Technology And Productivity. What Went Wrong?

Kevin Drum wrote a typically brilliant post on absurdly high estimates of the growth of the number of health care administrators. I was very interested in one little passage.

My comment:

Dear Kevin,

You used to work for a tech company and IIRC in public relations. Now your day job is as a blogger-journalist. Don’t quit your day job.

You wrote:

“Once you take into account the growth in health care generally, the share devoted to administration has gone up by 50-100 percent. That’s a lot! But it’s also not that surprising. In 1970, the health care industry spent approximately $0 on IT management. Today they spend a bundle, and all of that is admin overhead. ”

You are saying a huge improvement in information technology explains part of the increase in administrative costs. Better technology is supposed to be more efficient not less efficient. If IT weren’t a waste of money, it would cause lower not higher costs (I’m embarrassed to type a tautology but there it is).

You think it is obvious that IT is a waste of money. This might be excellent work for a blogger journalist (I wouldn’t be surprised if you are right). But it sure suggests you have more of a past than of a future in tech pr.

I am being sarcastic and am also totally serious. In fact, I am quite confident that you are right that IT has caused an increase in administrative costs, and that the use of IT in business administration has been a total waste of money. The reason is the 4th law of thermodynamics — work expands to fill the allowed space. Also known as Parkinson’s law.

I’m sure the number of administrative tasks which can be performed per person hour has increased enormously (this is counting the information techs’ hours too). But I think the amount of the cost of each unit of product which goes to pay salaries of administrators has gone up. The reason is that the number of administrative tasks which are assigned or required is not equal to the number which are necessary or even useful (which I would guess is a low number). Rather it is the number which can be done without hiring more people who have old job descriptions. So the non info techie administrators are kept and given more tasks. This means that the newly hired info techies are an added expense, unless the new tasks given to other administrators are actually useful in some way.

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Carol W 4 weeks ago Contributor's comment

what's the point of this article?