Technology can transform us in good ways and bad, and as we celebrate our 50th year in business, we are amazed by the technological innovations we have experienced over the last five decades. Today, we will look at various office technologies and how we evolved in our operations over the years.
In the beginning, Sain employees used typewriters, not computers, and office personnel spent much of their time using dictation machines and mimeographs. The most advanced technology was an IBM electric typewriter with a type-ball instead of individual letter hammers (known as the IBM Selectric).
The 1980s brought significant technological changes as the office landscape transformed with the addition of Personal Computers (PCs), photocopiers, and fax machines. “Typing” was a term left in the past, and we moved into the future with devices that used “word processing.” One thing you did not see around the office were cell phones because they were still rare and expensive for businesses to own.
During the 80s, we continued to prepare engineering drawings by hand, however, towards the end of the decade, we purchased our first Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD) computer called an Intergraph InterAct workstation. These computers were massive workstations with built-in digitizing surfaces and dual screen monitors. Given that they were so expensive, we only had two workstations and only two designers who were trained to use them. One of those designers, Joe Moon, is still with the firm today and serves as our IT Network Administrator.
The 1990s brought a huge shift in the way we work and communicate, with the introduction of email. As with many other firms, email revolutionized our project schedules and documentation and helped us prioritize our time. PCs also became the standard way of doing business by this time.
While most of our engineering work was completed in CADD, many staff members were still more comfortable with manual drafting. They kept their drafting tools nearby and used them when it was necessary.
The use of cell phones in the office became more common because they had gotten smaller and more affordable. Throughout the 90s, cell phones gradually became the standard office tool for executives and project managers who traveled for business. However, cell phones were only used for talking because smartphone technology was not yet readily available.
One of the biggest challenges heading into the 21st Century was keeping up with data storage demands and purging our old paper files. Cell phones and data packages quickly became ubiquitous, and like everyone, we couldn’t do business without them. CADD became the standard for engineering design. We also incorporated Civil 3-D and began working with clients in BIM (Building Information Modeling).
During our fourth decade, we updated and upgraded our IT network. In 2013, we moved into a new realm of computer technology with an all-virtual computer networking environment, including desktop computers and servers. All employees, including branch office employees, could access these resources from the same centralized data center in our Birmingham office. Users could remotely access their virtual desktops via the internet and could work almost as fast as if they were in the local Birmingham office.
It would be a gross understatement to say that the pandemic stretched our firm’s resources and creativity, and we were certainly not alone in dealing with these situations. Sain employees quickly adapted to working remotely, given they already had a virtual desktop and access to Zoom video conferencing that we purchased two years before the pandemic. Video conferencing was an inadequate substitute for physical presence, but our team was flexible and made the most of available technology.
Sain recently transitioned its virtual desktops to a cloud-based environment. With this change, we can increase computing resources for virtual desktops, have a scalable network that can more easily grow as we increase our workforce, and have less vulnerability to things like power outages. We are excited about this next step in the evolution of our virtual environment.
It’s hard to imagine what technological developments will happen over the next 50 years or even in the next five years. It will be interesting to see how networking, presentations, proposals, and other everyday business practices will evolve as technology advances.