A Project for a Life Time
In 1984 an event occurred that would change the world - peacefully. It was foreshadowed by the display of an advertisement on a giant screen at the National Football League Super Bowl. It showed ranks of docile people in a movie theater audience staring at a screen from which an announcer thundered out instructions of compliance. Suddenly, a colorful athlete appeared amongst the screen audience and slammed a sledgehammer into the announcer's face. The subsequent text headlined: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh - and you'll see why 1984 will not be like 1984!" By the end of 1984, Apple had reportedly sold more than 250,000 Macs in the US.
Of course we may be biased because we use a Mac, preferring it for its easier and more flexible interface than its famous opposition. It is especially good for graphics work, though we don't claim to have much talent in that direction. But Apple is well established as a style innovator and as the company responsible for bringing both the freedom and the shackles of modern personal computing to users at home and at work. Although lagging for a time behind the Windows® based PC, and its superior computing and multitasking capability, the latest Mac Panther operating system (OS X 10.3.5) has now closed that gap. But we digress.
The most interesting thing about that first Mac project was its effect on the control that information/systems (IS) departments had hitherto exercised over the office workforce. They had always assumed that their mainframe computers were the mainstay of the business. The beneficiaries of the resulting data output were politely referred to as "end users", suggesting remote operatives of lesser consequence. The Mac changed all that, a change not exactly welcomed by the IS boffins.
You see, the new Mac users insisted on doing "their own thing" rather than what the IS department directed or expected. They tended to eschew the "official" programs that the IS department had no doubt spent months validating and approving for corporate use. Instead they loaded their own programs, accessed data that the IS department probably knew little about, and even wrote their own programs to run calculations with great facility. Worst of all, some of them even seemed to know more about computer technology than the IS techies.
Today, information technology (IT) is the current incarnation of the old IS label. Talk to any IT manager and he or she will probably tell you that PCs may be wonderful but users do not always understand the cost of what they are doing. They require a lot of support, they may become infected with, and spread, viruses and there is always the problem of sensitive information security. All of that says nothing about the time consumed by questionable Emailing back and forth. Independent networked computers in an office are an enormous corporate expense.
But for project work, the personal computer is now essential equipment. Whether a Mac or PC, it really doesn't matter any more, the platforms are compatible and data can be moved back and forth with ease. It gives freedom to team members to communicate, assemble project data, operate in "virtual" work groups, cooperate in problem solving, forecasting, reporting and so on. Add to that advances in current Internet technology and it is possible for whole projects to be completed without the team members ever even meeting face to face.
Meantime, the IS people had become servants rather than dictators. But that is changing. With the latest Windows® operating systems IT departments can now set up company PCs so that users can only use "approved" programs made available to them and hence only read and write data in approved formats. Once more the shadow of corporate Big Brother returns to put hurdles in the way of project progress.
All power to the independent who succeeds in bringing in his or her own PC or Mac with programs that really get the project work done. For the record, the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins 38 to 9 at that Tampa Stadium in Florida in 1984.