Paul A. Strassmann, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense
for command, control, communications and intelligence, has
developed a conflict hypothesis to explain the complexity and
enormous increase in the power of computers. His model of
business computer use is that of a commercial version of
information warfare. The large spending on computerization and the
penetration and pervasiveness of computers is not an economic
phenomenon; it is a warfare phenomenon where competition leads to
the equivalent of an information-based conflict, he posits.|
"What you have in business today is a giant arms race, where everybody is leapfrogging everybody else every two years or so," Strassmann says. "You can use computers as a weapon of choice to attack an established organization." This attack is performed within the guidelines of market competition, not as traditional industrial sabotage. The commercial information onslaught is used to either defend or overtake a competitive position.
For example, a retailer might "deny oxygen" to an established competitor by offering advanced World Wide Web sales that undercut the other store in terms of price, inventory availability or convenience. "E-commerce is a giant confrontation of competitive interests," Strassmann emphasizes.
"The appropriate model is not a productivity model. We are in a transition period where the model is one of commercial use of computers for commercial warfare."
This hypothesis also explains why many e-commerce giants are not yet turning a profit, and may not in the foreseeable future, he says. Historically, imperial forces trying to acquire land experienced considerable manpower losses in warfare. Even the land objective and its assets can be destroyed during the transition period of conquest, Strassmann notes. Money-losing e-commerce companies are not wasting time and resources but instead are positioning themselves to reap the benefits when they win the competition. "Warfare is a suitable topic for explaining the current transition period," he says. "In fact, it is a more apt model for understanding what's going on than some arcane economic theories that have not been supported with data."
Companies must enter this commercial information warfare realm not only to be successful, but merely to survive, "Survival comes first," Strassmann says. "Then, if you have survived, you have an option to perhaps be successful. Right now much of the computer armament race is driven by fear.
"The United States has basically divested itself of manufacturing capability and saddled itself with an enormous corporate overhead," Strassmann warns. "Consequently, it has no choice but to look to computerization and information technologies, as long as it has dominance in that area, as a weapon of choice to obtain its share of world trade and improvement in economic position."