It’s 1981: 26 years before the iPhone, 23 years prior to Facebook and 10 years ahead of the World Wide Web; while some can’t fathom living without these technologies, 1981 was a culturally-significant year. Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th president of the United States, the first recognized cases of AIDS in the U.S. were discovered in California, MTV was born and on Aug. 12, in New York City's Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Phillip 'Don' Estridge unveiled the IBM PC. The 5150 personal computer carried a price tag of $1,565 and made information technology a feasible reality for small businesses.
Thirty years later, IBM reported SMBs account for $257 billion or 59% of the information technology market and claims to have SMB clients in over 170 countries.
So let’s take a trip down tech memory lane. After all, without these innovations, home offices, social media, smartphones, RSA codes, clouds – the contemporary small business as we know it – wouldn’t be possible.
Read the August 12, 1981 IBM press release in full
The Floppy Disk
First invented in 1967, the floppy disk was originally designed for large-scale systems as a more efficient form of IBM's system/370 mainframe data loads, but the disk's small size and large storage capacity soon made it a small business mainstay. It was usable, durable and flexible and by the mid 1990s, it was the preferred storage medium for the booming PC industry – which included everyone from multi-billion dollar corporations and mom and pop stores, to millennial-in-the-making elementary school students. At its pinnacle, IBM sold more than 5 billion floppy disks every year.
Innovating the Self-Service Kiosk
In 1970, IBM partnered with American Airlines to create the first ever self-service airline ticket kiosk. Later that decade, IBM expanded the kiosks to ATMs in banks and point-of-sale terminals in retail stores. Kiosks saved man power, heightened efficiency and streamlined workflow. By the early 2000s, there were 131,000 kiosks in the U.S., not including ATMs. Today, there are millions of ATMs worldwide.
The UPC-The Transformation of Retail
Long before there was the QR code, there was the Universal Product Code—more commonly known as a UPC or bar code. The UPC was created in 1973 and is among the most recognized designs in history; IBM was one of the pioneer vendors to market it. The black and white simple matrix of information can be customized for a variety of transactions and holds incredible storage capabilities. For small businesses, UPCs meant fewer costs, better customer service, heightened inventory control and resourceful marketing data. The UPC was a game changer for the point-of-sale experience.
The IBM PC
To be fair, IBM 5150 wasn't the first PC. The Apple II, the Commodore PET, The Osborne1, The Tandy TRS 30 all preceded it. But IBM claims it was the first affordable PC.
The 5150 debuted at $1,565 – which might not sound cheap by modern standards – but it’s all about perspective: In the 1960s, IBM computers often cost as much as $9 million. Not to mention they required an air-conditioned quarter-acre of space with a staff of 60.
An IBM spokeswoman told FOX Business, "The IBM PC changed the way people lived. Before it arrived, the effort to tear down the wall between professional and personal computing had been a movement; the PC made it a standard. The IBM PC helped revolutionize the way the world does business."
Silicon Geranium Chips
In 1994, IBM research patented the Silicon Geranium (SiGe) chip. Similar to IBM's PC, SiGe chips were already available elsewhere but tended to be more expensive. IBM's chips were cheaper, smaller and more energy efficient – and proved critical in expanding the wireless industry. Today SiGe is widely used to power smartphones.
Business Analytics for SMBs (Cognos Express)
After discovering that 83% of SMBs rank business intelligence and analytics as their top priority, IBM launched the Cognos Express in 2009. The Cognos Express streamlines business analytics by integrating planning, analyzing, reporting and performance. This all-in-one business analytics solution saves SMBs manpower and time. Cognos Express' cost-efficient capabilities epitomize IBM's contemporary SMB support.
IBM Virtual Desktop
Released in early 2011, the IBM virtual desktop that provides anytime, anywhere access to personal desktops from mobile devices such as laptops, netbooks, tablet PCs and other devices.
Moving to the Cloud
IBM continues to expand in cloud services and other innovations in the post-PC era.
"IBM's mission to help SMBs has evolved as our client needs have evolved. IBM's goal is to help these entrepreneurial companies take advantage of emerging opportunities and succeed…As information has become the new currency, the ability of SMBs to survive in an increasingly competitive and global environment is largely determined by their use of new technologies," said Rich Hume, general manager IBM midmarket business.
From the PC to the cloud, a look back at the technologies that make the modern small business possible.