Going way back to 1983, a lot was happening in the world; Magnum P.I. was the show to watch, the 1st mobile phone was introduced by Motorola, leg warmers were in fashion, and Duran Duran was “Hungry Like the Wolf”…yet, we often forget about the release of a new piece of software, which signified one of the most important events in data history.

On January 26, 1983, Lotus 1-2-3 (now discontinued) hit the market and brought with it new features and functionality, which had not been seen before in a desktop application designed for the consumer. Lotus added a graph maker (for those with video cards…seriously), macros, some database functionality, and was the 1st piece of commercial software to use television advertising.

Though there were already a couple of other spreadsheet applications out there at the time, the release of Lotus 1-2-3 quickly overtook those other tools. It was “The Killer App”, and began to define the entire personal computer market based on a computers’ compatibility with Lotus 1-2-3. The computer HW and SW distributors could not keep it in stock, and the entire ecosystem surrounding the HW necessary to run Lotus 1-2-3 flourished.

In addition to being an important catalyst for the personal computer revolution, Lotus 1-2-3 was an inflection point in the data world, profoundly changing the way we all worked. The layman was now able to work with data in a way that had never been possible before, which was simpler, faster, required little or no coding, and provided near instant feedback to the users. The relationships between the business and the technical organizations who lorded over the data at the time changed. These technical wizards, who were once seen as near-gods, were relegated to the role of a service organization who provided the data or access to the data, which would be used by the business. Business and technical teams found that their organizations were changing, as productivity increased and jobs changed. Entire floors or even buildings full of book-keepers were replaced by a few analysts who could work magic with Lotus 1-2-3. The technical organizations were similarly affected, as some of their core services were now being done by the business, and demand for their remaining services dwindled.

The following promotional video was designed for trade shows by Lotus.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and the world had settled down again. Lotus 1-2-3 had given way to MS Excel, and many new business intelligence applications and suites had debuted, focused on managing data and reporting at the company level, rather than the individual. The technical side of the house transformed themselves, creating new roles and services which required their expertise in new ways, while the business was still using spreadsheets or consuming data via IT-managed applications. We once again found ourselves in a world of corporate oligopolies, a world of high internal prices, long lead times, and employees struggling to do their job with the available technologies and data resources.

Today, we are experiencing a similar change. Tools like Tableau are once again allowing the relative novice to work with data in new ways, which are simpler, faster, require little or no coding, and provide near instant feedback to the users. Individuals and small organizations are creating and publishing content in a matter of weeks, days or hours, instead of months quarters and years, while large organizations are transforming the way that data is used within the Enterprise. The quality of the work is enhanced by the proximity of the data producer to their customers, while the tools promote high-quality visualizations with a higher communication value. Again, both the business and technical organizations are seeing changes in roles, services, and the skillets required to be successful.

In short, we are in the midst of another inflection point in the world of data. Though Tableau and other tools have been around for some time now, this change is far from over. The market for data related products and services continues grow, as does our creation of data. The organizations, roles, and skills needed to be successful are now moving to the mainstream within companies. And, while MS Excel still remains the most widely used business intelligence tool in the world, and an important part of data for the masses, it is no longer the only option.

The world of data will continue to change, you can get on board and come along for the ride, or you can work on your resume as the world of data passes you by…