HISTORY OF INFORMATION - IBM Mainframe

The present is often much more meaningful when we have a better understanding of the past. Indeed, many historians believe that one of the main characteristics of all the progressive civilizations is their ability to produce and use information effectively.

In the Mesopotamian valley, civilizations flourished as far back as 4500 BC. An interesting point is that these civilizations kept fairly sophisticated records on clay tablets of various sizes and shapes. These storage devices provided a great deal of information about receipts, disbursements, loans, purchases, sales, leases, partnership formation and dissolution and contracts. The Egyptians were able to manage the complex Pyramid building projects because they also had advanced methods of storing data.

More than 500 years ago, the Inca Indians of South America developed fairly comprehensive information systems with databases and processing models composed of thousands of knotted strings called 'quipus'. Quipu, also called quipo,is an Incan accounting apparatus consisting of a long rope from which hung 48 secondary cords and various tertiary cords attached to the secondary ones. Knots were made in the cords to represent units, tens, and hundreds; and, in imperial accounting, the cords were differently colored to designate the different concerns of government such as tribute, lands, economic productivity, ceremonies, matters relating to war, etc. The quipus were created and maintained as historical records and were kept by high officials (like judges, commanders, and important heads of extended families) at the capital of Cuzco and by regional commanders and village headmen. The knots on quipus represented the number of people in a village, their duties, the amount of grain in the warehouse, business transactions, poetry, records of battles and other historical events. An array of knots and different colors conveyed a combination of mnemonics, digits, and narrative information. The people who built these systems were called 'quipuamayus', early forerunners of today's systems analysts. These quipuamayus studied for four years in a 'teaching house' (perhaps getting a Bachelors degree in Systems Analysis!) before entering the profession.

Thus history has an array of examples of civilizations and people who were conversant with the art of data processing, maybe in their own peculiar way. But the fact that all the successful civilizations had some kind of a data storage and retrieval system remains.

In the mid-eighteenth century, pressures to process and refine data increased. The Industrial Revolution removed the basic means of production from home and small shops and put them in the factory. The development of large manufacturers led to the development of service industries for the marketing and transportation of the manufactures' output. The increased size and complexity of these organizations made it impossible for any one person to obtain enough information to manage them effectively without enlisting the aid of data processing. Furthermore with the advent of large factory systems and mass production techniques and the need for more sophisticated capital goods necessitated large investments and these capital needs forced the separation of investor from management. On one hand, the management needed more information for internal decisions and for successfully running the organizations, whereas investors on the other hand needed information about the organization and about the management's performance.


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