Not that you would have wanted to, but once there were plenty of ways you could sideline a demanding customer until Monday morning if you were heading out for the weekend. You could have said that the busy signal he kept hearing meant that you had left the phone off the hook. There was no such thing as texting, so what was the alternative? You didn't have access to your fax machine, and since you were away from your desktop, you didn't see the email he sent.

There was no so such thing as a smart phone that would have given you the capability to check your emails; your "dumb phone" was all you had. In all likelihood, the customer would have understood; most people unplugged over the weekend anyway.

Virtually everything about this scenario has changed radically over the last 20 years. You can either thank or curse sea changes in information and communication technology. As a small-business owner, you may even do a little of both after you size up the advantages and disadvantages of ICT in business.

ICT Spawned a Global Village

For you, the currents of change may begin with the name, information and communication technology (ICT), instead of the earlier iteration, information technology (IT). Don't let semantics make you feel behind the times.

The inclusion of the word "communication" simply casts a wider net to include smart phones, the wireless network on which they depend, the internet, instant messaging, social networking and other communication mediums.

Stories abound about how even one of these mediums has the potential to launch a new business or revolutionize an existing small business. It may have even turned – or hold the power to turn – your strictly local operation into a global entity with no borders.

However, sometimes it takes a level-headed assessment of the biggest advantages and disadvantages of technology to assess whether the so-called global village created by information and communication technology is truly a good thing.

Add Up the Advantages of ICT

Whether or not you fully embrace them, the primary advantages of information and communication technology include:

  • Access to more information – news, research, financial data, photos, how-to articles and virtually anything else you're curious about – from around the world and flashed before your eyes in mere seconds. The speed alone has made real-time a real reality.
  • Greater efficiency, at least theoretically. If you're using technology to automate functions that were previously time-consuming and staff-consuming, you're probably singing its praises.
  • Mobility and remote connectivity that also has the potential to breed greater efficiencies. That pesky customer knows full well that in today's world, he can demand – and probably get – an impromptu weekend video conference call on a moment's notice.
  • Greater opportunities to learn and enhance your staff's skills at a fraction of the cost of generations past. Video seminars may not pack the panache of swanky out-of-town trips, but they can play an important role in staff development.
  • The opportunity to innovate, if not trail-blaze. When all of these advantages of information and communication technology converge, the potential to develop new ways to serve customers should leap to the forefront.

Compute the Disadvantages of ICT

It might be only the rarest person who disparages information, per se, but when it converges with the 24/7 accessibility of information, the picture takes on a different shape entirely. In this way, the chief disadvantages of information and communication technology include:

  • It creates dependencies that can diminish people's basic competencies, especially their verbal communication, mathematical and reasoning skills.
  • It can isolate people and erode their inter-dependencies, which is harmful if a small business relies on team efforts.
  • It takes time and money to keep current and improve, sometimes just to remain competitive. (Have you ever heard of a business cutting back on technology?)
  • It forces a host of issues that can be difficult and time-consuming to manage, including customer privacy, data security and intellectual property theft.
  • It makes it less feasible to disconnect, and don't think that the demanding customer doesn't know it. He expects you to snap to attention, or he might turn the tide and leave you "off the hook."