.

But with background checks taking an average of six weeks to complete, some dotcom firms find they haven't the time to examine their new executives' credentials.

Many in the dotcom sector expressed little surprise at the statistics. 'We've looked at loads of dotcom companies, and in many cases it's always been quite clear that the management was never up to scratch,' said a spokesman for one US bank which invests in Internet firms.

An analyst with an Internet research firm agreed: "Given the huge amount of hype, it's not surprising that the sector would end up attracting some of the less credible types."

But it is not just the managements of some start-ups who represent the Wild West spirit of the darkest corners of the World Wide Web. Some of those seeking to back the firms have dubious backgrounds as well. "We've had cases where people have come to us because they've been approached by mysterious people, usually based in an offshore tax shelter, who wish to invest big amounts of money," Helsby said. "These people would say 'we don't want to invest the $2 million you're asking for. We want to invest $5 million'."

He offers three possible responses for any dotcom companies which find themselves in this situation. One: The people involved are unbelievably stupid, so don't deal with them. Two: They are money launderers, so don't deal with them. Three: They are scam artists looking to control the business in order to take it public and pump it out to gullible investors.

This so-called "pump and dump" habit is now increasingly common on the web. Investors pile into a company (usually penny stocks so that there is little liquidity, allowing for much greater price volatility), hype it in Internet chat rooms, wait for the stock to soar and then sell at the peak.

These types of schemes have been around for years but the emergence of the Internet means they are now much easier to pull off. As Arthur Levitt, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), said recently: 'The Internet, with its low-cost anonymity, and large number of innocent investors, makes it ripe for out-and-out fraud.'

First, the hype around the actual Internet stocks themselves has made investors more gullible and thus more hungry to take part in such schemes. Second, the Internet as a medium has made it easier for more investors to get sucked into the mania, no matter where they are based.

The most famous example so far came earlier last year when Eulex Corp, the giant US networking equipment maker, saw more than $2.5 billion wiped off its market capitalization in only a few hours after a fake press release, sent to various newswires, claimed it was having to adjust its earnings and was consequently being investigated by the SEC. Investors dumped the stock, allowing those who had posted the warning to sell short and make a killing.

As if to illustrate just how easy such schemes are to perpetrate (if not to get away with) 15-year-old Jonathan Lebed was forced to pay $285,000 to avoid prosecution by the SEC, which alleged he bought large numbers of shares and then proceeded to flood Internet chat rooms, suggesting the stock was 'the most undervalued ever'.

The number of such schemes is growing fast. Since 1995 the SEC has been involved in nearly 200 actions similar to the one it took against Lebed. More than a third of these have taken place over the past year.

Worryingly, organized crime is now showing an interest. In June 104 people with suspected Mob links were arrested in the US following the largest securities fraud crackdown in the country's history. Those arrested dealt largely in small cap firms - the sorts of businesses which are usually ignored by Wall Street. It is alleged that those involved in the scam, including representatives of the notorious Bonanno crime family, the Mafia's largest drug dealers, developed a network of Internet newsletters and chat rooms to promote the stocks they held.

Helsby said: "People think that these Internet stock scams are done by 'boiler room' operators, the sharp city slickers, but very often they are linked to organized crime. Typically a company set up in one country will sell securities issued in a second country to investors in a third. So the problem is who regulates? US and Canadian criminals are experts at this, but the Russian mafia is catching on fast."

Faster than the regulatory authorities anyway. Despite the growing concerns about the financing, management and fiduciary responsibilities of dotcom firms, policing the sector is still in its infancy.

Not until next year will it become a civil offence for the UK investors to initiate pump and dump schemes. Currently the authorities only have the power to initiate criminal proceedings, something they are reluctant to do because of time and cost constraints. It is symptomatic of the fact that, as more and more companies move at Internet speed, the sheriffs of the wild, wild web find themselves outgunned.- Dawn-Observer News Service

How to avoid high cost of slow website

Experts predict that every business will eventually be an e-business, and the facts seem to bear them out. In just three years, Internet commerce has soared from $50.4 million in 1997 to a projected $1.3 trillion in 2003.

