US Information Technology Investment per Worker

Investment in information technology by US businesses varies dramatically across industries.  On a per worker basis, the top industry invested over 300 times that invested by the bottom industry in 2015.

Why does information technology investment per worker matter?

While information technology (IT) investment per worker has grown over time across all industries, there clearly are industries that use IT more intensively in their production of goods and services.  Knowing how this intensity varies across industries can inform public policy decisions.  For example, the demand for labor may be impacted by the amount of IT workers have to work with.  Thus any policy (e.g. tax) targeting business investment decisions can have a differential effect on labor markets depending on the intensity with which IT is used.

Knowing how IT intensity varies across industries is also useful from a micro perspective.  How much ABC Corp located at 100 Main Street, Any Town USA spends on IT is probably unknown to B2B marketers.  However, knowing in which industry ABC Corp plays and how many employees work at the 100 Main Street location can yield a ball park estimate of how much ABC Corp can potentially spend on IT.

Such information would be quite useful for IT vendors selling into ABC Corp.

Where does one find data on IT intensity?

The big IT market research houses, such as Forrester and IDC, provide industry-level estimates of IT spending.  But usually at an aggregated industry-level (e.g. 2-digit NAICS or 1-digit SIC).  And they are unlikely to provide employee counts.

Fortunately, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) provides estimates of investment in IT “equipment” (computers, software and communications).  While they do not provide estimates of spending on IT services (e.g. IT consulting, system integration and outsourcing), the BEA data provide insights into how much businesses are spending on the three other main components of IT.

Moreover, the BEA provides these data at the sub-industry, 3-digit NAICS level; they provide estimates of employment at this same level of disaggregation; and they provide these data every year.

What more could a data junkie want?

Information technology investment per worker (IT intensity)

IT intensity is defined as gross investment in hardware, software and communication equipment per worker.  In 2015 (the last year for which data are available), IT intensity averaged about $3,100 per US private sector worker (in 2009 $).  This is 3 times what it was in 1998.

However, this national average hides the dramatic variation across industries.  Below is an interactive dashboard which shows IT intensity expressed as an index (industry intensity/average intensity) for 2015.  Not surprisingly, the Information Services industry invested over 8 times the national average; the Agriculture industry just .03 times.

Drilling down into the Information Services industry (click on the bar chart) shows that it is the Data Processing and Broadcast and Telecommunications sub-industries that account for the lion’s share of Information Services industry investment (see the bottom chart).  Again, not too surprising.

The dashboard allows one to select the type of IT investment.  Selecting “Communications” reveals the intensity of investment in communications equipment (phone systems, internet and networking equipment).  Again, the Information Services industry leads the pack as a result of heavy investment in the Broadcast and Telecommunications sub-industries.

However, the bottom chart shows the ranking of all sub-industries (3-digit NAICS).  Interestingly, the Water Transport and Pipeline Transport industries are relatively intensive users of communications equipment.

If anyone knows why, drop us a line, we would like to know!

Other interesting findings…selecting “HW – Servers” reveals the intensity of investment in physical servers.  The top three sub-industries are Federal Reserve Banks, Rental and Leasing and Credit Intermediation.  At the 2-digit NAICS level, it is the Finance industry that is the top investor in servers, followed by the Wholesale industry.

We will leave it to the reader to play with the dashboard and uncover other interesting stories (e.g. in the Manufacturing industry, which sub-industry invests the most in storage equipment? in printers?).


Our takeaway is that although the “usual suspects” appear as high intensive users of IT, at the sub-industry (3-digit NAICS) level, there is wide and not always predictable variation.  Especially when drilling into the different categories of IT investment.

What is your takeaway?

In a future article, we will take up this subject again and examine in more detail how information technology investment per worker (IT intensity) has changed over time.


In 2015 IT investment per worker averaged about $3,100 (in 2009 $). This is 3x what it was in 1998.