DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation

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But the streams evolve at different rates.

The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation

Technology can advance rapidly, sometimes through spurts of extremely rapid change. At DEC, the powerful culture stream had served the organization well during the formative years of commercial computing. But following the emergence of open architectures, microprocessors, and numerous other innovations in the industry, the culture became a barrier to making the changes in the technology and organizational streams that were required for ongoing success.

Technologically, DEC was at the cutting edge and was responsible for many of the innovations in computing that moved the industry from mainframe to networked minicomputers.

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Its engineering prowess enabled the company to continually churn out new products that delighted the technically oriented buyers of the era. Organizationally, DEC was structured around product lines, driven in large part by the engineering focus of the leadership team. Supporting business functions, such as finance and marketing, were centralized. Decision making was decentralized, with Ken Olsen preferring to let his management team wrestle things out.

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Because the organization was still relatively small, local leaders felt responsible to the whole of DEC, and decentralized decision-making usually resulted in decisions being made by the most informed party. The culture suited the organizational structure, which in turn buoyed an engineering effort that was giving the nascent IT market well-made and highly desirable products. Because like in many engineering-dominated environments, marketing was almost a bad word at DEC, early attempts to strengthen its role were met with stiff resistance.

DEC engineers held the long-standing beliefs that good products will sell themselves and that customers just needed to be educated on the features and quality of DEC products in order to be persuaded to choose them. By the time Olsen left DEC in , the alignment between technology, organization, and culture had deteriorated dramatically.

Dec is Dead, Long Live Dec

In an effort to save the company, new CEO Robert Palmer made wholesale changes to the organization and culture in order to bring them in line with the realities of the current marketplace. Many DEC employees, recognizing that the changes meant an end to the company they knew, moved on to other firms in the computer industry.

What does the DEC experience teach us?


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The essential elements of DEC's culture are still visible in many other organizations today, and most former employees are so positive about their days at DEC that they attempt to reproduce its culture in their current work situations. In the era of post-dot. The Streams Diverge Causing an Organizational.

The Impact of Changing Technology. Learning Efforts Reveal Cultural Strengths. Ken Olsen, the Salesman-Marketer 6. Gibbons 8. The Impact of Success, Growth, and Age The Turbulent s: Peaking but Weakening Obvious Lessons and Subtle Lessons What Happened? Read An Excerpt. Schein , Peter S.


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