In Internet time, the attention span of a customer is just eight seconds. After that, a shopper typically moves on. What's more, the recent Forrester Research reports that 42 per cent of the people that leave a site unsatisfied will never return (Forrester, 1999). The cost to business in uncompleted orders is simply staggering - early estimates put monthly retailing losses at $58 million.

New information indicates that the figure is actually much higher. Zona Research estimates that slow web response could result in losses as high as $102 million per month for the consumer market alone (Zona, 2000). That's a serious concern for the thousands of companies now active in online retailing, and it will soon be a concern for many more.

The stakes will only go up from here. Experts predict that every business will eventually be an e-business, and the facts seem to bear them out. In just three years, Internet commerce has soared from $50.4 million in 1997 to a projected $1.3 trillion in 2003, according to International Data Corporation (IDC, 1999). The GartnerGroup predicts that by 2005, 25 per cent of all consumer spending and 70 per cent of all business-to-business commerce will be "Internet-involved." (GartnerGroup, 1999)

If your company isn't already conducting transactions online, it will be soon. And that means companies must face one of the most important facts of e-business: A slow-performing website will cost you customers and money. Now Intel's Commerce Equipment Organization (CEO), formerly IPivot, offers a family of e-commerce accelerators and e-traffic management solutions that can handle secure transactions as quickly as routine Web traffic.

Software such as the NetStructure 7110 e-Commerce Accelerator can boost SSL traffic and eliminate slowdowns.

Dent in the bottomline: With slow site performance costing retailers millions of dollars a month, investing in a faster site should quickly pay for itself. Zona attempts to paint a broad-brush picture. They assume that the majority of economic losses from unacceptable download speeds come from the consumer sector, because private residences and the SOHO market usually have slower connections than businesses. Further, in order to estimate annual losses per site in each segment, they assume for argument's sake that there are ten major Web sites in each segment.

With so much money at stake, how is it that businesses allow customers to experience frustrating waits? A major cause is the need for security. Many online transactions must be encrypted to protect sensitive data such as credit card information.

The problem is, encryption/decryption and other security operations are very compute-intensive. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) - by far the most widely used e-business security solution - does an excellent job of protecting data, but it requires so much processing power that it can slow a Web server designed for hundreds of transactions per second to just three or four. With thousands of people trying to access a popular site at the same time, handling three contacts per second can be woefully inadequate.

Boosting speed: Most businesses need both security and speed. The same goes for Web hosting companies, such as Internet service providers (ISPs), that must protect the data entrusted to them by their customers. Clearly, traffic needs to be brought back up to speed once it is encrypted, in order to avoid delays and the high costs associated with them.

The family of e-commerce accelerators and e-traffic management solutions lets companies handle secure transactions as quickly as routine Web traffic. Depending on which product is chosen, the speed of encrypted data can be increased by as much as 50 to 150 times. Tests by Networkshop using the Intel NetStructure 7110 e-Commerce Accelerator, for instance, boosted SSL traffic from 3.1 contacts per second to 146.7.

Server availability also needs to be improved. Today, most servers operate at an availability rate of 86 per cent to 99 percent. That means that up to 14 per cent of the time, potential customers may get a confusing message such as "Server Too Busy" or "File Not Found" instead of the web page they wanted.

A good Internet commerce equipment can protect against this possibility by detecting server outages and automatically routing requests to servers that are available.- Argus

The e-book: thrillers at the touch of a screen


By Jack Schofield

Electronic book publishing has many of the same risks and opportunities as electronic music publishing. But it also raises the spectre of mass piracy

Publishers and agents already have 500,000 reasons to be interested in e-books: that's how many downloaded Stephen King's novel, Riding The Bullet, in its first two days online this summer. Many didn't pay for it, and lots didn't read it, but King showed beyond argument that e-books can reach a mass market.

Electronic book publishing has many of the same risks and opportunities as electronic music publishing. By delivering text direct to the reader's computer screen, the e-book could slash production and distribution costs, and allow creators to deal directly with their audience, bypassing conventional publishers and retailers. But it also raises the spectre of mass piracy. Phil Rance, founder and managing director of Online Originals, a London-based e-book publisher, sums it up: "No one wants Napster to happen to books."

