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Top>Opinion>Maintaining a Sense of Balance in an ICT Society


Hideo Yamamoto

Hideo Yamamoto [profile]

Maintaining a Sense of Balance in an ICT Society

Hideo Yamamoto
Professor, Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management (Business School), Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Information and Communication Network Design, Program Management, Technology Development Management Theory

Read in Japanese

A Film I Saw 15 Years Ago

At the time when the internet was just starting to become popular in Japan, I remember seeing a film called The Net (Japanese title: The Internet) on a plane coming back from the United States. The main character was a female computer analyst who has all the data on her personal information data that was recorded in her computer swapped with that of a criminal, and the story develops based on the scenario that she is now unable to prove her own identity. At the time, I was working on developing an internet service, and I remember experiencing ambivalent feelings after watching this movie: on the one hand, I remember thinking how good it would be when computers and the internet developed further to make everything so convenient, but also how terrifying a society that became over-dependent on computers would be.

The Hidden Accidents and Incidents that Lurk in a Convenient Society

Today, the internet and computers have become a part of our way of life. If there is something you wish to find out, you can use an internet search engine to gather together information from all over the world. You can take a photo and post it on a Social Network Service with a comment and immediately get feedback from your friends saying they "Like" it. Your address and important information is stored in a hypothetical server called a Cloud and it is absolutely normal to simply retrieve it from there when necessary.

In this way, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has penetrated our lifestyles so completely, that it has become easy for companies to collect people's personal information quite efficiently. From the usage history of point cards, it is simple to ascertain what customers bought, at which store and when. Using the Global Positioning System (GPS) built-into Smartphones, it is possible to identify the location which you are in. If net shopping data, comments on SNS, and weather data etc., are put together and analyzed, it is possible to grasp what a person might be feeling or saying in response to the situation around them. Companies can now utilize all this varied information in formulating their business strategies.

However, last year (2012) also bore witness to the occurrence of a number of incidents and accidents that users had not anticipated. There was the Google search engine personal information violation incident, in which when a person's name was input, words that suggested they were responsible for a crime appeared, and damage was incurred by the person, such as losing their job. Then, there was the Firstserver glitch incident, in which information that had been stored in a rented server was first deleted in its entirety, and then, after it was restored, it became possible to access others' information. And finally there was the other shocking incident, the misidentification of a criminal by remote handling of a prosecutor's computer incident, in which a person was wrongly identified and arrested as the criminal responsible for posting a message on an internet notice board giving prior warning of a murder.

ICT has become a powerful tool to enrich our lifestyles, and we should actively think about how it can be used to create a more convenient society. However, we must not forget that these sorts of unimaginable accidents and incidents can also be caused by ICT. Trying to find the balance between these two aspects is the basis of security and governance in an ICT society.

The Mindset of Program Management

It is very difficult to accurately predict in advance the sorts of problems that may occur during the process of a company pioneering a new business or conducting research and development or even to accurately predict the effect that will be realized as the final result. As an attempt to systematize the management and operational knowledge required in conducting these sorts of new business ventures, research into Project and Program Management (hereinafter referred to as P2M) is being conducted.1,2 In P2M, new business ventures are regarded as being programs to create value, and each program is made into a model divided into the three stages of business venture vision (Scheme Model), system construction (System Model), and business venture operation (Service Model), which each show methods of responding in cases when unexpected accident or incidents occur. P2M is research into methodologies of actually applying companies' highly abstract and all-encompassing business strategies to the real situation on the ground, in the workplace.

The three key characteristics of P2M are: (1) In the business venture vision, sharing the values to be created by the program with users and related persons and setting the goals for system construction and business venture operation; (2) It shows responses to uncertainty (the occurrence of unexpected accidents or incidents) in the program by a method of dividing the burden across the three levels of the company as a whole, the division(s) related to the program, and the subdivided project team; and (3) reviewing the goals in the system construction and business venture operation stages and, if necessary, allowing for modification of the goals, or abandonment or postponement of part of the business venture.

