Industrial Computer Section
Its Charter. Objectives and Plan of Accomplishment
H. R. OLDFIELD, JR.
Industrial Computer Section
Today we are going to concentrate on
the subject of electronic data processing. I will not try to define
the term "data processing", as it appears to mean all things to
all men. Nevertheless, while our definitions may differ, I believe we all
agree that presently available data processing equipment falls far short
of meeting the present or contemplated requirements of the product
departments of General Electric.
Existing equipment appears to be
deficient in two respects. First there are the purely technical
deficiencies such as:
The slowness and inadequacy of present
punched card-or tape input devices.
The relative complexity or computer programming. The
inadequacy of present logical design techniques.
The high cost, size, and complexity of rapid access
And the like...
We can expect that the entire industry will push forward
roughly in parallel in improving these various computer elements. It is
doubtful if any one company can make sufficient breakthroughs in these technical
area. to attain anything more than transient advantage over competition.
We do feel that the strength of General Electric in the fields of solid
state physics, magnetics, and pulse circuitry will put us in an excellent
position to be highly competitive in the design and production of such building
blocks; nevertheless they probably do not represent the major source of improvement
at this time.
The second major deficiency relates to the overall
system philosophy of the data processing equipment, as differentiated from
its physical execution. It is in this area where the greatest degree of
controversy exists, both within and without General Electric. The
arguments of general purpose versus special purpose versus multi-purpose
and centralized versus decentralized equipment are raised in the case of
practically every new application. It is an argument which cannot be
settled without a profound understanding of the business in question hot
just its procedures but also its philosophy of organization and operation.
Without minimizing the perceptiveness of IBM and Sperry-Rand, we do feel
that there are subtle patterns in General Electric which cannot be fully
grasped from the outside. We consider that one major mission of the Industrial
Computer Section over the next several years will be to obtain a detailed
understanding of the real needs of our various Departments, and to develop
and build data processing equipment which most nearly meets these Deeds. I
refer here to all categories of data processing required for finance,
engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and personnel from large
multiple-purpose computers with several inputs to small special, purpose machines
for such diverse applications as Operations Research, machine simulation,
or the control of machine tools.
In approaching this specific task we can, I think, point
to certain advantages which the Industrial Computer Section possesses in
relation to IBM and Sperry-Rand. First, as a part of General Electric, we
presumably have access to details of our present and projected operation
which you might not wish to give to individuals outside the Company.
Second, by considering General Electric as a preferred customer, we can tailor
equipment to your requirements in a way that IBM, for example, is unlikely
to do. Actually, we do not feel that this tailoring process will restrict
us in any way, as the equipment which meets the requirements of our
average product department is likely to be adaptable to the requirements
of the average medium size business. We visualize, therefore, a strong
continuing market for such a product after the needs of our own Company
In tackling this problem of creating data processing
equipment fro General Electric? we are dividing our immediate efforts into
the following three channels:
First, we have already initiated a series of
advanced development programs to improve our know-how and to develop
useful techniques required for all important system. building blocks. You
will hear more of this from Ken Geiser.
Second, we are taking on contract jobs such as the
ERMA program for the Bank of America, which permit us to develop standard
components for immediate application to our own system.
Third, we have organized a study team of representatives
from marketing, engineering, and manufacturing, which has the job of
determining the technical characteristics Of the basic data processing
system which is best suited to the Deeds of the General Electric Company.
While we realize that no two product departments have exactly the same
problems, we feel that there are enough similarities to permit the
specification of common building blocks? which? used in various
combinations, can meet your needs.
Our rough schedule for this program. is
as fol1ows: (Figure 1)
Phase I consists of a problem analysis
for a sufficient number and variety of departments to determine parameters
which will make the system suitable to the majority of departments. It includes
location and nature of data input and output stations, size and access
time of memory units, rates of data flow, and so on. This work is now
under way and is scheduled for completion in October, at which time we
will have a product plan for the system as a whole.
Phase II consists of detailed analyses of individual
elements of the system, culminating in a report of development work
required, and PPA's and DA's on all e1ements of the system. We will begin
issuing these in January of next year, and hope to complete them by April.
Phase III, the development of the complete system, will
be initiated on January 1, 1957, and we hope to complete the
prototype for actual test in an operating department during 1958.
Production deliveries can begin in 1959 if our customers desire. If our
study team can establish a set of interim requirements, it is conceivable
that we can, beat this schedule by as much as a year.
