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Management of infrastructures: What can the internet developers learn from the history of railways?

Reima Suomi (Turku School of Economics and Business Administration, Turku, Finland)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 1 July 2005

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Abstract

Purpose

The aim of this paper is to compare the railway and internet revolutions. What do they have in common and what is different between them, considering the 150‐year time difference in their occurrence? As time passes, can internet developers learn something from the railway industry?

Findings

The two industries have a lot of common. Both railways and the internet represent national infrastructures that cannot be managed just based on business management principles. As both are concerned with traffic, either that of physical goods or of messages, the two industries also seem to have a lot in technical terms when one takes a sufficiently abstract point of view. The main message is that in the long term, the railway revolution vanished and the industry turned into a low profit/interest field. The internet might follow the same path.

Research limitations/implications

The paper in its current form is based on a literature review only. Its quality could be improved with a detailed empirical study. Other similar infrastructure‐type industries could also be involved.

Practical implications

There are several things that could be improved in the management of the internet, but they are large‐scale issues needing co‐operation between the many stakeholders in the internet. Examples are those of avoiding the digital divide and catering for critical “last mile” connections, as well as managing the diversity of different standards.

Originality/value

As far as the author knows this is the first paper of its kind comparing these two industries. The message is that more cross‐industrial studies need to be performed. Also, the message of the paper – that the internet might turn into a low‐interest business in the long run – has not been discussed sufficiently.

Keywords

Citation

Suomi, R. (2005), "Management of infrastructures: What can the internet developers learn from the history of railways?", Management Decision, Vol. 43 No. 6, pp. 896-905. https://doi.org/10.1108/00251740510603628

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited