A few months ago I was having a conversation with a new EDI integration client. Having a conversation about two people on her team having more time open in their schedules once their integration was in place. I was struck by the sense that I’d had the same conversation before. The topic of EDI generally making personnel redundant vs. productive in other areas once EDI is in place is not new. They were common back in the early 2000’s. Having another one made me wonder how much has changed since VANs and EDI started to take off.

A month or so after the project wrapped up I was doing some research – essentially trolling the internet looking for a reference – when I came upon an interesting article titled: “Jumping on the vanwagon”, by Glenis Moore. It appeared in the Electronics & Power (Jan 1985). You can buy it here: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/5188528.

Written in 1985, just after the AT&T break-up and the introduction of VANs, the article talks about what VANs are, how ‘electronic-mail’ services work, and some of the issues users were concerned with. For example, the possibility of sending a message to a customer or supplier for 2p (UK), a lot on the stack environment, and you guessed it: whether employees would lose their jobs because of the new technology.

I’ve gone back as far as when the technology changed from ‘electro-mechanical’ to ‘electronic’ data (effectively about 1962). I haven’t been able to find any other content where staff felt they could be replaced. Content before 1984 all seems focused on whether, or how technology can be improved rather than job loss.

The break-up of AT&T happened almost 50 years ago. One desired outcome was that the break up would spur innovation. Many wanted to see phones become mobile, and video conferencing to be realized. While many of those things happened (Yay!), few if any teammates lost their jobs (Yay!). Instead, the jobs changed.

For industry perspective, in 1985, Tradanet (An early VAN) hoped to have 65 customers by the end of 1986, and there were more than 80 companies setting up their own VAN in the UK alone. Many companies were transmitting data using dial-up modems and leased-lines. In fact, the movie War Games with Mathew Broderick was released about this time. The point being, companies were looking forward to taking advantage of the innovations, rather than shying away from them [due to job loss].

One of my best references comes from an accountant [in her words] ‘stuck’ doing EDI because the company didn’t manage vendor connections appropriately. Rather than worrying about potentially losing her job, she wanted to change the role. Now part of her MBO includes a KPI to drive additional B2B efficiency.

In the case of our new client, one of the two colleagues will be continuing on with their data science journey while the other will move into more of a traditional IT management role. They both have some B2B monitoring responsibilities but are happier for it. The company gets their automation and saves money. But also both colleagues are keeping their jobs (Of course), have improved their value to the company and get to focus on their core expertise working with data. Probably not a unique scenario across thousands of companies over the years.

What’s the takeaway? Maybe that change is inevitable, and should be expected. We each decide if the changes we face can be viewed as a glass half full, or half empty.