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Studying the Role of IT in the Evolution of American Business Practices: A Way Forward
October-December 2007 (vol. 29 no. 4)
pp. 28-39
The use of computers by whole industries in the US has led to a growing interest in the history of computer applications in business. In this article the author explores some of the trends in this new history and initial findings. He also suggests topics that are ripe for historical research.

1. A.L. Norberg and J.E. O'Neill, Transforming Computer Technology: Information Processing for the Pentagon, 1962–1986, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1996.
2. A.L. Norberg, Computers and Commerce: A Study of Technology and Management at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company, Engineering Research Associates, and Remington Rand, 1945–1957, MIT Press, 2005.
3. J.W. Cortada, Before the Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, and Remington Rand and the Industry They Created, 1865–1956, Princeton Univ. Press, 1993; , J. Yost, The Computer Industry, Greenwood Press, 2005.
4. M. Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, MIT Press, 2003.
5. Routinely reported in IBM, Annual Report, see especially that for 2005 and 2006; http:/
6. Rather than cite a few examples, see each issue of the Charles Babbage Institute Newsletter, which routinely publishes a list of recent publications, including studies of dot-com firms and biographies. All the newsletters are available at its Web site, .
7. See for example, E.E. Keet, "A Personal Recollection of Software's Early Days 1960–1979: Part 1," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 26, no. 4, 2004, pp. 46-61.
8. K. Maney, The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. and the Making of IBM, John Wiley &Sons, 2003, R.S. Tedlow, Andy Grove: The Life and Times of An American, Portfolio/Penguin, 2006.
9. J.W. Cortada, "How Did Computing Go Global? The Need for an Answer and a Research Agenda," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 26, no. 1, 2004, pp. 53-58.
10. M. Campbell-Kelly, ICL: A Business and Technical History: The Official History of Britain's Leading Information Systems Company, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989.
11. J. Dedrick and K.L. Kraemer, Asia's Computer Challenge: Threat or Opportunity for the United States and the World?, Oxford Univ. Press, 1998, M.A. Cusumano, Japan's Software Factories: A Challenge to U.S. Management, Oxford Univ. Press, 1991; D.C. Mowery, ed., The International Computer Software Industry: A Comparative Study of Industry Evolution and Structure, Oxford Univ. Press, 1996.
12. For exceptions, see the memoirs of an IBM employee, L.A. Lamassonne, My Life With IBM, Protea, 2001; P. Bastos Tigre, Technology and Competition in the Brazilian Computer Industry, St. Martin's Press, 1983.
13. Eden Medina is studying computing in Chile, while Corinna Schlombs is examining an "international" history of computing by looking at US multinational firms in Europe. See E. Medina, "Computer Memory, Collective Memory: Recovering History through Chilean Computing," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 27, no. 4, 2005, pp. 102-104; and C. Schlombs, "Toward International Computing History," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 28, no. 1, 2006, pp. 107-108.
14. For excellent introductions to these themes, see E. Brynjolfsson and B. Kahin, eds., Understanding the Digital Economy: Data, Tools, and Research, MIT Press, 2000; D.W. Jorgenson, M.S. Ho, and K.J. Stiroh, Productivity, vol. 3, Information Technology and the American Growth Resurgence, MIT Press, 2005.
15. W. Aspray and P. Ceruzzi eds. , The Commercialization of the Internet and Its Impact on American Business, MIT Press, forthcoming.
16. T. Haigh, "The Chromium-Plated Tabulator: Institutionalizing an Electronic Revolution, 1954–1958," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 23, no. 4, 2001, pp. 75-104, T. Haigh, "Inventing Information Systems: The Systems Men and the Computers, 1950–1968," Business History Rev., vol. 75, no. 1, 2001, pp. 15-61; T. Haigh, "Remembering the Office of the Future: The Origins of Word Processing and Office Automation," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 28, no. 4, 2006, pp. 6-31; "Letting the 'Computer Boys' Take Over: Technology and the Politics of Organizational Transformation," Int'l Rev. Social History, vol. 48, supplement 11, 2003, pp. 152-180; N. Ensmenger, "The 'Question of Professionalism' in the Computing Fields," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 23, no. 4, 2001, pp. 56-73.
17. I recently summarized my findings in J.W. Cortada, "The Digital Hand: How Information Technology Changes the Way Industries Worked in the United States," Business History Rev., vol. 80, winter 2006, pp. 755-766.
18. J. Yates, Structuring the Information Age: Life Insurance and Technology in the Twentieth Century, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2005, J. Yates, "How Business Enterprises Uses Technology: Extending the Demand-Side Turn," Enterprise and Society, vol. 7, no. 3, 2006, pp. 422-455.
19. For the case that many aspects of the economy increased its productivity—not just capital or labor—see G. Tanaka, Digital Deflation: The Productivity Revolution and How It Will Ignite the Economy, McGraw-Hill, 2004.
20. J.W. Cortada, The Digital Hand, vol. 1, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.
21. J.W. Cortada, The Digital Hand, 3 vols., Oxford Univ. Press, 2004–2008.
22. R.E. Cole, Managing Quality Fads: How American Business Learned to Play the Quality Game, Oxford Univ. Press, 1999.
23. Maintained by Tom Haigh at the Univ. of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, ( He welcomes new participants who are willing to share with their colleagues their research initiatives and who are also willing to engage in dialogue and reach out for help in their work.
24. I have documented this work in J.W. Cortada and J.A. Woods, eds., The Quality Yearbook, McGraw-Hill, 1994–2002, cataloging and describing these in over 7,000 pages in nine volumes. In late 2007 I deposited complete sets of these books at the Charles Babbage Institute and at the business school library at the Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison.
25. A notable example is the rapid expansion in the number of biotech startup enterprises in the US, many of which are now competing against the traditional "large pharma" firms. For details, see S.B. Clarke, J.W. Cortada, H.E. Fraser, Learning the Biopartnering Game: How to Achieve More From Your Biotech Alliance, IBM Corporation, 2004.
26. F. Land, "The First Business Computer: A Case Study in User-Driven Innovation," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 22, no. 3, 2000, pp. 16-26;, A. Akera, "Voluntarism and the Fruits of Collaboration: The IBM User's Group Share," Technology and Culture, vol. 42, no. 4, 2001, pp. 710-736.
27. For many examples and case studies, see E. von Hippel, The Sources of Innovation, Oxford Univ. Press, 1988; and E. von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation, MIT Press, 2005.
28. "Discussed more fully in Cortada," The Digital Hand, vol. 2.
29. P. Harrigan and N. Wardrip-Fruin eds. , Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media, MIT Press, 2007.
30. The role of Moore's law is only just now being studied on a broad basis; see for example, W. Aspray, ed., Chasing Moore's Law: Information Technology Policy in the United States, SciTech, 2004; E. Mollick, "Establishing Moore's Law," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 28, no. 3, 2006, pp. 62-75.
31. One of the most influential examples is that of Harvard Business School professor C.M. Christensen in a series of books, The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Harvard Business School Press, 1997; The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth, Harvard Business School Press, 2003; and Seeing What's Next, Harvard Business School Press, 2004. I explore the rationale more fully in "Learning From History: Leveraging Experience and Context to Improve Organizational Excellence," J. Organizational Excellence, vol. 21, no. 2, 2002, pp. 23-29.

Index Terms:
business history, industries and computing, Internet, IT applications
James W. Cortada, "Studying the Role of IT in the Evolution of American Business Practices: A Way Forward," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 28-39, Oct.-Dec. 2007, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2007.64
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