To mark CONTEXT’s 35th year anniversary, co-founder and CEO Jeremy Davies reflects on the early days of the IT industry and the beginnings of CONTEXT.
It’s now 35 years since CONTEXT began tracking the IT business. That’s quite a thought in itself. The fact that we have been able to create a business from scratch and – despite all odds – still be here, thriving, 35 years later.
But what’s even more stunning is to have been a witness to the changes that have taken place since those pioneer PC days. And what has kept us in business has been that change: not only have we watched it but we lived it, taking an active part as a small and growing business, embracing the latest technology as it unfurled and integrating the new as we built the platforms and processes needed to track the burgeoning IT industry.
So, a few facts to illustrate. In the 1980’s, magazines were king. Vendors advertised in magazines, prices, specifications and even dealer lists. To track prices, one had to track magazines. This intensely manual job resulted in output that every month saw huge physical printed files sent out to subscribing customers. If you wanted to know specs and pricing, you opened a folder and leafed through pages of printed text. A huge step forward was achieved when data files began to accompany the printed “books”.
Surveying dealers was another challenge. To create our master dealer list in the UK, we got hold of the Yellow Pages directory, and telephoned every entry that had the word “computer” in it. We asked three simple questions: Do you sell microcomputers? Which ones do you sell? Which ones are you authorised to sell?The calls were done by a dedicated in-house team who, after building the list, started contacting resellers every two months, asking for sales figures. These were manually entered into paper spreadsheets, and the calculations done – you got it, manually. Printed reports then appeared every two months detailing these aggregated and projected sales of PCs, Printers and Software.
This is not to say there were no computers involved from the beginning. There was one. It was an Osborne 1 portable computer, running CP/M on a 4.0 MHz Zilog Z80 processor and 64 KB of RAM. Twin 5.25” floppies and a 5” screen completed the picture. As work volumes grew, we invested in our first IBM twin floppy PC. And then came hard disk drives… but that’s another story!