Monday, November 22, 2010

Exxon Office System Shrinks, Part I:

I have not yet blogged about one of the most fascinating chapters in the miserable history of Exxon Office Systems. This is a long story, so I will break it into short chapters. It’s the story of how, as some of the employees put it, everyone at Vydec was entitled to a cow.

In the1970’s, Exxon asked itself what it would do when the world ran out of oil. They found one business where profits were higher than oil profits – computers – and decided to get their toes wet. Eventually, Exxon started 21 ventures in many aspects of computer operations. Most of these were miserable failures. That’s a compliment, because it suggests that Exxon had the nerve to take forward-looking risks. Around 1980, Exxon consolidated its best ventures into Exxon Office Systems. EOS’s evident goal was to be so successful at selling office computer equipment that it would overwhelm Xerox. (I’m not making that up. EOS fixed its goal on Xerox while ignoring the PC word-processing tidal wave that would utterly destroy their business models.)

Two of the consolidated ventures were big, with over a thousand employees: Vydec, and Qwix. I had a great front row seat to follow, and be buffeted by, the machinations of EOS, as an employee of one of the three little ventures that were included in the new company. (I was in Princeton-based XONEX, a venture to develop the paperless office, using optical disks as storage in 1980. Ha.)

Vydec and Qwix vied for domination of EOS, and Vydec won. They controlled marketing and planning. Both they and Qwix could manufacture hardware. The Vydec site also developed software, although the software was never very good.

The physical layout of EOS was weird, because hardly anyone was required to move when it was created. Headquarters were in Stamford, right across the road from Xerox’s biggest Eastern office. Vydec was in North Jersey. Qwix worked out of a gigantic building south of Philly, in a rather bucolic area. The smaller pieces of EOS were in San Francisco, Princeton, Miami and Connecticut. When major managers were summoned to meetings at headquarters, the Qwix people might spend ten hours in a car, round-trip.


jgfellow said...

Ha, indeed.

As an environmentalist, I am always disappointed to watch myself consume an average of several dozen pieces of paper per day at the office. This is clearly an example of one goal (being effective) superseding another (being green).

The majority of this paper consumption helps me execute during meetings (~2 hours per day) but I can see a path to less paper. I already have a projector -- so fewer powerpoints need to be printed up. And my employer gives us wireless access, so I can take my data with me.

But the laptop isn't really something I can take to meetings in lieu of my big binders. It's awkward to take out and would raise eyebrows.

But an iPad... If my computer were tablet sized (docking into my workstation) it would be lighter than my binders and just as easy to pull out and reference. I also suspect that the small size would give it a less imposing presence.

Of course, having sat through many "Blackberry meetings," I can't help but worry how iPads would change the atmosophere...

Anonymous said...

The Intelligent Typewriter was created and manufactured by QYX not Qwix.
It was the ultimate in bad timing. Just as the QYX was being introduced, full screen based systems like Vydec were hitting the market.
As the end approached, the QYX employees turned a popular advertising phrase of the day, "The future without the shock," into, "The shock without the future."
So off into the sunset they rode!

The Precision Blogger said...

QYX! Thanks for the correction. There was actually room in the marketplace for both Vydec and Qyx, since, at $14,000, the Vydec fullscreen WP cost there times as much. The "intelligent typewriter" market never took off, I think, because it was too hard to use them well enough to be productive.
- PB

Bill Linch said...

Whatever happened to Bruce Smith who emmigrated (ha) from Xerox where he was a sr mgr in the OS Division, another humerous venture?
Bill XRX 1971-1992.