Productivity and Agility
Here I explore how my use of personal computers has improved my productivity and business agility over the last 50 years - leaving me time to do the fun creative, innovative fee earning stuff! For each productivity/agility aid I describe it, its impact on me and the year when I began to use it.
The way I did a calculation changed immensely over the last fifty to sixty years.
While I was at school, if I needed to multiply or divide numbers I used Log Tables where the numbers were expressed as base10 logarithms. To multiply two numbers you got their logarithms from the table, added them and then looked up the antilog of the result. To divide you subtracted the logarithm of one number from the logarithm of the other. (For more information about this). Besides being time consuming the accuracy of your calculation was typically limited to four significant figures.
At university and up to the mid-1970s, if I needed to multiply or divide numbers I used a slide rule. The slide rule that I used had two logarithmic scales with one sliding in the other. To multiply two numbers you positioned the start of the sliding portion at the first number to multiply on the static portions. The result was found by seeing where the second number was positioned. The slide rule saved me a lot of time compared to using log tables. However, the accuracy was likely to be limited as you had to position the slide and read off the numbers and so even then I used Log Tables.
<slide rule picture here AND EXAMPLE HERE>
While at university its state-of-the-art maths lab had mechanical calculators where to multiply a number you wound a handle the requisite number of times. This was both time consuming and tiring. I remember working for over an hour on a calculation and then forgetting how many times I had wound the handle (duh). Rich companies (like GE) used electromechanical calculators where an electric motor wound the handle (and did not forget) - if I remember correctly you could either buy four automobiles or an electromechanical calculator.
Unless you learnt to program you had a very limited range of pre-programmed applications available on time-sharing. Also, usually, these were standard statistical and engineering applications. My first use of a computer personally was a simple curve fitting program (SIXCUR$). To what extent did this improve productivity. I had just spent two days doing correlation analysis on a state-of-the-art electromechanical calculator. I did the same work in a few minutes using Computer Time-Sharing!
In 1974, having just got a promotion I splashed out and bought a Sinclair Cambridge calculator. This only cost me £30 (equivalent to about £280 today). Fitted in my pocket and allowed me to add, subtract, multiply and divide - a major step forward. A remember clearly an article at the time in the Financial Times suggesting that pocket calculator prices would never drop below £30 - whereas, they now cost £1. In 1976 I graduated to a scientific calculator that include trigonometric and statistical calculations although I only tended to use the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
<picture of Sinclair Cambridge calculator here>
In 1979 I saw a neat Sharp EL-8062 pendant calculator watch that I could use as a fob watch or hang round my neck. I rarely used it as a fob watch as I rarely wore a waistcoat but when I did seeing peoples' expressions when I took it out was wonderful as they expected to see a classic round "Hunter" watch. I tended to wear the watch as a pendant and this had a peripheral benefit - young women would come up to me in the street to admire the watch!! So I refer to it as a four function device - watch, calculator, alarm and young lady lure! A down side of wearing a pendant watch is that on one occasion while leaning over a table, I dunked the watch in a cup of coffee. But after washing in water and replacing the battery it was fine!
In 1987, my Sharp pendant watch finally stopped working and I replaced it with a Casio Data Bank calculator wrist watch. Besides the time and calculator functions this allowed multiple alarms to be set for up to a year ahead and had a stop watch function. The year ahead alarm was actually useful as associated with the alarm was a short text. This meant that when the alarm went of the text told me why I set it. The stop watch function is great since I do not do waiting in a queue or in line and when ever I get into a line I start the stop watch. (For example timing my wait in Heathrow's "Fasttrack" [sic] immigration line for more than half an hour! - Heathrow is so NOT ready for a third runway.)
I am now on my third Casio watch (I physically damaged the other two). The current one has a ten year battery life (unlike some other "smart" watches battery where life that is measured in hours). Also my Casio Is very, very accurate. It gains a few seconds a week, Currently, I have not reset the time for three months and the watch is now 26 seconds fast!
The next step forward for calculations was the spread sheet. I began using VisiCalc and since have moved on through several generations of spread sheets to Excel. (It is said that Apple Corp had the opportunity to buy sole rights to Visicalc but did not do so as they felt that it was too expensive and untried.)
Here I explore how personal computers have impacted my accountancy (the really boring stuff) and business systems.
In mid-1967 GE's Distribution Equipment Protective Equipment Department was two and a half years away from getting its mainframe based manufacturing system up and running. Because of this I was asked whether I could get an interim system up and running using Computer Time Sharing to plan material purchases. This would not replicate the whole system with 5000 or so finished products and a similar number of materials. Rather it was for the few products and materials that accounted for 80 to 90% of cash flow. It took me a couple of weeks to develop a rough and ready Algol program.
