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Integrate this!

Was it a dream, or was it PowerPoint? 4/3/01 Enterprise Pursuits hed: Integrate This! By Nelson King

Okay gals and guys, today we are going to review a little problem that you’ve all heard about and maybe done not quite enough about: integrating those little wireless telephones and palm-sized computers into our nice big IT structure. Lights, please …

(Click to a picture of a PC.) Remember this? It’s an IBM Personal Computer circa 1981. Those of you who are tripping over beards or giving up on lipstick may remember the fun we had 20 years ago with those little desktop computers. Remember–there was Compaq, Eagle, TI, Vector Graphic, Osborne, KayPro–not to mention Macintosh–computers that perhaps your coworkers snuck into the building. (Next slide–a picture of a mainframe computer.) Then they turned around and demanded that we get them integrated with the mainframe and minicomputer systems. (Next slide: picture of an IT manager with bug eyes.)

Oh yes. (Click to a picture of a guy sitting in a big chair.) The users were out in front on this. I personally sat back on my soft chair, put my hands behind my head and said, “These little toys are just not going to play with our real computers.” You know, I was almost right. They almost took over the whole show, and they sure didn’t play very well with our IT systems. (Click to a picture of a technician holding up two cables of different sizes.) I can remember the day we put a PC on the CEO’s desk, and failed to get it hooked into our WAN. Oh no. That was not a good day.

(Click to a picture of an IBM PC sitting next to an IBM 360.) It was a problem of getting a flock of lambs to lie down with the lion. Hard enough, but remember they were all lambs, comparatively speaking. For the most part we only had to deal with the peculiarities of an IBM standard personal computer. (Picture of a Macintosh.) My deeper sympathies to those of you dealing with nests of Macintosh.

(Click to a picture of a large cubicle farm.) Out in the unreal world of our workers, who knew what they were putting into our nice standard-issue personal computers: Joystick boards? Modems? Souped up CPUs? And the software! (Click to a picture of a table full of PC junk.) Thank goodness this was all in the building, eh? You could send out patrols of tech support and clean up the misbegotten and system-killing hardware. You could find out what kind of memory-sapping software was surreptitiously loaded. (Click to a picture of people with worried looks bending over a desktop computer.) The 640K barrier be damned!

We survived the PC, did we not? It wasn’t pretty, but IT rose to the occasion, and we eventually got the desktops into our networks. We got the software under control, mostly. We even took in stride the next big thing–portable computers. (Click to pictures of an Osborne and Compaq portable computer.) Thankfully these things were really desktop computers with a handle on them. We laughed, of course, but when the executive suite all demanded that they have one of these things so they could work at home–well, we stopped laughing and got down to the nitty-gritty of communications. (Click to a picture of a person using a portable computer at home.) Please pass the POTS–that’s the Plain Old Telephone System we all knew and loved, a modem, some control software, and a bottle of aspirin for the security headaches. But hey, we did it!

(Click to a picture of a Palm Pilot.) A moment of silence while we contemplate this object. You will note that it is very small. Just about everything it does, it does differently than the computers we have. Note the tiny screen. (Click to a picture of a phone with an Internet screen.) This is a phone, ladies and gentlemen, but it too has a screen, and it is connected to the Internet, and by golly people are going to ask, “Say, can’t we have company data on this?” And you’re going to say, “Ackk!” Do you want to talk “form factor”? I didn’t think so. How many different companies? (CLick to a picture of a distributed mobile network diagram. Do they all use the same operating system, and is that operating system like the ones we’re using now? What about the connections? Some cables, some without cables, some temporarily cabled. Say the magic word–slowly and in a whisper–“wireless.”

Did I hear anyone call for standards? We love standards. Hey, it could happen! (Click to a picture of a committee meeting.) We love standards committees. We also love security, when we can get it. Did I mention different continents, and that your users could be wandering around on any of them, and that they expect to be able to get the latest skinny from the home office while sitting in a café half-way around the world from HQ? Are the users ahead of you on this one? Guys and gals, we’ll come back to this after the lunch break. Thank you. (Click to a picture of a bottle of Alka Seltzer.)

Editor at Large Nelson King also writes Pursuits monthly for ComputerUser magazine.

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