Indeed, the MP3 saga may have put the frighteners on an industry that generally operates some way behind the "bleeding edge". The Meta Group, a leading US-based market analyst, say publishers are far too concerned about protecting their rights: "We believe all the recent legal manoeuvring over Napster is like putting a finger in a dyke that is already overflowing. Publishers need to deal with reality and come up with new ways to exploit wide electronic distribution, asking the question: 'How can we use the inevitability of wide distribution to our advantage?'"

At the moment, most publishers would like to limit the use of e-books to the person who bought them, or to the computer used to download them. If that can be done, e-books become just an extra revenue stream in a publishing industry that would continue to operate the way it does today, according to Terry Robinson, business manager for Adobe's e-paper group.

"If you've cracked the digital rights aspect, you've cracked the market," he says.

Robert Nichols, Books Director at BOL - a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, the world's biggest publishing company - agrees. "Rights management is absolutely critical: that's the key comfort area they want addressed. Publishers just pull down the shutters and say that 'until copyright is secure, we're not going to talk'."

But Rebecca Ulph, an analyst at Forrester Research's London office, is not sure the two industries are all that alike. "Something like 7.5 per cent of the people in the UK are responsible for about 75 per cent of the book sales, and until e-books are routinely available to technophobes on the high street, they're never going to be more than a niche market," she says.

"And there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the book," says Ulph, "so there's really no problem the e-book solves, unless you need to carry around 10 or 12 books at a time. Otherwise, the electronic book is a 300-400 pounds format that doesn't actually improve on a pounds sterling 6.99 format."

US sales of dedicated e-book readers costing around $199 to $599 bear this out. NuvoMedia's Rocket eBook ( and SoftBook Press's SoftBook Reader (www.softbook. com/reader/) have been slow to take off, and even slower to reach Europe. Last year, BOL signed a deal with Rocket, and it launched the eBook in Germany this April, but Nichols says it is unlikely to reach the UK until next year.

The process was slowed after Gemstar International Group Ltd, which produces TV programme guides, took over both NuvoMedia and SoftBook Press at the start of the year. In the US, Thomson Consumer Electronics has just produced a new model, the RCA eBook, with a built-in 56k modem for downloading content, but it is too early to judge how it will do.

Andrew Rosenheim, managing director of the UK's Penguin Press and acting head of the company's digital media operations, believes that if the market is going to take off, it won't be due to sales of dedicated e-book readers. "I think it's going to happen in handhelds," he says.

"Convergence is happening. People aren't going to want to carry a mobile phone and an e-book and a laptop computer. They'll want something that will do everything and read."

That is the way Microsoft is heading with its PocketPC software, which is used by the Hewlett-Packard Jornada, Casio Cassiopeia and Compaq iPaq palmtop computers launched this summer. The PocketPC (Windows CE 3) software includes electronic organizer functions, email and web browsing programmes, an MP3 player, and Microsoft Reader e-book software. And millions more are already reading documents on Palm and Psion handheld though - worryingly for the industry - generally not in copy-protected formats.

Probably no one will pay up to US$700 for a Palm, a Psion or a PocketPC just to read books on a small screen. However, millions buying handheld computers to organize their lives will want to use the same device for other purposes, and e-books are another application.

This also applies to desktop computers, where both Adobe Acrobat and the Glassbook reader ( may be used for reading books. Adobe, which took over Glassbook in August, says it has distributed more than 165 million copies of its free Acrobat reader ( acrobat/readstep.html). But now this faces competition from the Microsoft Reader, which is already available for desktop and notebook PCs running Windows, and will appear for Apple Macintoshes later. (Officially this has not been announced but a spokesman points out that "the Macintosh is a very important platform for Microsoft".)

The battle between Adobe and Microsoft is unlikely to turn into a standards war. The two programmes have different origins and different uses, and anyway, it is easy for publishers to convert texts between formats. There is also an open standard being set by the Open EBook Forum (, which both Microsoft and Adobe support. The OEB is, very sensibly, based on the technologies used to create web pages, such as HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language), XML (Extensible Mark-up Language), and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).

But publishers don't want to release books in an open format. They want to release them in a protected binary format, which eventually boils down to a choice between Microsoft Reader's .lit file, which is an encrypted form of OEB, and Adobe's PDF (portable document format), a non-OEB format derived from the PostScript publishing language.