Today, when developing a new business simulation, I prototype and validate the simulation models using spread sheets.
The output of the materials planning program was a schedule for purchasing. Realising that the purchasing department would telegraph this information to suppliers using a telex machine, I produce output on paper tape that could be used by purchasing directly rather than having them retype the information..
Today, I buy online and send out my invoices as email attachments.
My first introduction to the use of computers to help with accounting was in 1968 when the Finance Department of GE's Distributive Protective Equipment Department asked me to help a junior accountant develop a BASIC program to automate their monthly budgetary analysis. At that time a senior accountant spent two and a half days using an electromechanical calculator to compare actual results with the budget. The software was developed and then tested using the numbers from the previous month - the computer based results differed from the manually calculated results and the junior accountant was teased about this (she was a very attractive Southern Bell). The teasing until it was realised that the manually calculated results were wrong and the computer based results right. Since the manual calculations had been submitted to the department's General Manager and on to the Divisional General Manager the senior accountant was a worried man. The BASIC program involved a clerk spend 20 minutes entering data and running the program instead of having the senior accountant spending two and a half days doing the calculations manually.
In 1969 I returned to the UK to launch the UK's first corporate/financial modeling package (PA300). This involved me learning about finance and working with large companies explaining the idea of business and financial models. At that time if you referred to a model people thought you were talking about shapely young women (alas a market sector I never got involved with).
The time saved using a digital model could have unexpected outcomes as I remember discussing with the corporate planners from a very large company. At the planning meetings they would asked to do some "what-if" analyses. Instead of taking several days to do this they could do it over lunch and return to the meeting with the results. The company's directors found this unsettling as in the past they had asked for the analysis expecting that they would have several days to reflect on things. Thus they asked for the analysis to give themselves thinking time. Except now they did not have this time.
One of the first applications that I developed when I bought my first microcomputer in 1980 was one to help me prepare my accounts. This allowed me to enter payment details in random order, associate these with a cost centre and, if necessary, calculate VAT (Value Added Tax - Europe's version of sales tax). For regular purchases all I needed to do was to select the purchase description from a list rather than having to type it in. Likewise, for purchases from regularsuppliers all I needed to do was to select the supplier from a list rather than typing in the supplier and their VAT number. Once everything was entered, the records were sorted into date order and I could choose to select and print separate cost centres, Besides saving me time it reduced stress on me and others as I hate preparing my annual accounts and take this hatred out on anyone near. I'm still using the software except originally it took several minutes to sort into date order - today's computers means that this is instantaneous.
As part of the development of this website I am gatherig together the lsiting of my expenditures since the early 1980s to see how much I sepnt on hardware, consumables etc..
Early days, a computer was seen primarily as aiding calculation where it was used in science, engineering and data processing. However, by the mid/late 1970s companies were producing stand alone, dedicated word processors. However, as I suggested in an article in Marketing Magazine in January 1979, Word Processing would be just one of the applications on microcomputers.
The second generation Computer Time Sharing (the Mark 3) service was provided from two "super centres" that served the whole world and this allowed for electronic communication between company units. However, this was fraught because the telephone companies frowned on this (as it by passed the need for international phone calls) and there was the risk that the telephone companies would cut off telephone access.
Today, email is a major part of my life but, for me, this did not start until the late 1990s. On one occasion I got a phome call just after 2:00pm on a Tuesday asking if I could create a banking simulation. After responding "yes" I was asked to email a proposal by the next afternoon - I did so and got the business!!
In the late 1970s I wrote a book entitled "How to Pass Exams in Data Processing" using a typewriter and a pen. It took me a whole day to write 1000 words. The publisher obviously liked my work because they asked me to write a book about data processing. To do this I used a program called Scripsit . It was pretty basic program with limited formatting and no spell check or graphics. But as you only had 40k RAM for the program and the text this was understandable. Using a word processor meant that I was now able to write about 2500 words per day. Also, this was better writing as I now had the facility to revisit text to revise it and improve readability.
Today, I use Word when writing. Importantly this has a spell check and a thesaurus. However the thesaurus has some peculiarities. For example, if you ask for a synonym for Information Word suggests in order, in sequence or in a row. The synonyms for Insight (as in this is insightful) are equally odd. Word suggests nearby or within reach as synonyms. Perhaps this that explains Microsoft insightful design of information systems!
