Nation’s Business 2000 Com Revolution

Nation’s Business was a blue collar, business publication that folded before the 21st Century. The Washington D.C. based magazine featured truck drivers on their covers, other times construction workers. Nation’s Business employed 29 staff members, who were outdone by bigger business magazines with capital, and the internet itself. Nation’s Business lasted over 87 years, once featuring a cover on a 1993 issue called The Communications Revolution. The article talks about Alexander Graham Bell, who’s communication line from Boston-Salem enabled people to talk to each other, by holding a handle bar to their ears. Fax machine ruled the yard in 1993, but one prophecy has come true today, based on a writer from 24 years ago…

The telephone will become smaller and more powerful, and its functions will begin to merge with the computer. You might say to yourself the sky is blue, and tomorrow the ocean will be wet. Hindsight is 20/20, but who could think cell phones replacing computers. The article’s more wild predictions haven’t come true, at least not yet. The Communications Revolution gives an example of a home appliance repair company, who’s owner doesn’t have to guess what parts to bring on his truck. The customer could just plug their phone into their broken stove, and the telephone would figure out what was wrong with said stove. Like a doctor diagnosing a patient… Plugging cell phones into stoves didn’t come true, but Nike+ technology shows it’s not so out there.

Information was beholden to physical highways, as analog signals sent voice messages over copper telephone wires. Television and radio signals arrived from the air (antenna) or cable sets at home, but didn’t interact with phones. Computers imported and exported data through floppy disks, and modems. On Demand cable programming, emerged shortly after the publication while the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) allowed digital signals to be carried over copper wires- an intermediary step, like getting rid of gravel roads for a two lane black top road. Telecommunications companies geared themselves to service smaller businesses, with the internet lowering barriers to startups. In the 1950’s, America built interstate highways replacing two lane roads- the equivalent of fiber optics replacing ISDN copper wires. Between big leaps, there are series of smaller leaps.

Interactive video also began in the early 90s. Time Warner Inc. was building its first fiber optic in Orlando, Florida. Over 50,000 channels provided upon completion, said a Time Warner spokesman. It allowed consumers to order premium programs through interactive video and data services (IVDS). IBM, Time Warner, TCI Cable, and Apple jumped in. Algorithms didn’t exist back then, but its blueprint was forming. Online television transactions could be stored, data showing what consumers were watching, purchasing, etc. That information is a commodity. Someone wise once said of cushy CEO’s enjoying an easy life. Meanwhile, some computer programmer in India will engineer something that captures information putting the CEO’s Co. out of business. Speed, accuracy, and customer service wins out.

The Communications Revolution says automation works best when substituting menial tasks, such as a sales reports. Instead of sitting down reading stacks of papers on sales, computers can tally totals to save time. Business @ The Speed of Light by Bill Gates says simple spread sheets, was instrumental for Morgan Stanley’s Equity Division to record sales/trading and data structures to clients. What automated computer processes can’t do, is human touch. There’s a huge difference between talking to someone on the phone, and talking to systems. WebMD is a great resource, but doesn’t substitute the services of a nurse. The hotel business can automate check in processes, freeing staff to provide better customer service: offering tourist suggestions, setting up special events, etc.

Algorithmic process to fish information is called data mining. Before Amazon, the book publishing company HaperCollins used an algorithm called OLAP systems to track real time sales. The publisher could view how many books were selling, and publishing just enough to meet quota. When publishers have excess unsold copies, they get returned by bookstores. By manufacturing only the amount sold, HarperCollins shaved returns of unsold books from 30% to 10%- each percent representing millions. Data mining was originally used in bookkeeping, before its adoption in telecommunications, investment banking, geology, and today’s internet.

The next generation of technology will make current telecommunications look as ancient as the crank telephone of 1910. They will come by fits and starts, but will transform the way business is done as surely as the telephone itself has.

They will enable business to operate more efficiently and profitably.

-Nation’s Business 1993 article.

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