Change Management

South Africa: 60 years of tech but what's really changed?

The Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) celebrates its diamond anniversary in November 2017 – 60 years of bringing together practitioners of computing and related skills to seek knowledge sharing and development of professional standards. 60 years of using the power of computing to enhance human activities in academia, in business, in government and, in the later decades, for the broader community. 60 years in which the world’s population has tripled to 7.6 billion.

Remembering that I have been a participant in technology-related roles for almost the same period (I passed the IBM aptitude test in 1963), I began to reflect on what has changed in those six decades and what has not. Back in the day, data was captured onto punched cards (80 characters per card) or paper tape. “Plug and play” meant knowing how to plug the leads on the control board of the Hollerith machine that would read the cards and print the data onto mountains of continuous paper. Input cards and output paper had to be transported by vehicle between the user premises (the accounting department) and the processing centre. A short while later, the arrival of an IBM 360 meant the data centre was in the same building as the accountants and magnetic storage replaced some of the shredded trees.

As conference speakers are fond of reminding us, there is more computing power in a mobile phone than was used by the Apollo programme to put men on the moon. The comparison is almost true of the Raspberry Pi and that IBM 360. Imagine running the financial reporting of a multi-million-dollar nationwide enterprise on a $30 device! 50 years ago, having an online connection from a “dumb” terminal in a branch office to the computer centre in head office was remarkable. Now, we take for granted that any worker can be connected by a “smart” device from wherever they are, on the move and at any time.

We have moved from bytes to petabytes, from calculation through computation to artificial intelligence, from 1200 baud to multi-Gbps, from telex to email, from analogue voice to digital video conferencing, from keyboard to voice activation. Despite the seemingly quantum leaps in speed and reach, our systems are still based on the foundation of 0/1 (off/on), storage and retrieval and, dare I say, garbage in/garbage out. But, hey! COBOL is still good for a few more years and the paperless office remains a myth… The art of programming is being learned at junior school, not just at university.

The common thread is connections. Faster and farther-reaching connections. The networks provide the platform for the enhanced applications and services that support so much of human endeavour.

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Adrian Schofield

Adrian Schofield has spent more than half his life working in and for the South African ICT industry at national, regional and global levels. For the last 10 years, he has conducted applied research for the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering and is currently serving as a Board member of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), the Africa ICT Alliance (AfICTA)... See More

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