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Personal Computers and the Office of the Future James H. Hair* A historical perspective is helpful in understanding where small computer technology is headed. In the beginning, back in 1945, Vannevar Bush proposed that computers could serve as an exten- sion to human memory. That idea took shape at Stanford Re- search Institute in the early 1960s as an augmented human intel- lect system. This system in turn evolved into augmented knowledge workshops ant! eventually into the concept of office automation, a system that was actually demonstrated at the Na- tional Computer Conference in 1967. The "office of the future," as it was conceived then, never really got off the ground. It was generally superseded by personal com- puters. But some of the issues that were typical then are still im- portant today and will continue to be issues as we move towarc! integrating the personal computer into the mainstream of digital technology. One way to look at evolution-in this case, the evolution of digi- tal technology is in terms of the "share of mind" that a technol- ogy commands at a given time. In fact, it is not really the technol- ogy but some manifestation of it that has the share of mind. Prior to 1960 scientific and military computing was the domi- nant manifestation. Then, management information systems *James H. B. air is manager of advanced systems for the Information Systems Group, Hewlett-Packard Co., Cupertino, California. 60

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PCs AND THE OFFICE OF THE FUTURE 61 (MIS) began to take hold. Huge budgets were set aside and large corporate organizations were built for data processing. The total audience, however, was still quite small and specialized those people directly involved with computing technology. In the late 1960s, however, IBM introduced word processing, a concept that became known to a much larger group of people than MIS had been. Organizations such as the International Word Processing Association were born. Even though word processing focused on the mechanization of typing, primarily a clerical activity, management and other peo- ple saw it as a new way to use digital technology in a new place, the office. MIS by contrast, had been confined to a very central- ized location. This development follows Alvin Toffler's concept of the evolu- tion of innovations. A "wave" of innovation begins when tradi- tional ways of thinking about something are unfrozen and new ideas are introduced and adopted. They, in turn, reach a peak, ant! there is a refreezing as what was once unfamiliar becomes ordi- nary. Thus, word processing is as commonplace now as type- writers were 20 years ago. The wave began again in the area of office automation, but with a slightly different slant. In the late 1970s, the first office automa- tion conference was held. Spurred by reports in the press and a Tot of advertising, a new application of cligital technology- micro- computers came into public awareness. Though widely known, its use remained relatively specialized until the general popula- tion involved itself with the introduction of the personal computer. I now see the wave of office automation and personal computers dropping off and another wave coming. This next wave has al- ready started with expert systems, knowledge systems, and ro- botics. Artificial intelligence will begin to take hold. This wave will have a major impact, perhaps even more with blue-collar workers than with white-colIar workers. As this wave drops off, ~ believe we will be left with integrated digital systems to support both industry and the consumer sector. Besides Toffler's innovation waves there is another way of look- ing at the evolution of microcomputers, and this is from the per- spective of cultural change. As anyone who has tried to get ap- proval for a personal computer in the office can attest, the data processing/management information systems (DP/MIS) organi- zation occupies a powerful sphere of control in the corporate

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62 MANAGING MICROCOMPUTERS structure. But we can also view this DP/MIS organization more broadly as a sphere of culture. As such it has its own language, and its members share a common awareness that includes experi- ence, materials, and tools. Traditionally, users have been left out- side this culture. These users, who may be financial analysts, lawyers, or execu- tives, make up a very different sphere of overlapping and interact- ing cultures. Tociay they are challenging the authority of the DP/ MIS culture. By 1983 the mass consumer hac! acquired 2.5 million personal computers for games, education, and use in personal business. Getting a personal computer was the thing to do. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of all this personal computer activity was that it involved individuals making deci- sions about computer acquisitions. As a result there are now about 900,000 personal computers in businesses. All of these are under individual control, except for the 150,000 that were in- stallec} through DP/MIS departments. There is a buiTt-in conflict here, and T think it may prove diffi- cult to integrate these two dissimilar cultures. The corporate side is trying to provide ant! control tools to get a job done for a justifi- able cost, and to offer measurable benefits to the company. Con- trol of PCs offers the multiple benefits of communication, com- patibility, service, and economies of scale. On the other side there is the psychology of the personal com- puter user: "It's not much, but it's my own." This is a very power- fu! notion and can provide some real benefits to the corporation. For a marginal cost users are getting what they always wanted- a highly responsive environment. What is needed is to find some way of combining the advantages that come with corporate con- troT and the motivation that comes with individual choice. I have studied productivity and developed a methodology for productivity measurement, but now T find that no one wants to measure it. The feeling is, "Oh, improved productivity will just come. Let's get some PCs in here." One reason for this response is that we know more about improving indiviclual efficiency than we do about improving corporate productivity. The problem is trans- lating knowledge of the former into the latter. To do this, individ- uals must reinvest the time saved into some other activity. In other worcis, corporations don't want shorter workdays, they want inclividuals to invest the time saved by using personal com

