By Dick Haney
We are living in the real time information age, and it is providing both challenges and opportunities in our businesses, but most importantly it is affecting how we make decisions. This change has arrived with the force of a tsunami and it is invading our workplace from all directions. These changes are taking place at an exponential rate.
It was only 45 years ago that some areas around my hometown of Picture Butte were finally included in the telephone grid. I can still remember what our €œring€ was on the old party line system; it was two longs and a short. I€™ll bet that many of you or your parents can still remember what their rings were. Television sets first arrived in our area in the 1950€™s. During the World Series, the games would be filmed and then flown up by jet so that they could be watched in the wee hours of the following morning, and of course the picture was in black and white. I first attended the University of Calgary in 1971. They had just received a new Generation Three IBM 360 series Main Frame Computer. It took up two floors of a very large building and was state of the art €“ it had 32K of RAM. I think many of our modern wrist watches have more RAM than that. Today, most automobiles have much more computing power than the Space Ship that transported Neil Armstrong to the moon. It is probably not a well-known fact that when NASA brought back Apollo 13 from their ill-fated mission, the engineers did their calculations on a slide rule. This is a manual analogue-computing device that was used to divide, multiply and do trigonometric functions. It was developed in the 1700€™s. Think about that: using 300-year-old technology to return a spaceship safely to earth from the moon. The slide rule became obsolete in 1974 with the advent of the electronic scientific calculator but it was state of the art technology for centuries.
What is the shelf life for today€™s €œNew Technologies?€ Look at the differences in telephone technology. In twenty-five years we have moved from hard-wired operator assisted car telephones to the IPhone 4 with all of its power and multitude of applications. The trick is how do we handle this barrage of information and technology in order to put it to good use in our businesses. We must manage information and harness technology and not allow it to control or mislead us.
I believe that one the major problems facing Agribusiness today is not the quantity of information that is available, but the quality. With the advent of the Internet and all of the ancillary devices that come with it, we basically have all of the knowledge that the world possesses in the public domain at our fingertips, and quite frankly as Wikileaks has just proven we have access to information that was not intended for the public domain.
Another fact of life is that our actions, thoughts and utterances are being recorded and we are not in control over how this information will be used or stored or who will use it. Because of this Grade School students are being advised to stay off of Facebook, as that source of information could be used by those choosing who will move onto higher learning at quality institutions that spend far more time thinking of ways to turn you down than let you in. University students at some Institutions are being advised not to download Wikileaks transmissions, as this may become a question on job interviews when these students join the working world. Businesses are building profiles on us every day. The sites you access on the net, how long you spend at a site, your credit record, where your eyes travel in a retail store when you are scoping the shelves is all information that is collected and can conceivably be used in ways that you would find objectionable.
We must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the shear quantity of information, but learn to manage the information flow to our advantage by being selective.
In business it is now necessary to engage our thought processes ahead of time, as there is very often very little time in which to make a decision as the world moves so quickly. Those that have made contingency plans, and have gone through the if €“ then scenarios are the managers that will probably be successful as they have already done the internal and external audits and considered the possible environmental factors that may affect a decision. It is now necessary to have answers ready for given situations such that as much emotion as possible is taken out of the equation and one can execute in a rational informed manner while surrounded by chaos.
Information arbitrage no longer exists, as it is accessible at the same time no matter where you are on the planet. You can be at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in downtown Chicago or sitting on your tractor just outside Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and you will receive commodity futures information in real time at either location. It took CNN less than 10 minutes to report the first plane flying into one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. The whole world received that information at the same time. So in short the rules of the game have changed, it€™s not who gets the information as we all get much of it at the same time but it€™s how we are able to manage and cope with the sensory overload that we must contend with each day.
To those that are on the slippery side of fifty (and I include myself in this group) there has to be a conscious effort to engage these new technologies and use them to our advantage. I think we all agree that it is the younger set that has embraced the changes much more whole-heartedly than we have. So, take the time, make the time, force yourself to engage; you never know you might just enjoy it. The technological train has left the station and we€™re all on it. I just hope that I am present the day that my grandson tells my son what a technological Neanderthal he is, because as we all know, what comes round goes round.
I€™d like to take a small poll and divide it up into those under or over fifty years of age. The reason that I picked that number is that it represents approximately the average age of farmers in this country. I think it would be interesting to get some idea of who is accessing technology. The results will be available to you immediately; the poll is updated in real time and is found above in the middle of the story.