Computerworld's Founder Looks Back on 35 Years

Back when computers were still a mystery to ordinary folks, the circa-1967 Computerworld reader was a high priest of automation, the sovereign ruler of back-office functions.

"If you were the computer specialist, you were a genius," recalls Patrick J. McGovern, chairman and founder of Computerworld's parent company, International Data Group in Boston. "Business people didn't want to know what was going on back there. They just wanted to get the job done. And since they didn't understand it, senior managers were always a bit insecure about information technology, worried they were getting taken for a ride."

As Computerworld's first editor and publisher, McGovern used his weekly newspaper the same way Theodore Roosevelt used the presidency - as a bully pulpit, to speak to, and advocate for, a freshly emerging class of information systems professionals. He called his subscribers "the computer community," and today there are 44 Computerworlds worldwide, with more than 1 million readers.

Today's reader may be in the same profession, but everything else has changed. IT professionals are now "active business strategists, people who know the technology but are more proactive about creating ways that companies should do business," McGovern says. "They manage supply chains, handle corporate assets and improve the processes that lead to business success."

During the past three decades, McGovern has seen dozens of computer publications rise and fall, each tied to the fleeting popularity of a specific technology or platform rather than to IT users' evolving needs. "Once a technology changes or becomes integrated, people don't need to read about it or learn as much about it, so these magazines disappear," he notes.

The IT industry in 1967 was built around selling complete turnkey systems, and a half-dozen companies ruled the computer world: Burroughs Corp., Sperry-Univac, NCR Corp., Control Data Corp., Honeywell Inc. and IBM. "Actually, at the time we started Computerworld, businesses were renting these systems, paying a monthly fee, and the manufacturer would provide a programmer to help develop a custom system. It was more like a facilities management service, and it was very prestigious to have that 'glass house' for your computers," McGovern says. "People used to put their computer center right on the first floor so people walking by could look in and say, 'Wow, what updated technology and farsighted management!' " Today, of course, security concerns would nix such a showy display of computer muscle.

When he considers the next big innovations in computing, McGovern sees the demand for wireless access and the arrival of broadband connectivity as twin trends that "will make the ubiquity of computers rapidly develop."

"Everyone will become a natural Internet user," he says, finding it easy to envision an era when people anywhere in the world will automatically turn to online sources for the latest news, scores, games, communication and interactive learning.

IT organizations are likely to increasingly shift to a service provider role, he adds, as CEOs look harder for cost controls, technologies keep commoditizing, and pay-as-you-go computing options proliferate in the market.

But whatever role technology plays in the future, McGovern sees his flagship publication continuing to expand its information services and keeping people in touch with one another and their ideas. "Sometimes the best expertise on any one thing is another peer, and I see Computerworld facilitating more of that contact," he says. "Ultimately, we all learn from each other."

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon