Putting the "Tea" in IT

One of the key ideas in the marketing of high-tech products is due to Eric von Hippel of the MIT Sloan School, the idea that lead users often anticipate applications of new technologies before the market as a whole, and even before inventors and suppliers. This is because lead users have pressing or important problems for which they seek solutions, and turn to whatever technologies they can find to respond to their problems.
A good example is shown by the history of Information Technology. The company which pioneered business applications of the new computer technology in the early 1950s was not a computer hardware manufacturer nor even an electronic engineering firm, but a lead user, Lyons Tea Shops, a nationwide British chain of tea-and-cake shops.  Lyons specified, designed, built, deployed and operated their own computers, under the name of Leo (Lyons Electronic Office). Lyons, through Leo, was also the first to conceive and deploy many of the business applications which we now take for granted, such as automated payroll systems and logistics management systems. One of the leaders in that effort, David Caminer, has recently died at the age of 92. LEO was later part of ICL, itself later purchased by Fujitsu.
This post is intended to honour David Caminer, as a pioneer of automated business decision-making.

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