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We are now offering some of our management content as podcasts.
The podcasts available on this page are specially written by David Pollitt. They are drawn from reviews in the Emerald Management Reviews database.
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When computers take over as the back-seat driver
Computers and computing are such a normal part of the domestic lives of most of us these days that we think little about the technology behind many of the gadgets that make our lives so much easier.
We can go on holiday certain that our video, DVD and hard drive recorders will record every edition of our favourite soaps – even if they are screened at an unusual time because of extra time in a live football match or the over-running of a news programme. If we go away in winter, we can rest assured that the central heating will automatically fire up during a cold snap, or that service personnel will automatically be alerted before our food is ruined if the temperature in the freezer cabinet climbs above zero. In more technologically advanced households, we can program a computer to open and close the curtains, switch room lights on and off, and even alert us by mobile phone if burglars break into the home. It is amazing how rapidly we can come to accept all of this as ‘normal’.
In the last few years, computers have come to play a growing role in our cars, too. Microchip-controlled music players and computers for monitoring the engine and flagging problems that may need to be tackled at the next service have become increasingly common, though many drivers may not even know that their vehicles carry such systems. They certainly demand little of the driver’s attention.
Whitfield (Personal Computer World, Sep 2008) looks, however, to the next stage of in-car computing, which the driver may find increasingly difficult to ignore. Motorists who are already accustomed to the incessant commands of a satellite-navigation system may think little of, for example, an automated voice telling them they are exceeding the speed limit, are too close to the vehicle in front or are about to reverse into a bollard. But also in development are applications that alert the motorist by mobile phone when something on the vehicle goes awry.
Looking further to the future, computers may eventually be able to take over the whole driving function, much like the automatic pilot on a passenger airliner. The driver would simply key in his or her destination, and let the computer do the rest. Whether drivers would see this as an advantage – or simply technological overkill – remains an open question.
Technological overkill is not something that is likely to trouble Indian farmers any time soon. Yet agriculturalists on the sub-continent could obtain solid and valuable benefits from technology that, by Western standards, would appear to be rudimentary.
Gollakota (International Journal of Information Management, Aug 2008) reports that sugar-manufacturer EID Parry has created Internet-enabled kiosks with computer access for Indian farmers, while developing and maintaining a worldwide web portal to provide information on farming and business techniques, weather forecasts and access to EID Parry’s enterprise-resource planning system.
The kiosks were initially offered as franchises to local entrepreneurs. Some kiosks, however, were not financially viable using this business model and had to be run by EID Parry itself.
The company has a coherent and compelling vision for its ‘Indiagriline’ system – though Gollakota arrives at the surprising conclusion that information alone appears to be insufficient to help the farmers, and that companies attempting this type of scheme must provide structural and financial solutions.