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PCs AND THE OFFICE OF THE FUTURE 63 puters in something that will benefit the corporation. Reinvest- ment of time is one measure of the productivity that comes from individual use of personal computers. The acquisition of personal computers raises many issues, both for individuals and corporations. I think the most important ones are architectural. These exist at four different levels in terms of users and the location of data and resources: the individual, the department, the corporation, and the public. The individual needs desktop personal filing, telephone management, and scheduling applications. At the department level, the applications change dramatically and may include accounting tasks ant! records management. At the corporate level data processing applications will involve general ledgers, personnel, and inventory. For the public new databases are available through services like vicleotex and the source, giving access to the Dow Jones industrial average, the New York Times, ant! other information sources. So many different kinds of data ant! applications raise many questions. Where do you put the application? If you provide the person who generates a document with word processing, what happens to the document at the clepartmental level? How do you create some way of moving data to different levels and still keep track of it? Data being transmitted across the corporation poses even more complications. Suppose you are developing an annual report of a new marketing program. It is initially developed by individuals; it is then approved by clepartments; finally, it is im- plemented by the corporation. It has to move and be managed. The view of floppy disks as a means of moving and managing information is almost as silly as using punchcarcis. We need ways to get programs to talk to each other. At present, getting a per- sonal computer to access a corporate database provides nothing more than a glass teletype. Getting information to move between windows is left up to the user and even in machines like the Apple Lisa is very difficult. There are additional problems of communi- cation protocols for moving information. It becomes apparent that some resolution of these architectural issues is necessary. One of the most important steps we can take is to move away from the notion of the omnipotent and omnipres- ent IBM personal computer to something that gives much more capability. We need to be heading toward the concept of the per

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64 MANAGING MICROCOMPUTERS sona1 workstation environment. The Xerox Star 8010 is a proto- type of such a concept. Not many people would think of it as a personal computer. It exists in a network environment, even though it has up to 25 megabytes of hard disk. With alit its short- comings, it represents the direction in which we are headecI: per- sonal computers that don't look or behave like personal com puters anymore. One of the critical things to consider in terms of~procluctivity and the future of personal computers is what people actually do in offices. A study of almost 700 people in 7 corporations indicates! that as much as 75 percent of a person's time, especially an execu- tive's time, is spent in communication. The only variable was the incliviclual style of communicating. Personal computers must support this function. Computer messaging is the embodiment of the way terminals can talk to each other and enable people to send messages back and forth very rapidly. Electronic mail has been arounct for a long time, but we haven't heard anything about how telephony, or even teleconferencing, is going be integrated into workstation en- vironments. One of the reasons people meet is to share visual in- formation. This can be done from desktop to desktop. Two people can Took at the same data on machines located anywhere in the world as long as they can be connected through data networks. Thus, there is no reason they can not interact through an audio link and a data link to carry on true teleconferencing over long distances. Intelligent workstations the personal computers of the future will be used to support this kind of communication network. In diagrammatic form, this network might look like Figure 1. All kinds of users-managers, professionals, administrators, clerical workers, and specialists-are connected in this network, through a link-up of intelligent workstations, minicomputers, and maxicomputers. The network forms a gateway to other organiza- tions and ties into other support mechanisms. For example, the instant a message is sent from this kind of intelligent work- station, it is picked up by support software that automatically packages it, puts it in an "envelope," interacts with the network, sends it out, anti automatically clelivers it if the recipient is logged on at that moment. In other worcis, the message can be deliverer! instantly.

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66 MANAGING MICROCOMPUTERS This office of the future is the logical outgrowth of the continu- ing evolution of computer technology. Today's PCs represent the crest of a wave that has brought popular understanding and pub- lic embracing of computer technology. That wave is beginning to rececle. It will be replaced by another wave that has already begun to form- the development of integrated digital systems that more fully support the communication and the sharing of infor- mation between people.