Thomas Haigh, assistant professor of information studies at the university, and also a computer historian, conducted a series of oral history interviews with many pioneers of the computer revolution, as part of his survey for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
One constant he found in the "froth of change" in technology was that businesses and employees were constantly trying to figure out how to make the new gadgets and processes work for them.
He said though the general feeling was that anything more than five years old was irrelevant, but one of the things he found was that people were facing the same types of problems now as they did in the mid-1950s.
"Projects using new technology are usually late and filled with bugs, the return on investment is hard to measure and computer specialists are expensive and speak an alien language," said Prof. Haigh in his study in the Business History Review published by the Harvard Business School.
The study also showed that while new computer technology had been sometimes oversold as a complete solution for all business programs, it had also often been brushed aside as too newfangled or expensive for practical use.
"Firms tried to build enormous computer systems, into which they would place information on every aspect of their operations, and from which would flow exactly the information (including models and simulations) required by each manager," he wrote in his study, adding that at the same time, managers were often reluctant to invest in new technology.
He said Charles W. Bachman, creator of IDS, the first data base management system and winner of the ACM Turing award, the top prize in computer science, told him of one such story in an oral history interview.
He said Bachman commented on an early data management project that a department manager discontinued.
"Maybe, (it was) because he thought it was too risky and was going to cost him too much money," Prof. Haigh quoted Bachman as saying.
Prof. Haigh said in the 1960s and 1970s, people viewed computers as just another business machine, like an adding machine.
Computers also were seen as big central processors and nobody really foresaw today's iPods and MP3 players, he said.