SIGCIS 2010 Workshop Dissertations in Progress

Name:Dave Goodwin

Institutional Affiliation:Birkbeck College, University of London


Paper Type:Dissertation Proposal

Paper Title:Digital Equipment's Rise and Fall, Could it Have Been Avoided?

Paper Abstract:This dissertation proposal looks at the rise of Digital Equipment Corporation and the reasons, technical, managerial and external, for its fall. It asks whether the sale to Compaq was necessary and whether, with hindsight, the board made the correct choices at critical times. It also looks at comparative companies at the time who were in a similar position and investigates what actions they took to survive. It follows on from last year’s presentation on the Fall of DEC and as I am in the final stages of my studies I would like to seek feedback from the history of computing community on my thesis. My research has covered personal contact, visits to the archives, surveys, telephone interviews, literature reviews and financial analysis of the company and its competitors. The thesis covers a literature review, a brief history of DEC and its products followed by a biography of the main players in the company’s growth, both technical and managerial. Then there is a financial analysis over the lifetime of the company, including the impact of downsizing on the company during the 1990’s. It looks at three major product developments that cost the company a great deal of money and which failed to provide the expected volumes of sales. There is discussion of the board, its membership, age and structure before and after the sacking of Ken Olsen and also the management errors that contributed to the downfall. Product lifecycles, innovation and disruptive technology theory is applied to the situation that DEC found itself in as well as the impact of Wall Street and shareholder influence on the stock price and consequential actions taken by Robert Palmer. There is discussion of the technologies and products that were available when Compaq took over and an analysis of their potential to enable the company to recover at the time. Finally there is discussion of HP, IBM and SUN in the context of companies that were in a similar position in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and looking at how they managed their way out of the decline and in two cases the profitable companies they are today.

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