How has technology changed the way we conduct business?

Computer Image Gallery We're wired in our personal lives and our work lives. See more pictures of computers.
Digital Property/Getty Images

Technology affects almost every aspect of our lives. Just look around you and you'll see how wired we are. Thanks to the Internet, virtually anything you desire can be delivered to your door in a matter of days. Personal information is more accessible over the Internet as well -- you can look up everything from a long-lost cousin to the registered sex offenders in your neighborhood. You can even trade stocks or file taxes online. Parents don't need to lose sleep waiting for their teenage daughter to come home -- they can just call her cell phone, or send an unobtrusive text, to check up.

But as much as our personal lives have changed, the business world has revolutionized almost beyond recognition in the past few decades. Technology -- and we mean the advances in communication and information technology -- has changed the face and the pace of business.

As communication and information travels faster and faster, the world seems smaller and smaller, and this has large implications for the way we conduct business. Storing important in files on a computer rather than in drawers, for instance, has made information easily accessible. Using e-mail allows businesses to communicate and send these files quickly to remote locations outside of an office.

Many argue technology has blurred the line between professional and private lives. Wireless Internet, cell phones and BlackBerries have made it easy to work from home -- or for that matter, from the beach. The fact that it's easy to work from the beach compels people to do so. On the flip side, people also feel compelled to use Internet access at work for personal reasons. In this way, technology allows workaholics to work and slackers to slack.

So, exactly how has technology changed the way we do business? In countless ways, but we'll highlight the major ones on the next page.

Effects of Technology on Business

BlackBerries and similar devices keep people connected so they can do business from anywhere.
BlackBerries and similar devices keep people connected so they can do business from anywhere.
Altrendo Images/Getty Images

Businesses have been at the forefront of technology for ages. Whatever can speed production will draw in more business. As computers emerged in the 20th century, they promised a new age of information technology. But in order to reap the benefits, businesses needed to adapt and change their infrastructure [source: McKenney]. For example, American Airlines started using a computerized flight booking system, and Bank of America took on an automated check-processing system.

Obviously, now, most business is conducted over personal computers or communication devices. Computers offer companies a way to organize dense databases, personal schedules and various other forms of essential information.

As information travels faster and faster and more reliably, barriers of distance disappear, and businesses are realizing how easy it is to outsource jobs overseas. Outsourcing refers to the practice of hiring employees who work outside the company or remotely -- and even halfway across the world. Companies can outsource duties such as computer programming and telephone customer service. They can even outsource fast-food restuarant service -- don't be surprised if you're putting in your hamburger order with a fast-food employee working in a different country entirely. Outsourcing is a controversial practice, and many believe that U.S. companies who take part are hurting the job market in their own country. Nonetheless, from a business perspective, it seems like the wisest route, saving companies between 30 and 70 percent [source: Otterman].

Another technology that's starting to revolutionize business is actually not very new -- it's just cheaper these days. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is infiltrating and changing business significantly in a few ways. Microchips that store information (such as a number equivalent of a barcode and even an up-to-date history of the chip's travels) can be attached to product, and this helps companies keep track of their inventory.

Some businesses have even begun to use RFID chip implants in humans to tighten security. An access control reader detects the chip's signal and permits the employee access to the door. But many people are concerned about privacy issues if this were to become widespread practice.

Handheld devices like BlackBerries have become wildly popular for businesses because they let users check and send email from anywhere, and browse the Internet.

On the next page, we'll take a deeper look at the Internet in particular and its affect on business.

Internet Business

Business booms on the Internet.
Business booms on the Internet.
Stockbyte/Getty Images

The Internet enables airlines to provide online flight booking, banks to offer online account management and bill pay and allows any company to sell any product online. In general, the Internet has proven to be an inexpensive way to reach more customers. Nowadays, if you can't find a business online, or if it has an outdated, ugly Web site, it looks downright unprofessional.

Many businesses have succeeded in using the Internet as their primary, or sometimes only, medium. (You're, of course, aware of this, given that you're reading a HowStuffWorks article. HowStuffWorks started as a hobby for college professor Marshall Brain, and it eventually grew into successful company.)

Small businesses, too, have become easier to start up using the Internet. If you're a stay-at-home mom who makes a killer batch of cookies, you can easily sell them over the Internet and ship them to your customers.

But, it's not always as simple as it sounds. Any business conducted online must consider security, privacy or even copyright issues. Copyright issues would include making sure your business doesn't use someone else's original work (such as a logo, for instance) or even making sure no one else is profiting from your business's creative work.

One of the biggest ways the Internet has changed business is through targeted advertising. Using Google, companies can specify the keywords that will drive certain customers to their ad. For instance, if you were to plug the word "baking" into Google, you might click on a page from epicurious.com. That epicurious page will have Google ads from sponsors who sell baking-related products. A company that sells rolling pins can pay to have its ads show up for people who search for specific words, like "baking," "pies" or "dough." It makes good business sense -- people who search for "baking" on Google will be much more likely to click on a rolling pin ad than the average person.

Despite what we've discussed in this article, we haven't even scratched the surface of what new technology can do for business communications. The next page provides links to even more articles on information technology and products that have business implications.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • FTC. "E-Commerce." Federal Trade Commission. (May 30, 2008)http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/menus/business/ecommerce.shtm
  • McKenney, James L. "Waves of Change: Business Evolution Through Information Technology." Harvard Business Press, 1995. (May 30, 2008) http://books.google.com/books?id=1HPxUJNFgbgC&dq=%22waves+of+change%22+mckenney&client=firefox-a&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0
  • Pirozzolo, Dick. "'85% Of All Business, Other Writing Contains at Least One Grammar Error,' Whitesmoke Survey." Business Wire. May 14, 2008. (June 2, 2008)http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20080514006317/en