Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Java Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Trevor Parsons, Max Katz

Related Topics: Java

Java: Article

Java Desktop: The Usability Paradox

How Much Progress Has There Been Since the 1950s and LEO?

The world's first office computer, known as LEO, was created in the 1950s by Lyons, the British teashop giant. Its aim was to replace the thousands of clerks who did the billing, invoicing, and stocktaking, and also tracked the supply and demand of sticky buns and cups of tea that the public were consuming. Its success lay not in the technology it employed, but because it made the company more efficient by streamlining what was previously a very labor-intensive business process. It benefited Lyons, which cut costs and had more control of corporate information, and it also benefited the thirsty public who had enough cakes, sandwiches, and cups of tea to see them through their seaside weekends, rain or shine.

In much the same way that early machines automated tasks such as harvesting crops or weaving cotton, LEO was successful because it was more than just an electronic filing cabinet - it had integrated itself into the DNA of the corporation and freed up employees from manual labor.

The 1960s to 1990s was not such a cakewalk for IT, however, and the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow summarized this period: "We see computers everywhere except in the productivity statistics." He was basing his observation on the statistic that while IT spending grew in every decade since the 1960s, productivity growth slowed. In the 1990s the amount of money spent on new computer hardware alone was over $750 billion, and since none of this seemed to make companies more efficient, the expression - The Productivity Paradox - was coined. Despite all the money that was being spent, there was no real return on investment.

Solow did the industry a disservice as he had painted a picture of inefficiency. What has occurred since is that many corporations view IT not as an opportunity to create revenue, but as an overhead that departments have to incur and as such it should be minimized.

Such an attitude worries me deeply as the line between saving costs for the business and providing a poor customer experience is a thin one. Two examples of places where this line is wafer-thin are voice response systems and browser apps that front end legacy applications.

Anyone who has telephoned a company to deal with a request and had to navigate touch-tone options in vain knows the frustration and poor service it provides. Most companies spend a lot of money on their office's reception area; plush furniture, nice lighting, and welcoming smiles greet customers as they walk into the business. A voice response system, however, is the virtual equivalent of a company's reception area as it creates the first impression and is the waiting lounge until you can see the person you've called to visit. While companies implement cost savings by outsourcing help desks to far-flung time zones and attempting to put their customers many touch-tone menus away from the real people left on their help-desk support staff, they are doing the equivalent of decorating the entrance hall to their corporate offices with uncomfortable chairs, shabby carpets, and impersonal service.

The Web has had a phenomenal effect on companies and how they can interact with their customers, but for many industries I fear that all that has occurred is they have front ended their batch systems and exposed inherent business weaknesses and flaws. Most of the computing universe runs on batch systems that were conceived and built in the last millennium, where nightly jobs compute numbers, move data, send messages, and print reports. Front ending this with a browser so customers can interact with their data is more efficient both for the company and the user; however, if it suffers from inherent legacy business inefficiencies, then it's no more than lipstick on a mainframe. A colleague of mine suffered this recently when on Friday they cancelled a payment that was due to be made the following Monday, only to find it had occurred anyway. The final explanation given was that three days notice was required because Monday's transactions were processed over the weekend and the job to do this started on Friday night. Listening to the story I had visions of an IT department in a deep subbasement somewhere with armies of oompah loompahs stoking a Heath Robinson Series II computer with currant buns while they drank cups of lukewarm tea.

Is the problem that IT is forever suffering from the poor return on investment that they suffered in the latter half of the last century? That it will forever be viewed as a cost center where only the minimum functionality is enough rather than a revenue-generating opportunity? Successful e-businesses understand that IT is the blood supply of their company and invest hugely in being able to deal with a world where customers exist in, travel to, and relocate around all corners of the globe and quality service must be provided 24 hours a day. For companies whose boardroom goal is to report quarterly results that boost shareholder value based on profit and loss figures, is the only way to do this to shave overhead and cut costs and investment? To become more productive and shake Solow's aphorism, are IT departments focused on keeping the economists and accountants happy, while delivering a poor usability experience for customers and hurting the company where it matters most - the satisfaction of their users?

More Stories By Joe Winchester

Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.

Comments (3) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Andrew Wolfe 11/08/05 02:41:56 PM EST

The key issue with low ROI of computing, especially in terms of productivity, is essentially that too much of the investment was in MS Windows _personal_ computing and too little in real collaboration. Corporations purchased boatloads of PCs and on which people mainly used standalone personal applications that were never integrated into any business process except by sneakernet. Workflow around Microsoft Word or Excel is ludicrous, but that's what a business really needs. Most of the "wow" spreadsheets and "cool" presentations were squandering the time of the so-called "knowledge workers" who in reality needed INTEGRATED business intelligence and data access.

