December 22, 2000, 3:17 PM —
I RECENTLY CHAIREDa committee of educators and business executives who reviewed the computer science and information technology courses offered by the Board of Higher Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The major finding of the group was that while the enrollment in IT courses was soaring (that's good), the system sorely lacked enough qualified professors to handle the added course load (not so good). The committee's recommendation: The business community has to get involved in the IT education of the citizens of Massachusetts.
Several weeks after submitting the report, I had the opportunity to listen to Stan Davis, a senior research fellow at The Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation. In his keynote presentation at an industry event, Davis ratcheted up the call to business. His point: The public education system in America cannot survive in the 21st century without the strong, proactive involvement of the business community.
According to research by Vanderbilt University, the digital divide in America is getting wider and deeper. The question our industry needs to answer is, Are we going to allow our country to become divided by those who know how to use technology and those who do not? Those who have access to technology and those who do not?
President Clinton soon will lead a tour of impoverished America and call for a plethora of federally funded programs to make the digital divide less deep and less wide. But that's not the answer. Stan Davis has it right: If we truly want America to have a technologically literate citizenry, we, the leaders of this wonderful e-business revolution, must make the time to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to participate.
Enabling more Americans to use a computing device makes strong business sense, and not just for those companies that sell technology equipment. Think of it: You spend most of your waking hours trying to figure out how to integrate your e-business initiatives with your customers, your partners, your legacy systems. If more potential customers and prospects know how to use technology to buy your goods and services, it stands to reason that you will have more opportunities to sell to them. What good is it to be building this wonderful digital world if half of society has no means to access it?
Ford Motor Co. and Delta Air Lines are taking steps in the right direction. Both companies recently announced that they're going to give all of their employees a personal computer and internet access for their home. These companies seem intent on giving their employees some "digital security." Wouldn't it be great if Ford and Delta encouraged employees who are already wired at home to donate their PC to a school, library or church?