By David Lund

There has been a great deal of progress and technology that helps hotels and businesses in general keep better financial information. This story is about the early days and how things changed rapidly in my world. With those changes came opportunities. I also remember how some struggled with all the changes. It in turn makes me think of the current situation in our world and I can take some solace from knowing there is still more to come.

I can recall working in the early days and using green columnar pads to enter food and beverage purchase information. There were no personal computers at work. For those of you who are stumped about what one of these pads looks like, here is an image.

Going from this to Lotus 123 was certainly a trip, to see the possibilities and automation was quite simply amazing. With that transition came opportunities for creativity.

This story is about another technical advancement and it was called the Infamode machine. I say Infamode because that’s the name the people that introduced me to it used. I think the name was a company nickname because I can’t find it by searching Google. It literally means information and modem (probably started out as Infomode). It was the early ’80s and although PCs were invented, they were not yet developed and available to the masses. Businesses used mainframe computers. These mainframes were limited in their use to being in the same building as the machine unless you had an Infamode machine.

It was today’s version of a desktop remote dial-in, sort of (see image at left).

The machine is actually a fully functioning telex machine that has been upgraded to include the use of numbers. The telex is an electronic version of a telegraph machine that used electromagnetic signals on both ends to send and receive messages and data.

This is how the process worked: The hotel would close the general ledger at the end of the month using a completely manual set of books, those green pads were the mainstay. Once the books were closed, the accountant would produce the trial balance. This is where the fun started. With the trial balance in hand, we jumped in the hotel van and drove six hours to the closest Infamode machine. It was located in another city and hotel. We had our time booked to use the terminal and one by one we had to type each account and its balance (positive or negative) (debit or credit) into the telex.

One mistake and it was all over, but you didn’t find out until you entered the entire trial balance which included several hundred accounts. My friend and boss was a pro and he balanced on the first shot. Once the trial balance was entered the mainframe on the other end crunched the numbers and a few minutes later the telex (Infamode) began spitting out a rudimentary financial statement.

This whole process might seem a bit tedious and you are right it was, but it was still a giant leap from the alternative which was creating a manual financial statement from the green forest of pads. This manual financial statement was the process before the Infamode.

Today we live in the information era, or better still the hyper-connected information era. But back then you needed to understand how the mechanics worked and seeing how it was now makes so much sense. I think if I arrived today and missed the transition from paper to tech I would not understand how it all works so well.

Another aspect of the monthly trip to the city to process the financial statements was a night on the town. This you could say was my first boondoggle, this word is a noun and it’s “work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.”

I remember at the time thinking this was an exciting process and being exposed to this was like being on the inside for the first time in my short life so far. A blink of an eye later and we were unpacking the fax machine. That was quickly followed by a desktop terminal linked to the mainframe. No more monthly boondoggles for financial statements. The desktop also had a rudimentary version of email. I still remember my code, LUN0007.

Progress never stops. Sometimes it looks like we are stuck, or things have stalled but the changes in business and society continue to move. Thankfully.

Dedicating this one to Mike. RIP.