TORONTO — Though the challenges facing businesses today are the same as they were 20 years ago, the role technology plays in meeting those challenges has changed drastically since the early 1980s, according to the president of IBM Canada Ltd.


at the York Technology Association‘s 20th anniversary luncheon Thursday, Ed Kilroy reminisced about two decades of technological changes: the precipitous drop in the cost of computing, the movement from mainframes to client-server to network-based computing.

But he focused, not unsurprisingly, on the growing influence of technology on business.

“”Technology was not at the time the biggest impact on productivity and I would say now that it is,”” Kilroy said.

If the importance of technology to business is reflected by the growth of technology firms, Killroy could claim support for his argument from earlier comments by Don Cousens, the mayor of Markham, Ont and a YTA founder.

“”If anything comes out of 20 years for me, there’s far more companies out of Markham that call themselves high-tech,”” he said.

Like now, Killroy said, technology was used 20 years ago (and long before that) to tackle four constant business problems: cost control, revenue generation, customer service and employee productivity. But then, technology was used internally, to automate a certain process. Think standalone word processors or photocopiers. Today, technology affects all parts of the business, and is more about empowering employees rather than enabling them to do a task faster.

“”Now technology begins to affect the way you do business and opens up opportunity to do business . . . nationally, internationally, but you also open it up for competitors to come the other way,”” he said.

Indeed, e-business — which Killroy described as connecting key processes to key constituencies, including transactions and interactions between customers, suppliers and employees — does come with its own challenges.

Along with increased competition, there is a flip side to customer and employee self service. Companies shouldn’t think intranets and automatic banking machines will completely eliminate the need for personal attention.

“”As you deploy for employees to use, you still have to utilize your employee-to-manager relationships and face to face”” opportunities, Killroy said.

Still, despite these concerns and those over security and privacy, Killroy said businesses need to become e-businesses, even old economy companies like Tim Hortons, which Killroy said has been surprisingly aggressive on the Web, pointing out the coffee shop conglomerate’s work in creating a B2B portal to connect franchises to its head office.

“”If you don’t have technology embedded into your business, then the smartest graduates are going to work somewhere else,”” he said. “”Looking forward it’s going to the biggest enabler out there.””


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