by Curt Finch

When 1984 Wasn’t Like 1984

Aug 15, 20114 mins
CIOConsumer ElectronicsCTO

There’s No Going Back to the Old Technology

When the infamous “1984” Apple commercial aired during Superbowl XVIII, I was already familiar with Graphical User Interface (GUI) through my college roommate’s Lisa computer, the predecessor to the Macintosh.  For me, experiencing a GUI was an “aha” moment:  I knew after I saw this new interface that this was the future–there was no going back to the command line. The intensity of the ad is not an exaggeration; it really did feel like everything was changing in the world of computers.  If you weren’t alive during this time, think about the first time you saw the internet, or the first time you saw an iPhone, or the dashboard in a Prius, or YouTube…in everyone’s life, there is a moment when you realize that technology has come to a completely new stage and there’s no going back to the old technology.

If I have still failed to express how epic the Macintosh felt, check out the audience’s reaction during Steve Jobs’ first presentation of the Macintosh.  You can hear how incredibly excited the audience is to see the GUI perform right in front of their eyes.  This ad speaks to me even now.  When the female runner throws the sledgehammer onto the screen of Big Brother who is expressing the joys of censorship, I see personal technology smashing corporate stringency.  Big Brother is the big corporation that makes employees feel trapped in their job. 

In big corporations, employees are expected to perform well, but the IT and finance departments prevent this from happening by setting strict rules across the company that don’t work for every worker.  Consistency may work for most employees, but there will always be that pocket of the company that feels their creativity and productivity being stifled by strict company rules.  Productivity is sucked dry in bad HR meetings, timesheet software that’s frustrating instead of helpful, etc.  This is why department managers start buying their own technology or turn to the cloud for help.  Technology on the cloud can very easily bypass an IT head.  That is the challenge IT faces: how to provide consistent technology across the company while allowing workers to be creative and productive?  It is this delicate balance that CIOs and COOs have to figure out.  When there is too much rigor, a company risks a drop in performance.

Apple is exceptional at keeping its focus on customer products that empower the individual more than the corporation, which is probably why their products are usually in the spotlight of the consumerization of IT.  This makes sense because corporate technology will always play catch up with personal technology.  Don’t forget that PC stands for personal computer.  The original intention of the PC was to enhance the life of the individual.  But there’s more commercial success in selling many computers at once to a company than there is in selling to individual consumers one at a time.  So the industry moved towards satisfying businesses instead of people. 

But when consumer technology is dumped into the corporate culture, it loses it’s personal appeal.  Then a new market for consumer technology opens up and the cycle starts all over (as described in the book The Innovator’s Dilemma).  This is seen in products like the iPhone and the iPad.  Now the Blackberry (a smartphone created for the business world) has to play catch up with the iPhone.   Other companies besides Apple that play a heavy hand in the consumerization of IT include Google, Twitter and Facebook.  All of these companies have made their way into your company–whether you know it or not.  Personal technology will continue to be brought into the workplace and used for business purposes. Just like when I described the 1984 Apple ad above, the consumerization of IT is a completely new stage of technology and there’s no going back to the old technology.

Do you remember the 1984 ad?