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IBM expert calls for open access

Tuesday, April 22, 1997

South China Morning Post

A senior IBM executive and technology strategist argues that acceptance of the Internet as a medium of communication within the workplace is a key to maintaining a competitive
business environment.

This is not a new message but John Patrick, IBM’s Internet technology vice-president, puts a different spin on the statement, saying this acceptance is not just applicable to technology companies that deal with technologically savy partners.

On a recent visit to Hong Kong, he said claims the Internet was a waste of time in the workplace were flawed and its treatment as an effective and productive communications medium boiled down to commonsense work practices.

“I address CEOs and managers at conferences all over the world and I tell them all employees should have unrestricted access to the Internet and should use it frequently at work,” Mr. Patrick said.

“Afterwards, I always get questions like, `Did you really mean that? Unrestricted access?’ They say they’ve never heard anyone give that advice before.” Unlimited access is not the message being spread in mainstream business circles in Hong Kong

Companies setting up with on-line access are usually given Internet etiquette and time-management guidelines from Internet service providers and management experts, which instruct them to deny worldwide web access to most employees.

Mr. Patrick said the first naive criticism was always: “We don’t want them looking up the Playboy site while they are supposed to be working.” He said unwanted sites or
undesirable content was not the real issue when it came to productivity

“Does that also mean that you don’t let your employees buy a newspaper and read it at work?” Mr. Patrick asked. “The CEOs must encourage their employees to use the Internet because if a company doesn’t know what is happening on the Internet with their rivals, their customers, their contemporaries, then they will not know what is going on outside the office.” In future, Mr. Patrick said the web browser would become the dialtone. It would be ubiquitous and every company must be prepared for the change. A 29-year IBM veteran, he was the architect of IBM’s Get Connected strategy formulated in 1994.

Mr. Patrick said the Global Internet Project, formed last year, was active in campaigning for a better understanding of the Internet as a social and business tool. He acknowledged there were six major threats that could restrict the use of the Internet.

Security, which he said was an education issue, rather than a technology one. Bandwidth, importantly the “backbone” and the “last mile” that are the two key sectors that need improvement. “We are building the `Internet II’ for the backbone and for the last mile there are competing technologies such as satellite, wireless and cable that will increase bandwidth
and make it cheaper to have more bandwidth.” Scalability.

Application development. Potential breakthroughs will make it much easier to build software to disseminate Internet content.

Regulation. “That is a real threat,” Mr. Patrick said. “We have to educate governments and regulators that there is so much good about the Internet that make it worthwhile.”
Proprietary pressures. “The Internet by its very nature is open,” he said. “It is an open competitive spirit. If someone tries to contain it just on the desktop then it is
not in the spirit.”