Ten years of “Integrator’s Notebook”

Ten years of “Integrator’s Notebook”

Rick Duris

Let’s put my “achievement” into perspective: Mike Royko, the famous Chicago newspaper columnist, wrote more than 7,500 columns over four decades. Now that’s a lot. And it made me think that even though I spend little time looking backwards, maybe it’s time for a glance over our collective shoulder at the past 10 years.

* Back when I started writing for the magazine in 1994, it was the promise of real-time data collection, automatic identification, and wireless data communications that held my attention. Today, I’m even more excited by the fulfillment of that promise.

* Back then, technology innovation was driven by vendors. Today, it’s driven by customers. You disagree? Well, it took Wal-Mart (as well as a few other notable retail industry giants) to galvanize the vendors and do what we couldn’t collectively do on our own: Develop an agreeable RFID standard.

* In 1994, a typical data collection device cost $1,800 to $7,000, and you could get one only if it was made to order with a six-week delivery time. Today, I can walk into any Best Buy and get a low-end Palm PDA for about $69, or even less with a rebate, sale, or discount. Plus, it’s 100 times more durable, 1,000 times more powerful, and 1 million times more flexible.

* I was struggling in 1994 to get warehouse and operations people to understand the business case and value proposition that warehouse management systems provided. Today, you’re labeled an idiot if you don’t appreciate the value of an information-integrated supply chain.

* Ten years ago, proprietary systems were par for the course. Today, management refuses to even consider one.

* Remember in 1994 when nothing worked together? No integration, no communication, no nothing. Ok, maybe I’m overstating it (but not by much–remember sneakernet?). Compared with today, the difference is like night and day.

* Do you remember when 80% of a system package was custom developed? As in one-of-a-kind, “it will only work here” custom? Today, IT managers everywhere hate custom software and opt for configurable packages.

* A decade ago, technology was marketed and sold for the sake of technology. Today, the only way a technology product or piece of software is successful is if it provides a definitive return on investment. Without demonstrable ROI (or an aggressive compliance-oriented type of project), you’re dead in the water.

* Remember when the Internet was a baby and you got your first e-mail address? Today, we wonder how we could live without it.

* Back then, to make a bar code label, I needed a $2,500 bar code printer, some special software, and an $85 per hour programmer for two weeks. Today, I can use my word processor to print a label in about three minutes, blindfolded.

* It used to be that you were considered special, rare, and extraordinary if you were involved in technology. People believed that somehow you knew the secrets to automating businesses. They would pick your brains for hours. Today, if you say that you’re in technology, people are more likely to reply, “You poor thing . . .” and then switch the subject immediately.

Has everything changed so dramatically? Not quite. Only late last year, for instance, the Food and Drug Administration finally published its first standards for putting bar codes on pharmaceutical products. So, as always, it’s two steps forward, one step back.

But I’m done looking in the rearview mirror for now. It’s back to the future for me.

See you next month. (Only 30 more years and 7,400 columns to go!)

Rick Duris is president of Business Technology Group. You can reach him at IntegratorsNotebook@Frontlinetoday.com.

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