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From Floppy Disks to Digital Transformation: A Nostalgic Review of IT Service

By Robert Hall, Support Analyst, Marval Software

Thinking back to when I started working in IT during the late 1980s, I can remember a number of things that have long since disappeared from everyday use. For example, the 8- inch floppy disk.

Back then, I was a computer operator at a foreign bank in the City, and we had an IBM System/36. Once logged on, the user was presented with a green-on-black display and you had to use the abbreviated ‘words’ that IBM designed – e.g. WRKJOB = work with job(s) to carry out Operator tasks.

The programmes required for the end of day and overnight tasks were held on several 8-inch floppy disks (in a magazine) and these were prone to failure when they became worn out – after all the disc could be seen through a little slot in the cover.

The most popular way of reviewing the information held on the system was to use miles of multi-part stationery, commonly referred to as ‘music ruled’ because it came with a green and white page wide ruling pattern that made it easier to cast your eye across the A3 wide pages. The paper was sprocket holed at the edges so it could be propelled through a noisy printer and churn out hundreds of pages of reports, especially at month end. The printers came with a case that dulled some of the sound – a staccato rattle – and could easily create a mess if the sprocket holes slipped off the printer guide rollers; if the paper slipped one side a concertina mush could jam up the device because to print quickly the paper needed to move quickly, and they usually did this when you weren’t looking!

At that same office, we also had a few PCs in various key offices, mostly referred to as the Lotus 1-2-3 PC or the WordPerfect PC. The modern LAN equipped office was relatively new, not every room was wired, so these computers were dedicated to running an individual piece of software.

WordPerfect had its unique way of formatting text with Codes. Reveal Codes was an optional view of the page which showed the start and end codes of a style for the text. You would type away and enter text or new lines, and every action inserted a code. Then it was possible, albeit unintentionally, to find a document’s formatting was wrong because the text or code had been copied and pasted to a new page location but the paired code was not the right one any longer. Without Reveal Codes, it was often a difficult mess to untangle.

Lotus 1-2-3 was a spreadsheet programme that had a strong following but was outsold by the (then) new Excel. Spreadsheet use has spread like wildfire through firms ever since!

Nowadays we take for granted that a modern laptop comes with 8GB of RAM. In the 80s, memory managers like QEMM were often required. The 640k upper memory area was used by every programme and there was often a conflict for the space. Anything between 1MB and 4GB of RAM was termed Extended Memory and third party applications like QEMM were useful to make efficient use of the RAM and disk - bearing in mind these computers were basically running MS-DOS. Windows (how would we have got this far without it?) negated this need.

It was a simpler, easier, yet exciting world.

Things have changed dramatically, of course. Most organisations have adopted (or wish to adopt) an integrated, consolidated and centralised approach for their IT infrastructure; one that caters for cloud-based or hybrid environments and supports several different business applications. Floppy disks simply don’t exist; we now deal with Data Management and Business Analytics. Wi-fi is available everywhere. Old fashioned printers have been replaced by Managed Print Services. The good old, sturdy PCs have been replaced by a sizeable number of mobile devices and different Operating Systems. New roles have emerged: Support Analysts, Data Analysts, Risk Analysts, Security Officers, to name a few; and the CIO has become the IT department’s direct connection with the senior management. Most importantly, IT has assumed an enhanced and extended role as a department, and we are expected to do much more than supporting systems and applications. We are expected to align key business objectives with technological advancements and lead our organisation towards change.

Going down the memory lane helps keep things into perspective. I reflect the challenges back in the ‘80s (and there were many, indeed) and compare them with those of today. Different level of complexity, more sophisticated, perhaps? I can’t really say. What I really remember is that, back then, it was all about people. People used to bring their best selves at work and aimed to provide a great experience for customers (and they usually did). Due to the smaller, more flexible and easily managed size of most departments, in many cases we were able to provide a great and personalised experience, too.

It was all about people in the ‘80s… and the ‘90s…. and today. People are at the centre of IT Operations, defining whether Service is bad, fair or excellent. This has not changed and it’s unlikely to change in the near future. There’s one critical difference, though: Today, we have the tools that help us stay focused on providing a consistent and personalised experience to our customers.

As the complexity of the IT infrastructure becomes greater (and so do the challenges), it’s good to know we can go back to basics and empower people to effectively deliver exceptional Service. Things may seem more complicated nowadays, but they are still exciting and ITSM helps work everything out. I can only look forward for what’s on in the future.

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