Monday, December 13, 2010

PCs & 63s - Part 4

You probably recall the 1980s & 1990s stories of young “teams” of programmers working days at a time 24/7, eating pizza, and riding skateboards in the hallways of the fledgling software companies.  Then there were the lavish product announcement parties and the dot-com bubble of the 1998-2000 (prox).  This spending was done on the seed money lavishly provided by venture capitalists hoping to gain ownership of the next big hi-tech payoff.  The gamble for those youngsters, who were working for low pay and stock options, was that their dot-com business would go public in an IPO and their share options would make them suddenly rich.  For some, it worked out that way, for many others it did not, as the bubble burst during spring 2000.

For those of us working in the suddenly old-fashioned “brick and mortar” businesses and institutions, the struggle to make sense of all the computer noise was a prodigious one.  We had the existing businesses to run and didn’t have much free time to take on gobs of new technology initiatives that were being thrust on us by eager corporate and academic managements.  To us, those utterly computer illiterate, elder managers were looking more and more like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss…a guy who wanted to be a part of the new technology world, but hadn’t a clue how to do it himself.    

Signaling that change was in the air, Bill Gates wrote his infamous 1995 “Tidal Wave” memo to his Microsoft executive staff stating the Internet would bring a “Tidal Wave” of change for the company.  He was right about that and within a few years stepped away from the day-to-day management of Microsoft.  What wasn’t entirely clear at the time was that Gates’ style of dominating the PC business was being swamped by that “tidal wave” developing on the Internet. 

At least since the 1980s, large manufacturing companies had been working to trim their payrolls and other overheads by setting up “Supply Chain Management” systems.  I think they got their notions from having their clocks cleaned by the Japanese manufacturers in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Studies determined that the Japanese were doing a couple of things differently than the USA.  One, they had established close working relationships with their suppliers to provide just-in-time delivery of parts and supplies to the manufacturing lines, the theory being, that the mfg. would not have to carry taxable parts inventories; and second, they had applied their employees as cooperative “teams” intended to cut away separate division impediments to problem solving and sweep aside levels of managers protecting their turf. 

When the Internet came widely available, proponents of the “team” and “process” approaches got their chance to advance their ideas to the net.  The trouble was that those same companies were dependent on old farts like us to ensure that things would continue to run smoothly using the older methods.  We were about 55 in 2000 when this stuff began to gain steam.  More in Part 5.

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