Adobe has the advantage that PDF is well established in the printing and publishing industries, for which it was designed. It is also well placed as a secure format with PDF Merchant server software to look after rights and payments. And if the market moves rapidly to electronic distribution, with books being printed on demand at local outlets, that will also benefit Adobe: PDF's whole raison d'etre was to mimic print publications.

However, the Acrobat PDF reader is not even available for handheld computers, and it has other drawbacks. Acrobat is much clunkier than Microsoft Reader software, which is a proper electronic book system, designed for consumer use. It also lacks Reader's ClearType font technology (see, which makes text easier to read.

For Adobe, Robinson says: "We've shown PDF working in the Windows CE environment and on personal digital assistants: they're not commercially available at this stage, but we've shown the intent." He also says Adobe is bringing out CoolType technology to improve legibility on the screen. But as Nichols says: "All the time, Reader is gaining ground, and when colour PocketPCs come down in price..."

Also, anyone with a PC can create e-books for Microsoft Reader using a free add-in for Word 2000 ( or Overdrive's free Readerworks ( Adobe charges for PDFWriter and Acrobat Distiller, the programmes usually used to create PDF files, though there are now shareware tools and print utilities to do the job. Examples include SanFace's Txt2PDF, The Amyuni PDF Converter, and Win2PDF.

For Microsoft, e-books are part of a long term strategy. Bill Hill, a researcher with Microsoft's electronic books group in Seattle, and one of ClearType's developers, says: "We believe that the screen is the place where people are going to read in the future.

Do you really think that in 20 years time we're still going to be cutting down trees for tomorrow's edition of the Guardian? So our strategy is to create an industry."

There hasn't been enough content to encourage sales of e-book readers, and not enough readers to encourage publishers, Hill explains. "We saw an opportunity to jump-start the market by producing Reader. Suddenly you can offer publishers a potential market of several hundred million users - specially if you give it away! It's

like a snowball rolling down a hill: somebody has to get it going."

Rance, who started Online Originals in 1996, quotes Andersen Consulting's forecast that e-books will have 10 per cent or the market by 2005. He thinks "there will be a serious market - one you can make money in - by this time next year, but only the beginnings of one."

At Penguin, Rosenheim thinks it will be three to five years before the e-book market becomes viable. "In terms of it becoming roughly equivalent to print sales, I do think that will happen, but in 20-25 years," he says. "New generations, younger people without the traditional attachment to print, will find the shift easier to make. Books are just one of a number of options to them, so if books become electronic, they won't have an inherent resistance to that.- Dawn-Guardian News Service

Web addresses:

Education on the web


By Mark Tran

Firms like online learning because it is convenient and cheap. Employees can log on to courses from their desktops. There is a reason why companies are flocking to online learning. People are willing to pay, especially for the business education market.

Operating out of an office in a business park in north London, iLearn.To is a rarity in the dotcom backlash - it is making money, while other startups are going bust. In September and October, the two-year-old online learning company made $360,000.

www.Ilearn.To is also different in that it was created by a Vietnamese refugee, Sieng Van Tran, 25, who came to Britain at the age of six, one of the hundreds of thousands who fled Vietnam by boat. Speaking no English, when he arrived, he resorted to the computer at home to catch up with his schoolmates.

A university degree in artificial intelligence and a six-month stint in the US, where he saw the potential of the Internet laid the groundwork for his startup. ILearn.To has made a promising start, but the online learning sector is getting tougher all the time.

A couple of months back, CityJobs, one of Europe's top online recruitment firms teamed up with BlueU, an e-learning company, to provide more than 500 specialist courses in finance and IT. In early November, launched its revamped website providing access to what it claimed was the largest e-marketplace for IT training in the UK.

In August, Forrester Research, the Internet research group, revealed that of 40 leading corporations, all but one had online training initiatives in place.

"Firms turn to online training as a way to enable the lifelong learning habits required by the new economy. As they do, vendors ranging from traditional training consultancies to presentation-tools providers rush to tap this opportunity," Forrester said.

