A bit of PC history (first appeared in InfoWorld) | IS Survivor Publishing

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A bit of PC history (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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Recently I described some research I bumped into 20 years ago about a parrot that appeared to understand both the meaning of the words it mimicked and at least some elementary rules of grammar. Not having heard anything more about it, I concluded the research didn’t pan out and parrots are mere mimics after all. [...]

By Bob Lewis | November 2, 1998
Topics: Industry Commentary, Office Politics, Organizational Effectiveness, Policies and Procedures, Technology | Comments Off

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Recently I described some research I bumped into 20 years ago about a parrot that appeared to understand both the meaning of the words it mimicked and at least some elementary rules of grammar. Not having heard anything more about it, I concluded the research didn’t pan out and parrots are mere mimics after all.

My thanks to dozens of IS Survivalists who set me straight on this subject. Dr. Irene Pepperberg and Alex, her African Gray Parrot, are alive and talking to each other. It’s fascinating research. Bop over to http://www.cages.org/research/pepperberg/index.html to learn more about it. My apologies to any parrots I may have offended by likening them to the wrong class of human beings.

Offending human beings is OK, though. It’s your turn if you’re one of those who insist on giving the company what’s convenient rather than what’s important. You probably don’t recognize yourselves. To help you sort it out, you’re the ones most likely to explain that anytime you deliver something that’s inconvenient, it’s really a violation of IS standards that will further increase maintenance costs, cause PCs to require rebooting five times a day, and besides, the company really doesn’t need it anyway, regardless of what the person doing the work says.

The history of the PC is excellent evidence of this attitude, as an IS Survivalist who asks to remain anonymous pointed out in a recent letter: “Since the IS organization ignored us, we bought PCs to do our work, until the IS organization woke up and discovered their mainframes were dinosaurs.

“So the IS organization went to our management and took over our PCs and then demanded money to manage them. They then complained we used them for things other than functions their mainframes used to do, and since they never tried to understand what we do with them, they mismanaged them.

“The costs for PCs skyrocketed because of this mismanagement, so CIOs were invented to keep us from buying anything. Then the CIOs discovered our computers were becoming obsolete (because they wouldn’t let us replace them) and they mandated we replace them, but we had no money because we gave it all to the Information Systems people who squandered it on lousy PC support contracts.

“Instead of finding out what we need to do our work, and providing tools for us to use and standards for us to follow, IS people now dream up misguided, grandiose, expensive projects to do it all for us and leave no money to do the things that need to be done. And we, the user organizations, end up doing all the computer planning ourselves, developing our own standards, and inventing workarounds to the cumbersome system set up by the IS organization and the CIO.”

Overly harsh? Maybe. For example, I don’t think CIOs were invented to keep end-users from buying anything. That’s what corporate controllers are for. CIOs were invented to be comforting to business executives who had trouble relating to technical managers whose sole excuse for holding their jobs was that they got things done.

The first PCs to enter businesses were bought to enhance personal effectiveness. They lacked the really stupid features of the 3270 interface and they made end-users independent of IS (a huge factor in their popularity). If somebody sold software that would be worthwhile to the end-user, that end-user could simply buy the software, install it, and enjoy the benefits.

This is InfoWorld’s 20th anniversary year, and in those two decades IS has gained control of the “personal” computer. In doing so we’ve tried our best to make it as impersonal as possible.

When I attended the University of Minnesota, its management tried to encourage the use of mass transit, not by making mass transit more convenient but by reducing the number of parking spots. Students, faculty and administrators, however, preferred the device they could personally control — the automobile.

We can talk about how PCs are an enterprise resource all we want. We can’t, however, change human nature, and end-users don’t want an enterprise resource on their desks. They want a personal device that provides access to enterprise resources.


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my photoBob Lewis is a senior management consultant with Dell Services. He has published these columns once a week in one form or another since 1996.

Disclaimer: All opinions, statements, representations, allegations, images (if published) and anything else that appears here is the sole responsibility of the author. Dell has and had nothing to do with it, other than saying it's okay to continue publishing KJR.

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