User-Driven Innovation: The Worlds First Business Computer

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This is a first-hand account written by thirteen of the early users who developed the disciplines of systems engineering and put LEO to work on economic, time-dependent business applications, starting in 1951.

Included is an edited version of the seminal report of the two Lyons executives who, after a tour of the early computer activity in the United States in 1947, recommended that Lyons acquire a computer of their own. Also included is a Science Museum interview with John Simmons.

Tony Priest worked on the LEO for many years and kindly donated this book. It has been signed inside the front cover by John Aris, Frank Land and Ninian Eadie.

Extracts from Reviews

Professor Dick Nolan of the Harvard University Business School writes in his introduction to the book:

"This story has the best qualities of a Harvard Business School case study: it is an important event in the history of the business.

It is a study about extraordinary people ... As confident executives they look outside their company, in other countries, at universities to discover new ways of doing things and fresh ideas. In their bold actions, trust shows through as a foundation in implementing their vision. Young people are given free reign and do not disappoint. A resulting exciting, challenging ‘can-do' culture is heard in the words of the people who were there."

Dr Terry Gourvish, Director Business History Unit, LSE, inLSE Business History Newssheet,

"This is a major contribution to the history of computing and computers in the UK. A full scale case study of LEO computers, written by members of the team who experienced all its trials and tribulations, it provides a fascinating insight into the development by J. Lyons & Co. of the first business computer in the UK."

Neil Fitzgerald, editor of CA magazine, in The Scotsman, Business section. .

"Can-do culture, empowerment, user-driven innovation, business process re-engineering, flat organisations, quality, short lines of communications and decision making. We are led to believe that these are radical, modern ideas. However, a book that has come into my hands shows that they were being successfully harnessed almost half a century ago, to create the most significant event ever in business management.

The editors ... tell the story of how they and others built and put to work the world's first business computer. This did not happen in California's Silicon Valley, but at Cadby Hall, the ... west London premises of Lyons.

An important facet was that they felt they should always take a strategic view of the whole function to be computerised and make recommendations for improvements before going to work."

Dr John Pinkerton, review in ICL Technical Journal

"Telling the story of how the foundations of data processing were laid from 1949 onwards has evidently been a labour of love.

This is a work of scholarship but eminently readable nevertheless. It will be seen as a major contribution to the history of business computing; it is strongly recommended for anyone already working in or studying to enter the field of IT."

Michael Braithwaite, Deloitte, Touche, European Journal of Information Systems.

"I commend this book to a wide audience. To the general reader it stands as a very well written and exciting account of technological innovation. To the business school student it presents a remarkable story of technological success that, as a commercial venture was flawed, perhaps by factors beyond the control of the players."

Professor George Mitchell, review published Journal of Operational Research Society..

"This fascinating book tells the life story of LEO. Rather over a third of the book is the historical record, carefully researched and engagingly written up by Caminer. The rest is largely personal memoirs of those involved in the early days, including accounts of several innovative applications. The whole is rounded off by an evaluation by Aris. The book's value is enhanced by the style of writing. Those who worked in LEO, especially in its earlier days, including many of the book's authors, exercised an influence on the development of business computing in the UK quite disproportionate to their numbers.

I found this book a good read and one which exited several strands of thought. Although its main market will be among scholars and students of IT and business studies, it deserves a wide readership in the OR community."

John Perkins,National Computer Centre Newsletter,

"The book is a fascinating adventure story in which the dynamics of an extraordinary group of people made the seemingly impossible happen."

Professor John Ward in theJournal of Strategic Information Systems.

"The story of that first business computer: Leo - Lyons Electronic Office - is told in this book. Whilst it is history, reflection on what was achieved and not achieved and why still has many lessons of relevance to the successful use of IT today - we seem to be learning painfully and slowly!.

.... a review by John Aris of what of what he calls the ‘LEO approach' - an integrated combination of technology innovation, application and consultancy designed to enable significant business improvements from computer use in a range of situation. Many of these applications would be called ‘business process redesign' in the 1990s!

The wide range of contributors provide many different perspectives on what happened and views on why things evolved the way they did. It is a set of memoirs - often very personal ones - of a time when Britain could be said to have led the world in the application of this new technology.

... it is a book that we should all be grateful the authors took the time and trouble to get together and write. It is a story of extraordinary achievements, by a talented team..."

I. A. Lovelock in Management Accounting.

"This book is a first-hand account of how this astounding innovation came about. It is a flesh and blood, warts and all story related by the participants, brimming over with the same enthusiasm that enabled the unlikeliest of organisations to lead the way into the future that we are all familiar with today.

It concludes with different strands coming together to provide the essence of the LEO credo of comprehensive, integrated, secure, action stimulated implementations.

Professor T. Brady, Brighton University

"As well as being a fascinating piece of historical writing the book provides food for thought in the supposedly computer literate world of the 21st Century. Spectacular computer disasters such as the London Stock Exchange's Taurus system have left us with rather jaundiced perceptions about computer projects. Why were Lyons better at implementing computer systems?

One major factor was that before automating business processes the Lyons team ensured that they were well understood and ready for computerisation. Long before the prospect of computers came along, Lyons had established a systems research office with the brief to constantly search out how improvements might be made to the business by changing processes.”

Professor Paul Ceruzzi, Smithsonian Institute, Washington

"Most surveys of the history of computing mark the beginning of the commercial computer age with the delivery of the first UNIVAC in 1951.  The better ones note the first delivery of a UNIVAC to a commercial, not government, customer (General Electric) in 1954.  Only the best histories mention LEO, a computer built by the British catering company J. Lyons & Co. and first operational in September 1951, as the real beginning of commercial application of the stored-program computer."

ISBN : 0077092368 LCC: QA76.17

Publisher : McGraw Hill

Author : David Caminer, John Aris, Peter Hermon, Frank Land

Format : Hardback, 401 Pages

-David Caminer, John Aris, Peter Hermon, Frank Land-
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User-Driven Innovation: The Worlds First Business Computer




This exhibit has a reference ID of CH7043. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.
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