From Beige to Cloud

Jul 2021

In the 1980s affordable computers, largely connected to the television, used tapes and offered black and white text output. Higher-end and later devices offered 8 colours and highly pixelated graphics. 

In the 1990s full-colour computers became available, and despite the beige cases were much more similar to today’s computers. 

Business software developed during the 1990s was huge, with some completely cornering the markets. Consider this software was running on 1990’s hardware – incredibly slow by today’s standards, yet the software performed at a reasonable pace. Consider also this software was continually developed over a decade or more and offered as much as today’s modern equivalents. 

Organisations bought this Business Software for high prices, and this software-defined their business processes. The ordering process was based on the software because that was how it worked. In most cases they would purchase one tool only. 

During the early 2000s new cloud-based software came out that was partially restricted by the web browsers of the time, and the new web technology. This meant that often a cloud-based system could only offer a small fraction of a previous 1990’s system. However, these cloud-based systems offered APIs which allowed them to seamlessly integrate with any other cloud-based tool. 

This led to an increase in small web applications, each providing an API and some extremely specific and well-marketed pieces of functionality that businesses could not survive without. Each sold with this ideal that it will painlessly integrate with all those other such tools. 

The 1990’s software which should have been replaced by now was still running on a beige computer somewhere because it was still doing a few jobs that hadn’t been covered properly by newer software. 

Despite being theoretically possible to link these tools together, and some fantastic attempts to do so (some of which actually work), on the whole the experience most businesses had was that of many, many disconnected businesses tools which are no more closely related than two separate ring binders in their old filing cabinet. Progress? 

Staff were frequently adding a new customer's record to multiple systems, copying in the address and various other information each time. If a customer or supplier changed address it may be updated on some systems but not others, and the flaky integration might update one automatically. 

Many of the previous 1990’s platforms were becoming old and extinct despite being superior in many respects. 

There were many business tools holding customer data, many of which were in the cloud, and some created by ex-employees whose account was forgotten many years ago but still existed. GDPR is announced with a requirement to audit where data is held, and to create a chain of consent back to the person. This is a difficult enough challenge when you have one source of data, but it is virtually impossible to do this when data is scattered across various disconnected tools, and is impossible when those accounts have been forgotten. For many companies this raised concerns over the number of software tools being used. 

By this time new cloud based software was emerging that offered far more services in one package, although often missing a few core components of each business. However, compared to the fragmented era of business tools, there was very much a benefit to reducing the number of tools. 

Finally in 2021 we reach a point at which cloud based applications can match their 1990’s beige counterparts.