As a Mac user, my biggest laugh of the 1990's was watching Windows users endlessly gripe about poor performance of their latest PC while Mac users like myself were contentedly using three-year-old applications on six-year-old machines. The problem was not system performance -- it was that these machines were not getting work done and these people's frustration was woefully misdirected.

PCs became another office-worker perk instead of an integrated part of business operations. And the FUD was that all your competitors were getting good value from PCs so you better get PCs too. And your knowledge workers would be unhappy if they couldn't have a PC on their desk to play Solitaire -- er, I mean, to run data analysis spreadsheets (with poor quality snapshots of erratically derived corporate data).

So in my opinion, the paradox only LOOKS like usability. The problem was that the whole personal-computer mantra was never oriented towards corporate business processes. It doesn't matter how usable Excel is -- if you leave your knowledge workers cut off from live access to corporate data, they might as well be playing Solitaire for all the good it's doing.

Java Developer's Journal News Desk 11/07/05 01:10:31 PM EST

The world's first office computer, known as LEO, was created in the 1950s by Lyons, the British teashop giant. Its aim was to replace the thousands of clerks who did the billing, invoicing, and stocktaking, and also tracked the supply and demand of sticky buns and cups of tea that the public were consuming. Its success lay not in the technology it employed, but because it made the company more efficient by streamlining what was previously a very labor-intensive business process. It benefited Lyons, which cut costs and had more control of corporate information, and it also benefited the thirsty public who had enough cakes, sandwiches, and cups of tea to see them through their seaside weekends, rain or shine.

CallCenters 11/04/05 06:12:03 PM EST

]]]] While companies implement cost savings by outsourcing help desks to far-flung time zones and attempting to put their customers many touch-tone menus away from the real people left on their help-desk support staff, they are doing the equivalent of decorating the entrance hall to their corporate offices with uncomfortable chairs, shabby carpets, and impersonal service. [[[[

