Computer consultant to business plugs in to its connection with MIT
Cambridge, Mass. — Not every company has the luxury of an MIT in its backyard. For Index Systems Inc., consultants in the new field of computer-aided management decisionmaking, an across-the-street promixity to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provides easy access to:
* The latest research on corporate strategies and management techniques coming out of MIT's Sloan School of Management:
* What's what in computer technology, much of it being invented in MIT labs.
Aligning these two sometimes alien cultures of organizational behavior and technology has become a necessity for many businesses, whose "data processing" (DP) branches may be the fastest-growing item on company budgets.
Index president Thomas P. Gerrity saw that need in 1969, when he founded the Cambridge-based company to help firms select and integrate computers into daily worklife --with the accent on integration.
Dr. Gerrity, who has a PhD from Sloan, suggests that too many executives eagerly buy computers without knowing how workers will effectively use them, risking a waste of resources. In fact, many Index clients today end up being told notm to go to computers.
"Our slogan is: 'Don't rupture the culture,'" Dr. Gerrity says.
Most companies, however, are shifting from just using computers as a way to automate clerical work to the "second wave" of computers -- using them as tools for making decisions, such as in investments or long-range marketing. The Travelers Insurance Companies, for instance, hired Index to help streamline its
"Data processing has grown so fast that it has a momentum of its own, and often is not aligned with the organization," the Index president says. Executives can often be overwhelmed with pounds of computer-generated reports. "Management is on the third floor and never tells the guys running the computers on the first floor how decisions are made," he says.
With clients ranging from the State of Massachusetts to Morgan Guaranty Trust to small high-growth firms, Index doubled its annual revenue since 1978 to over parallels that of many Boston-area professional consulting services, such as Boston Consulting Group and Temple, Barker & Sloane, Inc.
"There's a certain insidiousness in the pressures that make people like us thrive. More complexity and uncertainty in larger organizations increases the value of information. Yet, the one area where an executive feels most uncomfortable is in data processing," Mr. Thompson says. And the gap between "DP" and the executive suite, he adds, is widening.
Computers have a long way to go before they can "think" in the subjective way that humans can, he adds. But many businessmen think anthropomorphically, attributing more power to the computer than is really there.
One area of research for Index is writing computer programs that let company workers change the program even after Index leaves the scene, a project known as "auto-auto," or the automation of automation.
"Management of new technology has become the cutting edge in business," says Dr. Gerrity, who keeps an ample number of MIT and Harvard professors among Index's directors and on its board of advisers. And many local graduates from those schools are among the 170 employees.