Adopting this way of thinking in management is beneficial when utilizing ICT systems in conducting new business ventures. It allows programs to be pursued while bearing in mind, from the stage of business venture vision, both uncertainty and the effect of introducing ICT systems.

Life as a Program

In using internet services, too, it might be beneficial for us to adopt the mindset of program management. First, we need to understand the effect of using the service. At the same time, we should also be aware of the following three types of uncertainty (the occurrence of unexpected accidents or incidents):

(1) In the future, you may incur damage due to the environment of use of the service changing (for example, if your personal information is leaked or if due to a change in thinking regarding security protection, the service no longer corresponds with your own principles, etc.);

(2) You may incur damage if the effect you expected from the service in the first place does not materialize;

(3) You may incur damage if you yourself make an error in your method of using the service.

Once you begin using the service, in order that as far as possible (2) and (3) do not occur, it is prudent to exchange information with friends, etc. regarding the service. If an incident or accident occurs relating to (1), you will need to consider ending your use of the service or changing the contract immediately. Since information itself cannot be seen, it is not easy to detect what is behind (or what intent might be behind) the phenomena that can be seen. We need to constantly be on the alert and keep learning in order to assess the true nature of systems that use ICT.

In the movie, The Net, which I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the main female character lived a lifestyle of being constantly shut up in her house, so that even her neighbors were unable to help her by bearing witness and proving her identity. This hints at just how important it is to maintain normal human relationships in our daily lives, even in a world where computers are essential to our lifestyles, too. The internet now connects up the entire world and the speed of evolution of information processing technology is now unbelievably rapid. My hope is that we can, while maintaining a proper sense of balance by considering both the effects of ICT and uncertainty, actively reap the benefits of an ICT society, and live our lives in a manner which fulfills and expands us.

  • 1 Shigenobu Ohara (Supervising Editor), Project Management Development Survey Committee (Editors) P2M Project & Program Management Standards Guidebook [P2M Purojekuto & Puroguramu Manejimento Hyojun Gaidobukku], (Engineering Advancement Association of Japan, 2001)
  • 2 Hideo Yamamoto, "Value Creation Management in an Uncertain Environment [Fukakujitsuna Kankyoka no Kachi Sozo Manejimento]," International Association of Project and Program Management Journal [Kokusai P2M Gakkai Ronbunshi], Vol.4, No.1, pp.17-26 (2009)
Hideo Yamamoto
Professor, Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management (Business School), Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Information and Communication Network Design, Program Management, Technology Development Management Theory
Born in Aomori Prefecture in 1952. Graduated from the Electrical Department of the Faculty of Engineering at Tohoku University in 1975, and gained a Master's degree from the Electrical and Communications Engineering Department of the Graduate School of Engineering at Tohoku University in 1977. In 1988, he received his doctoral degree in engineering from Hokkaido University. From 1977 until 2004, he was employed at the NTT Electrical Communications Laboratories, NTT America, NTT Communications Ltd., and NTT Data Ltd. In 2004, he became a Professor in the Graduate School of Commerce and Management at Hitotsubashi University. In 2008, he became a Professor in the Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management (Business School) at Chuo University, before serving in his current position as Dean of the Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management (Business School) at Chuo University in 2011.
His main published works include: "Information Sharing for an ICT System for Strategic Program Management," Shigenobu Ohara and Takayuki Asada (Editors), Japanese Project Management KPM-Innovation, Development and Improvement, pp.107-110, pp.143-153, (World Scientific Publishing: 2009); "Value Creation Management in an Uncertain Environment [Fukakujitsuna Kankyoka no Kachi Sozo Manejimento]," International Association of Project and Program Management Journal [Kokusai P2M Gakkai Ronbunshi], Vol.4, No.1, pp.17-26 (2009); and Hideo Yamamoto, Atsushi Yoshikawa, Mikako Ogawa, Akiko Orita and Takao Terano, "Narrative Approach Education using MANGA for Management," Journal of Strategic Management Studies 2011, Vol.2, No.2, pp.31-42 (2011).