IT AND ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: EVIDENCE FROM MICRO DATA STUDIES
By B.K. Atrostic and Ron Jarmin* Micro data—that is, data on individual businesses that underlie key economic indicators—allow us to go behind published statistics and ask how IT affects businesses’ economic performance. Years ago, analyses indicated a positive relationship between IT and productivity, even when official aggregate statistics still pointed towards a “productivity paradox.” Now, such analyses shed light on how varied that relationship is across businesses, and how IT makes its impacts. This chapter focuses on research about businesses based on micro data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. We highlight the kinds of questions about the use and impact of IT that only micro data allow us to address. Micro data studies in the United States and in other OECD countries show that IT affects the productivity and growth of individual economic units. Specific estimates of the size of the effect vary among studies. Researchers comparing manufacturing plants in the United States and Germany, for example, find that in each country investing heavily in IT yields a productivity premium, but that the premium is higher in the United States than it is in Germany. They also find that the productivity premium varies much more for U.S. manufacturers. This greater variability is consistent with the view that the U.S. policy and institutional environments may be more conducive to experimentation by U.S. businesses. What kind of IT investments do U.S. businesses make? Census Bureau data on U.S. manufacturing establishments show that they invest in both computer networks and the kind of complex software that coordinates multiple business processes within and among establishments. About 50 percent of these plants have networks, while fewer than 10 percent have invested in this complex software. Such a wide difference between the presence of networks and
* Ms Atrostic... [continues]
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