Then And Now: How Business Technology Has Changed The Office As You Know It
From fax machines to smartphones. Typewriters to laptops. And floppy disks to USBs. The evolution of business technology is forever changing the way we work and do business.
Rewind to the ‘70s, when people would get into a car to meet with clients or colleagues in person. If they were out of the office, they were out of contact. Sending documents was slow and cumbersome. And “9 to 5” really did mean that work started at 9am and finished at 5pm.
According to a study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, the contribution of modern technology to a worker’s productivity is nearly five times greater today than it was in the 1970s. Workers and customers expect immediate connectivity, mobility and flexibility as standard business technology. This is especially true for newer generations entering the workplace, who often forgo e-mail for the immediacy of instant messaging and take advantage of the ability to work outside of traditional business hours and workplace settings.
Here’s how today’s business technology started life:
Then: Floppy disk | Now: USB and Cloud
Remember the floppy disk? Invented in 1971 by David Noble with IBM, the floppy disk was intended to store the computer’s operating system, distribute software, create backups and transfer data from PC to PC. They became ubiquitous in the 1980s and 1990s, but everything changed in 1998 when Apple introduced the iMac with a CD-ROM drive – but no floppy drive.
By 2007, it was rare for any PCs to be manufactured with floppy disk drives, with USB ports superseding them. Today, business technology such as USB sticks and external hard drives provide much greater data storage capacity than the minuscule 1.44MB of space on a typical floppy disk. And that’s before you even consider the seemingly interminable capacity of cloud storage. The floppy disk has left its legacy, though, as the famous Microsoft “save” icon.
Then: Typewriter | Now: Laptop
From its invention in the 1860s, the typewriter quickly became the machine behind every business. Even when the first word processors took flight in 1977, the typewriter was still an office stalwart. Then, from the early 2000s onwards, computers started dominating and manufacturers of office typewriters slowed production. Some parts of the world, such as Latin America and Africa, still rely on mechanical typewriters because they can be used without electricity. In fact, Brazil continues to manufacture mechanical and electronic typewriters today.
Now it’s all about more power in an even smaller package. The first flip-style laptops appeared as far back as the early 1980s. It took another 20 years, but by the end of 2008, laptops outsold desktop computers for the first time, with 38.6 million units versus 38.5 million units, marking a huge milestone in the trend towards mobility.
Then: Overhead projector | Now: Interactive whiteboards, document cameras and dedicated computer projection systems
The overhead projector as we know it was created by Roger Appeldorn in the early 1960s, while he was working at 3M. The company became a major manufacturer of overhead projectors and it wasn’t long before the technology became a mainstay in classrooms, meeting rooms and boardrooms. And that’s where they stayed through the 1970s, 80s and 90s, until business technology started to evolve in the 2000s.
Today, interactive whiteboards, document cameras and dedicated computer projection systems have pushed OHPs to the margins, thanks to their impressive zoom features and high-definition imagery without the need for expensive printing or photocopying of clear sheets.
Then: Shredder | Now: Shredder
Despite technology innovations, little has changed in how businesses dispose of confidential documents. The paper shredder has been around since the early 19th century, though its design has changed a lot over the decades. The first actual machine, manufactured in Germany in 1935, was based on a hand-crank pasta maker. The story goes that Adolf Ehinger needed a reliable way to shred his anti-Nazi propaganda.
It wasn’t until the mid 1980s, however, that paper shredders became common for businesses or individuals outside of the government. As privacy became more important, shredder sales soared.
Today’s businesses are acutely aware of the threat to sensitive information, and their concerns have led to new solutions in business technology, such as laptop locks and desktop shredders forming part of three essential tools that support workplace privacy and personal information in the workplace.
The evolution of business technology isn’t slowing down. It’s down to organisations to tap into the latest innovations to reshape their business, transform their products and services, gain new efficiencies in the workplace, and empower employees to achieve more. At Staples, we deliver a range of technology products including end-to-end software solutions for all types of workplaces.