Firms like online learning because it is convenient and cheap. Employees can log on to courses from their desktops. Forrester identified more than 100 online learning players and expects the field to get even more crowded.

In the US, some big names already have put down claims in this market. So far the biggest is Michael Milken, the former junk bond maestro. He has partnered Oracle's Larry Ellison in Knowledge Universe, a conglomerate for educational and training ventures, online or otherwise. Elsewhere, the Washington Post company is investing heavily in Webucation.

Forrester predicts that gaming programmers will eventually jump on the online learning bandwagon. Games companies have the expertise that education software developers lack to develop lively and interactive training programmes for e-learning in a merging of education and entertainment on the net.

Soon it will no longer be enough for companies to tout massive catalogues of courses as offered by Click2learn, SkillSoft and iLearn.To. Firms such as are in a position to steal customers by offering firms the tools and services to create, track and manage their own specialised content.

Tran has shown impressive resourcefulness and nous so far. The firm survived a rocky patch when promised technical and financial support from Outsource, a group set up by Alan Watkins, formerly of Cisco Systems, failed to materialise. ILearn. To severed the relationship, trimmed staff, cut expenses and paid no money to staff for four months. It has since gone back to 10 people, although their north London office has all the classic signs of startups, down to the mattresses stuffed in the cupboards for overnight stays.

The iLearn.To logo appears on 20 co-branded sites including Bank of Scotland, BT and Reuters. Alliances with such big established companies are quite a coup for such a small company, and free publicity through programmes on the BBC has helped spread iLearn's reputation as an energetic and innovative firm. Its first partner was British telecomms giant BT, which heard of the company through the grapevine and Intel, the microchip company, has supplied much technical help

One of iLearn.To's most valuable alliances is with McGraw-Hill, the American publisher. Subscribers have access to scores of McGraw- Hill courses, which would normally cost at least US$1,440 through the publisher itself. It seems odd that McGraw-Hill would want to make its products available to an upstart like iLearn.To at about a tenth of the cost.

Tran believes McGraw-Hill needed a channel for its content as it would cost too much for the company to rebrand itself as an online learning company. But he finds it strange that McGraw-Hill would risk cannibalising its content. "I am slightly worried. The barriers to entry are very low and a company like Pearsons can jump in at any time."

Crucial to iLearn.To's survival has been its partnership with the British Department for Education and Employment. Anyone with an individual learning account can put the US$216 towards the US$(Trade Mark) subscription fee. In effect, for only US$36, that subscriber has access to all of iLearn.To's courses for a year. Ilearn.To targets individuals and small to medium enterprises and Tran hopes to make the courses entirely free to learners by persuading sympathetic employers and other organisations to foot the initial expense.

Tran is also banking on iLearn.To's ability to move quickly. It can offer subscribers a massive catalogue of vocational courses, mostly in IT, some 665 courses in all.

Tran wants to ally with "knowledge champions", or individuals who create their own courses in exchange for half of the course proceeds such as royalties and sponsorship deals. "We want to turn your intellectual capital into an e-commerce proposition," he says.

The company's software continuously searches for information relevant to subscribers' interests and delivers it to their desktops.

Tran compares iLearn.To to the Greek method, when Socrates and Plato wandered like Gypsies, educating as they went. In this model, the learning comes to you via the desktop rather than you going to a classroom.He believes that online learning can have a huge impact on countries such as China, which is seeking to catch up in the global economy, but which lacks the resources to build brick and mortar universities.

There is a reason, why companies are flocking to online learning. People are willing to pay, especially for the business education market. Ilearn. To is already making waves, with some of its competitors accusing it of killing the market because of low rates.

It sounds rather implausible, but this fledgling company run by a 25-year-old Vietnamese refugee, plans to be one of key players in online learning in Britain. - Dawn-Guardian News Service

The need for an educentric approach: Using IT in schools


By Zaheer A Kidvai

The education establishment, while appearing outwardly to embrace technology, appropiated and reshaped it to fit the existing system. This was helped along by the mystique of new computer technology, the jargon that its inner priesthood perpetrated to retain their power, and the lack of knowledge among true educators about its potential.

