Information Technology has always been a keen interest of mine. On my first day at work as a produce buyer for a national supermarket chain, I was handed a bunch of photocopied A4 pages, a pencil, a black and red ballpoint pens, a ringbinder to keep the paper in and got told to get on with it. When I asked why I had to take manual records first before entering the data I was generating into a computer, I earned a serious round of laughter from my new colleagues and one of them added, "you might as well forget any notion you have about getting a hands on a computer because they are just too slow for us and anyway, the IT Department won't issue you any of us, because they think we are thick."
The year was 1987 and information technology tools seemed to be the domain of a selected few.
In 1989 I was appointed Produce Merchandise Manager and my first action was to implement the conversion from paper to PC based procurement. Apart from the odd teething problem, it worked just fine and produce buyers and IT boffins learned to co-exist.
In 1997 the supermarket chain I was working for merged with another regional group to form a national business and the buying offices were merged. I had the fortune to head up the Fresh Produce merchandise and procurement team for the entire company. On my first trip to the main buying office of our erstwhile competitor I encountered the following situation:
The buyers had all been issued with computers three years prior. The machines were in pristine conditions due to the fact that they were sitting switched off on the buyers's desk, being utilised as paperweights. Meanwhile the buyers were busy running around with ring binders, A4 paper and - wait for it - four different colour ballpoints, one for each wholesale merchant they were purchasing from! The explanation offered was that "computers were a hinderance to the business as no self respecting produce buyer could cope with negotiating price and entering data at the same time."
Within a week the computers had been turned on and the buyers had undergone a crash course on how to allow modern technology to contribute to making their lives easier.
Fast forward to today...
Computers are not just part of the landscape but in the process of getting smaller, smarter and, ultimately, putting on a disappearance act!
Well, you are seeing the evidence of that all around around. Laptops, notebooks, tablets, smart phones, Google Glass - and a wrist based computer is also under development.
No debate there either. The processing power of the Intel chips is absolutely mindblowing compared to the early days of computing and then there are predictive text and pattern recognition. The last computer we bought for one of our new team members just has a screen and a keyboard. The processor is intregrated into the screen module.
And there is the cloud. This has changed not only the playing field for the server sector of the IT industry but creates opportunities and challenges for anyone using computers and the internet. Storing data in the ethernet is fine and good but how safe is it? Will I be able to find it again? Who else has access to my data?
Most importantly - what opportunities do programmes like Dropbox, Linked In and Evernote represent for the Fruit Trade? Because the "sad" truth is that as sophisticated information technology has become, the fruit trade can not be automated - it is too perishable and complex for that. It still needs the innvoative and sharp human mind to spot the opportunities, examine the angles and use the trial and error message to intregrate IT into our daily business.