Making IT Work



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Making IT Work

Making IT Work

Jeff Yost is back with another book, this one Making IT Work: A History of the Computer Services Industry, published by MIT Press.  Recall that just recently he and Tom Misa published FastLane, raising the bar on such things as how many oral history interviews to do (no longer dozens but hundreds) and how end users of computing work.  Jeff now turns his attention to writing a pioneering history of the services piece of the IT world, which, amazingly, has never been properly studied.  I, and others, have focused on hardware, major computer vendors, and software.  But, as Jeff points out, the computer services industry is huge—about $1 trillion in size—and has been around since just after World War I (with a prehistory in tabulation machine services). Today it consists of consulting, programming services, systems integration, management of data centers, and time sharing/cloud computing.  He is the first to put that story together.  In the process, he wrote a book that IT and business historians, senior management, and industry watchers will find of enormous use.

Through a series of case studies of services firms he describes the IT services industry and how it evolved over the past century.  In the process, he sheds new light on such firms as Canning-Sisson, IBM, ADP, C-E-I-R, Computer Sciences, ADAPSO, Tymshare, and others, taking the story into 2016.  Relying on the massive business-IT archives located at CBI, and with access to IBM’s corporate papers too, not to mention his expert reliance on oral histories, he tells their story and that of their industry.  In the case of IBM, for example, it now becomes clear why and how it became a services firm in the 1990s and early 2000s, largely because it always was.  He also highlights how women were early participants in this industry.

This book would simply have not been possible to put together without relying on CBI’s archival sources, which includes the papers of ADAPSO, Burroughs, C-E-I-R, CDC, Diebold, SHARE, and SDC among others.  CBI’s oral histories, many conducted by Jeff, are crucial here—nearly two dozen just of key players in the services businesses.  Almost all the published secondary materials were also available at CBI.  The photographs and other line art also came from CBI.  As a result, we now have a major addition to the business history literature about information technology in a clearly written, well-organized book.  I urge CBI fans to become CBI Friends (by making a donation of $100 or more) to get a complimentary copy of this impressive book.

James W. Cortada
CBI Senior Research Fellow


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