The real Digital Natives are those of us from the 70's

Image: Mª Teresa Herrero, with Adobe Stock elements.
Workplace in the 90s. Image: Mª Teresa Herrero, with Adobe Stock elements.
Workplace in the 60s-80s. Image: Mª Teresa Herrero, with Adobe Stock elements.

The PC brought us the “democratization” of access to information processing capabilities for the first time.

If we want to talk about Digital Transformation, we should reflect on the one we have played a leading role, without realizing it. The PC brought us the “democratization” of access to information processing capabilities. If we want to understand the importance of this revolution we must go back much earlier. Let us review the successive transformations that information technologies introduced in companies and organizations.

Information Technology in Companies and Organizations

Every human organization provides services through the transformation of physical or intangible goods. Handling information is essential to any activity, even if it is only for inventory and workflow management. The spectacular development of the 20th-century economy would have been impossible without the technologies that made it possible to process, store and distribute information on a massive scale.

The spectacular development of the 20th-century economy would have been impossible without the technologies that made it possible to process, store and distribute information on a massive scale.

In a nutshell, we can distinguish four major stages in the evolution of information technologies in companies. Each one has involved a growing number of machines and processes and has led to the automation of increasingly specialized and diverse activities.

Eras of information technologies. Impact on the automation of activities, and order of magnitude of the number of servers or machines involved. Dates are approximate. Image: Mª Teresa Herrero, with Adobe Stock elements.

1ª Era: The Mainframe

Computer from the 1950s-60s. Image: Adobe Stock

2nd Era: The arrival of Unix machines

During the 1970s - 1990s, the company began to entrust the management of all its activities to information systems.

The large Corporate Information Systems stored the relevant information for each activity and recorded with the highest fidelity each and every step to be executed in each operation. Traceability of any operation was essential to ensure that it was completed, and to know its status at all times.

Large Operation-oriented corporate systems are the software version of the assembly line. They collect the workflows, and the information necessary for their execution. The role of the workers is to “feed” the system with the necessary information at each step. Image: Adobe Stock

The price of mass automation of activities is paradigmatic rigidity and great difficulty in changing any process.

There is another considerable price: the systems are optimized for quick response to queries about individual operations. It is really complicated to obtain aggregate information from them. Just what you need to make decisions.

3rd Era: The x86 Revolution

With the PC, information analysis and processing has definitely left the realm of “computer scientists” and “computer science”.

Diagram of how the PC changed information processing. The connection with multiple sources of information provides data, which can be processed and enriched thanks to computing power and specialized tools. That generates enriched information, which in turn is shared with others. The process is not automatic; it is a person who selects the information, analyzes it, and elaborates the results according to what is needed at any given moment. People are the essential ingredient in this revolution. Image: Mª Teresa Herrero, with elements from Adobe Stock

The x86 Revolution differed from previous ones in that the changes were not driven by the technology, or by those who implemented it. Users became the protagonist of change, as they found an infinite number of uses for the means now available to them.

So we could welcome the “knowledge worker” who spends most of his time studying the information available to him and deciding which activities to prioritize or undertake. The knowledge worker is not a person at the service of an automated process, although he may participate in it. It is a person who decides which activities to incorporate into the process, in which order we must attend them, and which to take out of the execution. He is a decision-maker.

The knowledge worker is not a person at the service of an automated process, although he may participate in it. It is a person who decides, based on information analysis, what should be executed, and how.

When we talk about decision support tools, everyone thinks of the impressive dashboards designed to monitor the activity of top management. Big mistake: a company develops its operations thanks to thousands of decisions made daily by people working with rather ugly data tables. These tables integrate information from different corporate systems, internal sources, and lots of hours of analysis by those who have designed them to be their essential tool.

The bulk of the information needed to run the business is created and stored in on employees’ PCs, not in Corporate Systems.

Where the information and computing power resides

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the x86 revolution is to represent the distribution of computing capacity (+storage + communications) within organizations.

Information processing capacity in the first two eras of information technologies. Image: Mª Teresa Herrero, with elements from Adobe Stock
Information processing capacity in the third era of information technologies. Overall, there is much more capacity and information distributed on users’ PCs than in all the Corporate Systems. Image: Mª Teresa Herrero, with elements from Adobe Stock
Data Warehouses came to solve the massive access to information from Operational Systems, necessary for the analysis tasks performed by each user. They facilitate access to information in a standard way, without the need to know the details of the systems from which they originate. Image: Mª Teresa Herrero, with elements from Adobe Stock

4th Era: Software as a Service + Cloud. Who will take the lead?

Without the perspective of history, which has helped us understand previous eras, it is difficult to explain the enormous changes we are living in today. Giving users a versatile tool o access and provide information, the PC, completely changed the enterprise. The Cloud Computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) models repeat this process, this time without the need to put those means on our desks. The enormous development and ubiquity of communication networks over the last 20 years have made this possible.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Maria Teresa Herrero Zamorano

Maria Teresa Herrero Zamorano

Telco Engineer, +10 years designing and deploying networks, +15 years applying complex systems theories and analytical tools to understand their dynamics.