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Trend Watch: Digital Business

This is the last post in a multi-part series with a focus on trends that are interesting and important, specifically in enterprise computing. I’ll continue my point-in-time analysis with a focus on digital business and how new systems of engagement (e.g., cloud and mobile devices) are changing the ways business is conducted through IT.

Manual to Automated

Early business computing was focused on automating aspects of manual business activities. Programs that saved data on storage media replaced record keeping that was done by hand, in ledgers. This reads like ancient history but was common only 50 years ago. The data was transformed into information through data processing, reducing human error and taking less time. Early computer systems didn’t change the workflow as much as the work products.

When I began programming, there was a different kind of transformation underway. Display screens were emerging and companies were starting to use them to replace input/output devices that didn’t have screens, only paper like the IBM 2741 printing computer terminal. Display screens could display information a page at a time, not a character at a time, dramatically improving employee productivity.

Page to Web

Another transformation took place when display screens gave way to personal computers that had significant new functionality. Next came the emergence of the web with new communication conventions and protocols. The page notion, which was developed for the display screen, was supported through emulation then extended for the web with a variety of output display choices like HTML frames. Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets later exploited the WWW extensions. These were all technology changes but what was the impact on business?

Basic to Advanced

The transition from character to page gave a huge boost in productivity by saving time and providing an engaging and useful user interface. The page format required reprogramming of the application, but since it allowed for multiple inputs and outputs at the same time, it was worth the time and effort.

PCs changed people’s lives yet supported systems of record through emulation, for the best of both worlds. Some applications, through programming of the workstation, combined display screen pages with software running on the PC providing a new integrated user experience.

Mobile devices have resulted in many improvements for users. If you’re supporting customers, you can take your mobile devices into the warehouse and check inventory manually or answer questions and complete orders. This mobility makes new ways of working possible that can meet customer’s changing support expectations.

Digital Transforms Everyday Business

Yesterday, we received a check in the mail but today innovative companies will make a funds transfer into your bank account using third-party financial services companies. Not only is it quicker for you, it is better for them because electronic record keeping is a natural by product of the payment process.

Some small businesses are handling all business transactions—cash, check and credit card—through tablet devices with a card reader. They pay a small fee for credit cards but by putting all transactions through the same system they have the benefit of running one monthly or quarterly report to determine the amount of retail taxes collected. This dramatically simplifies record keeping when it comes time to pay state retail takes.

Takeaway: We have more than 50 years of transformation from manual to automate and the innovations show no sign of slowing down. Change can be disruptive but when understood and embraced, it can offer many advantages for individuals and businesses.

Next Post

Next week, I’ll start a new multi-part series on how applications are developed with a focus on methods and architectural styles that are gaining in significance. Methods aren’t the same as styles and some work together well.