Not too many years ago - surprising as it may seem today - the continuing debate seemed to be 'if' we really needed to introduce computers in schools. Soon, of course, the 'if' was dropped and replaced by 'when' ... although, more often than not, for all the wrong reasons (keeping up with the competition; misguided parental pressure; admission-time salability).

I can still recall my horror at seeing a school advertise its advantages on a hoarding that stated: "Fully Carpeted, Air-Conditioned and Computerised." Education itself, it was obvious, was taking a back-seat as a factor in the decision-making process this time.

The real impact of computers, and children's access to new and open-ended forms of learning, as envisaged by visionaries and educators, from Seymour Papert (USA) to Anita Straker (UK), was going to be on a curriculum that was fast-becoming irrelevant, and teaching styles that no longer worked well ...that is to say, upon The School itself. In the earliest treatises on the subject one found the often repeated view: "Thinking about the use of Computers in Education means thinking about Education, not thinking about Computers!"

However, the education establishment, aided by numerous vested interests, won the first round against what could have been the most important change in education, in an insidious manner.

While appearing outwardly to embrace the technology, it appropriated and reshaped it to fit the existing system. Computers and Computing, though excellent subjects for in-depth studies in Higher Education, became subjects in themselves at the school level - rather than the tools of learning they had set out to be. This was more easily achieved than one could have imagined, helped along as it was by the mystique of new technology, the jargon that its inner priesthood perpetrated in order to keep power in their hands, the lack of knowledge among true educators about its potential, and very poor dissemination of its capabilities among the public.

Thus, instead of computers changing the way we should have begun to look at schools, schools changed the way we looked at computers.

In Pakistan, too, things were not much different, other than in terms of scale. Around the mid-80s, BCCI, the now almost-forgotten bank, initiated a project - developed by the late Bill Tagg - that was to help establish the use of computers across the curriculum in selected schools.

Despite the fact that the teachers chosen for training were among the best in their own disciplines, they soon 'converted' to becoming 'Computer Teachers' for reasons that would be out of place to discuss here.

This led to (1) the project focusing on Computer Education rather than Computer Assisted Learning (one of the many names by which the alternatives and variations were often called, then) and, (2) the proliferation - like in other parts of the world - of Computer Labs, justified by wide-ranging reasons, from logistics, to security, to air-conditioning needs. All of these issues could (and would) have been addressed differently, if only educators - rather than commercial vendors and hardware specialists - had been allowed and able to make knowledgeable decisions.

PACES, the group responsible for the continuation of the project, despite support from BCCI, a friendly IBM, and the availability of relatively more funds in the elite schools they embraced, did not achieve the success it could have, had it not altered route. The work of PACES, per se, was certainly no less than wonderful. It's just that there were far too many factors stacked against the approach that was taken.

Among the reasons, at that time, was the rush to adopt IBM-compatibles - only partly for reasons of economy. DOS-based systems, at that point in time, though usable for tasks at college and university levels, offered no semblance of decent educational software for schools, a distinction that seemed to escape most of the computing industry. On the other hand, Apple IIes and Acorn-BBCs, while flourishing in US and UK schools, were so poorly supported locally that one cannot help but acknowledge that PACES must have had a tough time choosing between a rock and a hard place.

A much more serious aspect, however, that led to a lower-than-expected success rate - and one that exists in schools to this day - was the difficulty in retention of qualified staff required to teach the subject of computers and communication.

After all, with jobs growing in the IT industry, who would work at a school teacher's wage after qualifying at any level in computing? This problem persists, even at the higher education level.

The final negative that such an approach had to contend with, was that teachers of other, traditional subjects viewed the computer teacher as "different" - with little or no background in classical teaching - and begrudged the special treatment and, often, the higher salary meted out to their newer colleagues.

This caused a resentment that precipitated in feelings of misplaced alienation with technology among teachers, who began to personify the computers (along with the computer teachers) as usurpers.

Had schools insisted upon an educentric approach more suited to their educational philosophy, the past 15 years would have seen enormous growth in teachers understanding and using computers to their advantage. Children, using IT in a variety of ways - from research to design, from logical analyses to report writing, from programming as a means of problem solving to the use of multimedia for communications - would have understood far more, when their need dictated, the intricacies and the power of this wonderful machine.