Throughout all phases of this program we will Obviously
work hand in glove with those services organizations and operating
departments which are studying the data processing problems of the various
departments. This includes donating systems engineering manpower to your
studies where desired. In our own studies we will seek for technical
similarities between engineering operations and accounting functions. We
will relate special problems, such as those of G. E. Credit Corporation to
those of the remainder of the Company. We will also seek out the basic differences as
well as the similarities between different Company groups. Above all, we
will attempt to specify that equipment which the various product
departments feel they need to carry out their particular businesses in
line with the Company's policy of decentralization. It is in this final
phase of matching electronic data processing equipment to
the Company's unique and powerful management philosophy that we hope to
mate a real contribution to General Electric's progress.
The main purpose of today's meeting is to accelerate the
interchange of ideas necessary to permit us to gain an understanding of
your problems. While we have a few preliminary concepts, and will discuss
them later today, we feel that it is up to you to specify the
data processing equipment you want. We have no pride of authorship, and will willingly act as tools to
fashion the equipment you want and need to do your job.
A second purpose of the meeting is lor
???s to tell you what we are now doing. what our
present capabilities are as a computer -organization, and where we think
we are heading over the next several years. We would lite you to leave the
meeting with the feeling that we have the competence to design, develop,
produce, and maintain the data processing equipment
which will be discussed here today.
As general background, a few statistics might be in
The Industrial Computer Section will consist of about 250 people by the
end of 1956. Figure 2 shows the planned growth of our organization through
1966. This growth pattern accelerates rapidly, beginning next
year, to match the manufacturing and field service requirements of the
ERMA project. This should put us in an excellent position, manpower-wise,
to meet the requirements which we hope will be imposed on us by the rest
of General Electric for data processing equipment. While our expansion is
predicted on eventual success in obtaining your business, we will not
delay our growth pending such
success. We realize that our objectives cannot be achieved
with out risk, and we are prepared to take it~
We feel that we can achieve number three or four position in the
industry by the 1960-1965 era. At that point we may not rival IBM or
Sperry-Rand in total volume because we may not attempt to compete in large
segments of the market which involve traditional general purpose machine
equipment. However, as the product becomes increasingly electronic, our
percentage of the available market should continue to increase, and, by
1965, we expect to be one of the acknowledged leaders in the computer
field. We have been assured of the financing and management backing necessary
to accomplish this aim.
Because we are so new as an organization, it might be worthwhile to
identify our functional managers. They include: (Figure 4)
Ken Geiser, Manager -
Engineering, formerly Manager of 'the
Computer Section, General Engineering Laboratory. His engineering section
now numbers 26 professional people, and is growing fast to meet the
demands of our product plan.
Clair Lasher, Manager -
Manager of the Industrial Electronics Section of the Technical Products
Ray Barclay, Manufacturing Specialist, formerly
Superintendent, Broadcast Equipment, Technical Products Department.
Ken McCombs, Manager - Finance, who came to us
from the Ontario, California Works, where he was Plant Accountant.
Art Newman, E & P C R Specialist, formerly
Specialist, Wage and Salary Administration, Technical Products Department.
" We have outstanding people all down the line in our
organization, and feel confident that we can continue to build tip at the
rate required to meet our business forecast.
A word about our planned product lines. We are not at present trying to
cover the entire computer field but are aiming our "efforts toward
certain major product categories. This includes the following: .
First, industrial data processing, our primary product,
representing half of our business, which is illustrated by such systems
as ERMA and the proposed G. E. data processing system. For the time
being we will keep away from the gigantic scientific computers which, of
course, are included in this product category and will concentrate on
developing complete systems to solve specific industrial and business
Second, computers for process control including,
in particular, directors for the control of machine tools.
Third, analog computers and combined analog-digital computers
for linear and Non-linear programming and the solution of varied
engineering and management problems.
Fourth, military computers of all types, both analog and
digital. Much of our military work will be accomplished in support of the
various military departments or General Electric. It will constitute about
20 per cent or our overal1 budget. We will attempt to pick projects which
permit us to develop 'techniques applicable to our commercial product
lines. Nevertheless, we will consider the Government business as an entity
which must show a reasonable profit in its own right.
This is a rather wide product spread, but we have arrived at it after a
detailed study of the market and feel we can make a contribution in each
area. Furthermore, there is an overlapping in engineering techniques which
make most of these product lines mutual1y supporting. Even the military
work is an important element of our plan, as it will
keep us in the forefront of technological advances.
Today, because of time limitations, we will discuss only those product
lines which are immediately relevant to General Electric data processing
problems. We will be glad to give you a detailed picture of our entire
program at a later session.
For the remainder of the meeting we intend to listen
rather than talk. We have asked specialists in each functional area to
state their requirements for data processing equipment and have carefully
refrained from influencing their talks in any way, not that we could!
Consequently, I am sure we will be exposed to a variety of interesting and