On discovering that my dot matrix printer could be programmed to produce graphics and noticing an advertisement for a program called Dot Print (later Fontasy for MSDOS) I imported a copy of the software from the USA. This allowed my to print different fonts and font sizes and print the clip art images provided for the package. However, a problem I had was that my printers' dot size was large. Although this was fine for Overhead Transparency text, for normal text individual letters were very ragged. But I wanted to use the proportional spacing and left and right justification provided by Fontasy. I came up with a work around! I quadrupled the font size and printed on A3 paper. I then used a photocopier to reduced this to A5 and smooth out the raggedness.
Before 1981 how did I produce documentation for my business simulations - | had two options use a typewriter or Letraset. Letraset provided dry rubdown letters on sheets and to produce a document you created it letter-by-letter. This was very slow and you had to position the letters by eye but, even so, the result looked as though it had been typeset. Once you had created a master you then could have multiple copies printed. The example below is part of the participant's brief for my Product Launch simulation illustrating the use of three fonts and proportional spacing!!
When I purchased my first laser printer in the mid 1980 the quality of my documentation improved dramatically..However, I still used print shops to prepare documentation for courses until I purchased a laser printer with full duplex.
1981 Presentation Graphics
In the 1970's when presenting to a group you used a black or white board. Occasionally you used hand drawn Overhead Projector Slides. Or, if you were rich, got a commercial artist to create your slides (as late as the 1990s a neighbour in the Enterprise Centre where my office was located obtained most of his income from making Overhead Transparencies!). In 1981 it was obvious that the desk top publishing software that I was using could produce text based overheads. The process was a little convoluted because you first had to print the slide on a dot matrix printer and then use a photocopier to transfer the slide on transparency paper. The situation eased in 1987 when I bought a laser printer as I then could print directly on transparency film.
In the late 1990s I moved on to Power Point as this became viable as video projectors dropped in price and, consequentially, became generally available. (In 1980, Ashridge had just one video projector. This was very large and cost several thousand pounds.)
However, on balance, I feel that Overhead Transparencies have advantages when working with adult learners. With overheads it is easy to change the sequence of a presentation and omit irrelevant slides. Also, when exploring a topic, you can write on the slide. So, we have moved on to prettiness bling and (possibly) death! It is interesting to note that as I write this (late 2016), overhead transparency paper is still available!
1983 Shell (Tent) Cards
Shell or Tent Cards show delegates names on two sides of folded cardboard. They are placed on the table in front of the delegate to remind the tutor and the other delegates of the person's name. In the early 1980s, Ashridge employed a commercial artist to make overhead transparencies and one of his tasks was to make up the shell cards with delegate names for all courses - something that he hated. In 1983, I developed a short utility that used my graphics program to create shell cards. All that needed to be done was to type in delegate names that were printed on special continuous card stationary with micro-perforations between each card. The diagram below shows a shell card with the tractor holes for the printer (on each side), the micro-perforations (across the card) and the delegate name (with one inverted so when the card is folded in the middle both names are the right way up. This is an example of how technology increased productivity allowing the commercial artist to do the creative things that he liked! (It is perhaps interesting that one course delegate objected to having his name printed on the shell card rather than hand written!)
At school, university and well into the 1980s If I needed to make an engineering drawing , I got out the T Square, Set Square, Ruler and Pencil. It was only when I started using a laser printer was it possible for me to use the computer to help produce engineering drawings. That is not to say that if you were rich you could not produce Engineering Drawings from the late 1960s. (Below is a computer generated drawing of the factory for my EXEC Management Game (1969).
However, it was only when I fittted out my design studio in 1989 did produce engineering/architectural drawings on my computer. Now it is even easier with many CAD programs.
I got on the Internet reasonably early as I registered the domain www.simulations.co.uk in 1967. This was a chance event. I was at a computer exhibition and a stand was offering to see if domain names were available and if they were could register the name (for a low fee of £99 per year). I checked and simulations.co.uk was available and so I registered the name.
I like using diagrams to illustrate concepts but started to use graphic design/editing software relatively late. Currently I use Paint Shop Pro and Word to produce graphics. Below is an inforgraphic showing my CV and printed on a t-shirt (CV 2.0?) - I am not a good networker and hope that this will help!!.
(c) 2017 Jeremy J.S.B. Hall
Most recent update: 24/03/17
Hall Marketing, Studio 11, Colman's Wharf, 45 Morris Road, London E14 6PA, ENGLAND
Phone +44 (0)20 7537 2982 E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org