Boy are things happening fast out there in technology land. I’ve just been on a buying spree to equip my business to produce interactive training courses on CD. The equipment and software that is currently available is mind boggling. As I was configuring the stuff that I bought, I pondered the last sixteen years with mixed emotions.
When I started my business in 1987, I went out and bought one of the first personal computer models available ? it makes me laugh just to think about it now. The bloody thing cost me a bundle ? nearly $10,000 all up, and all that got me was a very primitive word processor and a rudimentary dot printer.
In an attempt to save money I bought the system from a little Asian computer supplier down the road. They presented me with half a dozen boxes and told me the instructions were inside. They were right, they were inside, but they were written in fractured ‘Chinglish’, and I had never used a computer before. I plugged it in, switched it on, waited ? and not a lot happened. It just sat there with ‘C:>’ sitting in the top left hand corner of the screen. When I opened it up to see if I could spot the problem, I was horrified ? there wasn’t much inside; a circuit board, a couple of silver boxes and some wiring. I felt quite cheated.
After about a week of total rage and despair, I worked out that the machine had no software in it. A mate who professed to know these things, helped me load a word processor and told me it was ‘intuitive’ to use (if you ever hear this term in conjunction with computers, bear in mind that it is similar in concept to the real estate industry’s use of the term ‘unusual’). After reading a couple of hundred manuals my intuition finally kicked-in and I was able to type a business letter. Producing the envelope was another lengthy story in itself.
Anyway, I persisted ? call me obsessive, or masochistic if you like ? and the computer became a valuable business tool. I went from word processing, to database, to spreadsheet and on from there. It was bizarre; no sooner had I learned to use a piece of software than the manufacturers would introduce a new version with all the latest bells and whistles (which you don?t need, but which you have to have. It’s called vertical marketing and it works beautifully. I found that I paid for Bill Gates’ annual holidays in instalments.
Just when I thought I had it all licked, along came the affordable laser printer. What a wonderful invention; it offered the promise of being able to print graphics as well as text that looked as if it had been professionally typeset . . . another seven grand; never mind the cost, throw the cat another canary. I had to have it.
Once I had the laser printer I needed something to drive it. This led to the inevitable and eyewateringly expensive foray to purchase desktop publishing software (No! don’t tell me they planned it?) ? just so that I could use the laser printer to its capacity and publish slick documents full of graphics and eye catching grey tones. Have you ever used a desktop publishing program? User friendly is not the term that springs to mind; using early desktop publishing programs were like picking fly droppings out of pepper with boxing gloves on.
You’d think I’d learn, wouldn’t you? Not this little black duck. I had to have a colour printer next. Everybody bought laser printers and I started to feel like the world was catching up. More money. This time they’d introduced a new twist ? the financial double whammy. The printer cost a packet up-front, and . . . wait for it ? the ink and special paper worked out to $2 a page! What a fiendishly clever thing to do. My first journey to replenish stocks cost me $750.
By this time I was on my third computer system. They seem to last two years before they become obsolete and you have to buy one that will run the latest software. The heart rending thing to note is that when the time comes to upgrade your old computer, the one that cost you $5,000 two years ago can now be bought for $1,200. The new one costs you $5,500 (but it’s two hundred times faster, which allows the newest software which is three hundred times more complicated to run at two thirds the speed you are used to).
I was considering all this while I was loading the latest Internet software on to ‘computer system number five’. What has all this angst and expense done for me? Well, in spite of the traumas I’ve suffered, I now have virtually all the world’s information at my fingertips; I can type a search request for any subject and up comes the information I’m seeking; I can combine text, graphics, images, sound and video on to a CD; I can produce professional standard films and edit them with ease; I can keep massive customer and supplier databases and find something in seconds; I can produce a plethora of administrative documents quickly and easily; I can do most of my own accounting; I can produce all my audio visual training aids; I can send emails and documents instantly and for next to nothing, locally or to any other part of the world; and as a bonus, I have a mentally challenging hobby.
Fair enough, you might say, but you’re running a consulting business, not a restaurant or a hotel. So what? All businesses need to market themselves, do accounting, communicate with the outside world and keep abreast with the latest developments. I?m still running into a lot of hospitality businesses owners who are technophobic and resist investing into technology in their businesses with fear and loathing. They?ll inevitably find that they can?t compete and fall by the wayside.
Do I think all the trouble is worth it? You betcha it is.