Automating computers

Posted by Kirsten Gibbs on January 2, 2019
  • Kim Traynor [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

    This fact is not as well-known as I think it should be.

    The world’s first business computer was developed for J Lyons & Co. Ltd., to streamline and automate the analysis of the masses of data they collected every day, through which they could accurately predict demand in their chain of tea shops.

    What is even less well known, is that the machine, installed in 1951, was the culmination of 20 years of business design by John Simmons and his team.

    In other words, they didn’t just throw new technology at the business. They worked out what was the best way to do things, put those processes in place, tested and tweaked them and only then used LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) to automate parts of them.

    It’s an approach worth reviving.

    PS. If you’d like to find out more – “A computer called LEO” is a good read.

    PPS. The ‘computers’ were the chains of female clerks who cumulatively added up the daily numbers received from tea shops. One of Simmons’ ambitions was to release people from this kind of mental drudgery.

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