Some among them, perhaps many - given the job market and industrial growth - would have chosen IT as a career. More important, almost all others would have found applications for IT in whichever career they chose.

The good news is that the times - in keeping with Bob Dylan's famous promise - are a-changing. The world over, egged on by the unprecedented growth of the Internet, computers are being increasingly used for tasks that are not strictly computational.

The disenfranchised female population now accounts for 50 per cent of Internet usage. Young surfers outnumber the old 4:1 claims one conservative estimate. Now, therefore, seems the right time for Pakistan - with a large young demographic and a female population ready to join the mainstream, to make a serious commitment to the introduction of IT in schools in a truly versatile manner.

Education - until the industrial revolution steamrolled everything in its path - was not just a response to economic pressures but part of an attempt to improve one's quality of life, spiritual, moral, and worldly. The IT policy, welcome and brilliant though it may be, is primarily a response to national economic needs. The advantages of its fallout in other areas, of course, cannot be ignored - and may even have been planned carefully by the good doctor we are fortunate to have chosen to treat our IT ills.

Many of us were, however, expecting that the recently announced educational reforms - coming as they were from the ministry of education - would focus on other important aspects when addressing the IT segment. Alas, the policy makers are not only oblivious to the changing world-view of education but also seem to have followed the TechHawks blindly and opted to produce more fodder for the IT mills.

Using today's technologies to merely support the three Rs (that our elders referred to as "Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic . . ." and a young colleague of mine thought, from her educational experience, stood for Reading, Remembering and Regurgitating) is to waste the immense power available.

The book, pencil, paper, and blackboard, were the most important, if not the only, technologies available in the school of yesterday to impart information. The teacher was the fountain that spewed most of the knowledge one gained in the formative years. Neither is true today.

External sources, such as film and video, TV and magazines, software and the internet, e-mail and chats with e-pals halfway across the globe, all account for a much greater portion of what one learns today than one does from books. And the teacher has moved from being the "Sage on the Stage" to becoming a "Guide on the Side". Yet, the design of the average classroom today still echoes the old relationship, with the teacher, often on a higher platform, looking down at a sea of seemingly receptive students, seated in uniform rows that destroy all individuality.

Everyone seems to find it almost mandatory to parrot McLuhan and remind us - without understanding the implications - that the world is a global village (everyone, that is, other than our own JJ - who has decided to add a twist to the concept in an interesting paper titled The Global City). The New World Order and WTO, the presence - for the moment, at least - of just one Super Power, and the increasing Prosumer base, make it necessary that education, too, must be of an equivalent level across the globe.

This means that the nations of the world will need to work very closely if they are to develop global harmony and bridge the gap between haves and havenots. Of course, the alteration (and I am not talking mere modification here) of any system - and education is as large as systems get - is one that is bound to take up immense resources, in terms of people, time, and money.

Pakistan - and others in the developing world - have an abundance of the first two commodities. Let us find ways of partnering the developed countries, with their surplus of the third commodity, in helping research, develop, and implement the first phases of global education projects. If the case is presented well, and a serious commitment guaranteed, I am sure that prestigious organizations - such as the Media Lab at MIT - can be persuaded to partner us.

Okay . . . so who's going to take the next step?

Is anyone at the ministry of education listening?

Pakistan seen as future Information Technology (IT) hub

KARACHI- There is a surge of information technology companies, which sees Pakistan as a future IT hub. This was stated by Avtar Saini, Director, South Asia Intel.

He called upon the government to simplify e-governance in order to solve the problems of the general public. Due to effective e-governance, there would be no long waiting in long queues for drivers licenses, small taxes etc. He stressed the need for heavy investment in the technology sector, particularly in the education side.

He said that lntel Corporation has always been in the forefront of promoting technology awareness in Pakistan.

Intel focuses heavily on education worldwide and has various global programmes in place to boost technology education.

Avtar, quoting Craig Barrett, CEO, lntel Corporation, said "All the educational technology in classrooms today is worth nothing if the teachers do not know how to use it effectively. Intel is aiming at training 400,000 teachers in 20 countries in 1000 days." This will have a mega-spillover effect and the teachers will be able to impart knowledge more effectively.

Business Recorder, April 1, 2001


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