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CPBJ30: The 1980s: A computerization wave and Roundtop at 20

The great debate of 1984: Who should be responsible for knowing what the computer can do for a business?

Thirty years ago this month, the Central Penn Business Journal — then called Strictly Business — was telling the stories of midstate business owners who were taking the plunge and computerizing their companies.

Many were still a bit leery of automation and how a computer could improve office productivity. Most importantly, where would they house the computer — singular — and its related gadgetry?

Even the owners who bought a computer to handle accounts receivable and their payroll were questioning the ongoing expenses to upgrade to a new model to handle additional tasks, because that meant having a full-time person inputting data every day.

Would the computer be “valuable enough to justify the extra expense?” was one question pondered in a November 1984 story.

At that time, state lawmakers were discussing legislation designed to protect employees against the harmful effects of using computers. Annual eye examinations, the installation of protective shielding to block out radio frequency radiation and limiting usage to five hours per day were among the proposed business restrictions.

But new retail computer stores were popping up everywhere, established retailers were expanding and specialized computer centers that targeted business users were opening in department stores.

Technology began to permeate the workplace. Today, it’s the standard at which we operate, said Tom Malesic, president of Lancaster County-based EZSolution Corp., an information technology and marketing firm.

“Most businesses could not go back to a paper and pencil,” Malesic said. “They wouldn’t know what to do. They don’t have things on paper (anymore).”

Before online shopping forever altered buying habits, business owners dealt primarily with local retailers for computer hardware and service. With the rise of the IT consultant — a profession that didn’t exist in the mid-1980s — computers are now purchased directly from manufacturers and the bulk of network support can be addressed remotely.

“In 1984, websites didn’t exist. Even in 1996 or 1997, websites were brand new,” said Malesic, who started his business in the latter year. “I would have prominent local business owners say to me, ‘Nobody in their right mind will look online for my business.’”

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