of disparate and once-incompatible technologies. It involves melding application domains, such as manufacturing, finance, retail, or transportation, with a supporting infrastructure of information technology components, including databases, operating systems, architectures, networks, communications devices, and security measures. The result is a transformation of the business environment and of business processes, a strategic change aimed at rapid capture and assimilation of information for planning and decision making.
Today, executives and researchers speak of ''learning organizations'' and of the need for businesses to "reinvent" themselves as competitive conditions change. Both concepts reflect the critically important enabling role played by information technology.
Systems integration represents, in effect, the fruitful culmination of computing and communications research and experience, and it is digital technology's point of departure into the information age. "If there is any trend that has been consistent over the last four decades of computation, it is integration," explained Laszlo Belady, former vice president for software technology and advanced computing technology at the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp. (he is now chairman and director of Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories Inc.). "Forty years ago," he continued, "everything was isolated in terms of computer use—isolated in space and time. Now we see that both dimensions are integrated. There is continuity in electronic information, in time, and more and more applications have become interconnected. This leads to distributed computing networks."
Some U.S. businesses and government organizations are investing heavily in their information futures. Corporate spending for private networks now accounts for more than half of all investment in U.S. communications networks.1 This has spawned an amalgam of uncoordinated networking initiatives, but many organizations remain untethered to the electronic connections that have sprouted over the last decade. Some small and midsize companies have formed information partnerships and pooled their resources to overcome the large financial and technical obstacles to exploiting the advantages of integrating and linking their information technology.2 Most have not.
Many observers believe that the United States must build a national information infrastructure and that this information-age equivalent of the national highway system will not materialize from the ad hoc networks that have emerged in recent years. Advocates, including members of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, believe that the potential benefits wrought by new digital technology—as well as those to come, when information in all its diverse textual, graphic, and audio forms can be transmitted electronically—will multiply if the economy and all of society are integrated into a cohesive nationwide network with links to the rest of the world.3