Well put. Hear, hear.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. He also discussed how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics discussed were barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold. Mike Kavis is Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Pa...
Even as cloud and managed services grow increasingly central to business strategy and performance, challenges remain. The biggest sticking point for companies seeking to capitalize on the cloud is data security. Keeping data safe is an issue in any computing environment, and it has been a focus since the earliest days of the cloud revolution. Understandably so: a lot can go wrong when you allow valuable information to live outside the firewall. Recent revelations about government snooping, along with a steady stream of well-publicized data breaches, only add to the uncertainty
The explosion of connected devices / sensors is creating an ever-expanding set of new and valuable data. In parallel the emerging capability of Big Data technologies to store, access, analyze, and react to this data is producing changes in business models under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular within the Insurance industry, IoT appears positioned to enable deep changes by altering relationships between insurers, distributors, and the insured. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Sick, a Senior Manager and Big Data Architect within Ernst and Young's Financial Servi...
PubNub on Monday has announced that it is partnering with IBM to bring its sophisticated real-time data streaming and messaging capabilities to Bluemix, IBM’s cloud development platform. “Today’s app and connected devices require an always-on connection, but building a secure, scalable solution from the ground up is time consuming, resource intensive, and error-prone,” said Todd Greene, CEO of PubNub. “PubNub enables web, mobile and IoT developers building apps on IBM Bluemix to quickly add scalable realtime functionality with minimal effort and cost.”
The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly in the process of breaking from its heretofore relatively obscure enterprise applications (such as plant floor control and supply chain management) and going mainstream into the consumer space. More and more creative folks are interconnecting everyday products such as household items, mobile devices, appliances and cars, and unleashing new and imaginative scenarios. We are seeing a lot of excitement around applications in home automation, personal fitness, and in-car entertainment and this excitement will bleed into other areas. On the commercial side, m...
Sensor-enabled things are becoming more commonplace, precursors to a larger and more complex framework that most consider the ultimate promise of the IoT: things connecting, interacting, sharing, storing, and over time perhaps learning and predicting based on habits, behaviors, location, preferences, purchases and more. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tom Wesselman, Director of Communications Ecosystem Architecture at Plantronics, will examine the still nascent IoT as it is coalescing, including what it is today, what it might ultimately be, the role of wearable tech, and technology gaps stil...
With several hundred implementations of IoT-enabled solutions in the past 12 months alone, this session will focus on experience over the art of the possible. Many can only imagine the most advanced telematics platform ever deployed, supporting millions of customers, producing tens of thousands events or GBs per trip, and hundreds of TBs per month. With the ability to support a billion sensor events per second, over 30PB of warm data for analytics, and hundreds of PBs for an data analytics archive, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Kaskade, Vice President and General Manager, Big Data & Ana...
In the consumer IoT, everything is new, and the IT world of bits and bytes holds sway. But industrial and commercial realms encompass operational technology (OT) that has been around for 25 or 50 years. This grittier, pre-IP, more hands-on world has much to gain from Industrial IoT (IIoT) applications and principles. But adding sensors and wireless connectivity won’t work in environments that demand unwavering reliability and performance. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ron Sege, CEO of Echelon, will discuss how as enterprise IT embraces other IoT-related technology trends, enterprises with i...
When it comes to the Internet of Things, hooking up will get you only so far. If you want customers to commit, you need to go beyond simply connecting products. You need to use the devices themselves to transform how you engage with every customer and how you manage the entire product lifecycle. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, will show how “product relationship management” can help you leverage your connected devices and the data they generate about customer usage and product performance to deliver extremely compelling and reliabl...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is causing data centers to become radically decentralized and atomized within a new paradigm known as “fog computing.” To support IoT applications, such as connected cars and smart grids, data centers' core functions will be decentralized out to the network's edges and endpoints (aka “fogs”). As this trend takes hold, Big Data analytics platforms will focus on high-volume log analysis (aka “logs”) and rely heavily on cognitive-computing algorithms (aka “cogs”) to make sense of it all.
One of the biggest impacts of the Internet of Things is and will continue to be on data; specifically data volume, management and usage. Companies are scrambling to adapt to this new and unpredictable data reality with legacy infrastructure that cannot handle the speed and volume of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and president of Infobright, will discuss how companies need to rethink their data infrastructure to participate in the IoT, including: Data storage: Understanding the kinds of data: structured, unstructured, big/small? Analytics: What kinds and how responsiv...
The Workspace-as-a-Service (WaaS) market will grow to $6.4B by 2018. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Seth Bostock, CEO of IndependenceIT, will begin by walking the audience through the evolution of Workspace as-a-Service, where it is now vs. where it going. To look beyond the desktop we must understand exactly what WaaS is, who the users are, and where it is going in the future. IT departments, ISVs and service providers must look to workflow and automation capabilities to adapt to growing demand and the rapidly changing workspace model.
Sensor-enabled things are becoming more commonplace, precursors to a larger and more complex framework that most consider the ultimate promise of the IoT: things connecting, interacting, sharing, storing, and over time perhaps learning and predicting based on habits, behaviors, location, preferences, purchases and more. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tom Wesselman, Director of Communications Ecosystem Architecture at Plantronics, will examine the still nascent IoT as it is coalescing, including what it is today, what it might ultimately be, the role of wearable tech, and technology gaps stil...
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., showed what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He discussed opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and technical point of vie...
Hadoop as a Service (as offered by handful of niche vendors now) is a cloud computing solution that makes medium and large-scale data processing accessible, easy, fast and inexpensive. In his session at Big Data Expo, Kumar Ramamurthy, Vice President and Chief Technologist, EIM & Big Data, at Virtusa, will discuss how this is achieved by eliminating the operational challenges of running Hadoop, so one can focus on business growth. The fragmented Hadoop distribution world and various PaaS solutions that provide a Hadoop flavor either make choices for customers very flexible in the name of opti...
The true value of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies not just in the data, but through the services that protect the data, perform the analysis and present findings in a usable way. With many IoT elements rooted in traditional IT components, Big Data and IoT isn’t just a play for enterprise. In fact, the IoT presents SMBs with the prospect of launching entirely new activities and exploring innovative areas. CompTIA research identifies several areas where IoT is expected to have the greatest impact.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are increasing at an unprecedented rate. The threat landscape of today is drastically different than just a few years ago. Attacks are much more organized and sophisticated. They are harder to detect and even harder to anticipate. In the foreseeable future it's going to get a whole lot harder. Everything you know today will change. Keeping up with this changing landscape is already a daunting task. Your organization needs to use the latest tools, methods and expertise to guard against those threats. But will that be enough? In the foreseeable future attacks w...
Disruptive macro trends in technology are impacting and dramatically changing the "art of the possible" relative to supply chain management practices through the innovative use of IoT, cloud, machine learning and Big Data to enable connected ecosystems of engagement. Enterprise informatics can now move beyond point solutions that merely monitor the past and implement integrated enterprise fabrics that enable end-to-end supply chain visibility to improve customer service delivery and optimize supplier management. Learn about enterprise architecture strategies for designing connected systems tha...
Wearable devices have come of age. The primary applications of wearables so far have been "the Quantified Self" or the tracking of one's fitness and health status. We propose the evolution of wearables into social and emotional communication devices. Our BE(tm) sensor uses light to visualize the skin conductance response. Our sensors are very inexpensive and can be massively distributed to audiences or groups of any size, in order to gauge reactions to performances, video, or any kind of presentation. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Jocelyn Scheirer, CEO & Founder of Bionolux, will discuss ho...