Changing Technology Changes bring challenges for Lansing businesses

Changes in technology have brought many inventions into the world of business since the Michigan State Capitol was relocated to the city of Lansing in 1847. Milestone inventions that have aided the business world were not far behind or ahead of this decision: the typewriter in 1847, the telephone in 1876, the electric light bulb and cash register in 1879 and paper clips in 1900. 

These and other technological advances have helped Lansing businesses meet the challenge of providing great products and services to their customers. Whatever the new inventions brought, business needed to adapt or be left behind.

WWII Ushers in Beginning of Modern Technology

By the time the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU) opened its doors for business in 1937, technology had marched on with the introduction of several inventions that businesses take for granted today, including the credit bureau, the photo copier and cellophane. Ballpoint pens showed up in 1938.

The world was heating up as World War II had started by 1939, though the U.S. didn’t enter the fray until after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941. The war waged on until 1945 and brought many advances in technology that influenced the future, especially in the areas of math, electronics and communications. These included the first digital computers used for things like deciphering codes, radar operations and the forerunner of the rockets that would thrust U.S. astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962. 

Communication Advancements Help Lansing Business to Grow

Another Lansing business that started during these trying, yet exciting, years of technological history was Baron’s Window Coverings, founded by Herman Baron in 1944. The store started out at 110 E. Allegan St. and later moved to its current location at 325 S. Washington Square.

“We started out selling things like dry goods, linens and ready-made curtains,” said current owner Don Baron. “It was near the end of the war, so it was hard for people to get merchandise.” 

According to Baron, as technology progressed, they went from doing some things by hand to using machinery. From things like in-home electric sewing machines during the 1950s to the first use of computers and fax machines in the 1980s. The 1990s to the 2000s brought tools like email and the internet, speeding up communication with their customers and suppliers, as well as providing networking tools that helped make them the worldwide distributor they are today.

ATMs, Credit Cards and Computers Change the Financial World

Since its beginning, MSUFCU has seen several technological advances that both helped and challenged it, but according to its chief information officer Samantha Amburgey, they have been able to ultimately use technology to their advantage.

“Technology has brought many advancements across all industries. It has quickened the pace of work and increased the expectations of productivity and response times,” said Amburgey. “For the Credit Union, technology has made us more nimble and able to adapt quickly. We’re more convenient for our members and we are transportable – the Credit Union services can go anywhere our members go.”

Amburgey says that in MSUFCU’s beginning, there wasn’t much of an advanced technology presence until 1957, when leadership approved changing its bookkeeping process from a manual — hand — system to a machine operated system. That same year, Frances Lesnieski was appointed as the new manager. 

“Lesnieski was a very innovative and forward-thinking individual who wanted to be first to market with new advancements in technology like ATMs and credit cards as payment methods, and computing technology that would advance the Credit Union,” said Amburgey. 

Computer BASIC language was invented in 1964, followed in 1968 by Random Access Memory (RAM) and the first computer mouse. In 1970, the five-and-a-quarter-inch computer floppy disk appeared, which made it possible to save and share data. Ethernet appeared three years later, making communication easier as several computers could be connected to form a network.

Amburgey says MSUFCU took advantage of these new, high-tech tools. “In 1961 and 1962, then state of the art technology was added and then upgraded in 1965 to even better systems allowing for better handling of deposit and loan accounting, balance statements, and daily and monthly financial reports.”

According to Amburgey, MSUFCU was the first credit union in Michigan to install ATMs in off-site locations, with the first ones placed in Quality Dairy locations as early as 1986. 

“By 1997, we owned and operated 65 ATMs in the Greater Lansing and Oakland areas, and that has risen to more than 135 ATMs today, which have processed 2,000,990 transactions through June of this year,” Amburgey added.

What would consumers do without the convenience of credit cards? They appeared on the financial scene in 1951 when Ralph Schneider created the Diners card, but they didn’t become widespread until later. In 1978, MSUFCU was the second financial institution in Michigan to issue credit cards yet the first on a large scale. Amburgey stressed how this action was “an important advancement in technology for us, as well as an invaluable service to our members.” 

Plas Labs Enters Michigan Business World 

Another long-standing business in the Lansing area is Plas Labs, which makes containment isolation units for organizations such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institution of Health. During an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa, they shipped isolation units there to help fight the disease, and they also send isolation units for research use to help fight malaria, bird flu epidemic and MERS outbreaks.

Plas Labs just celebrated its 50th anniversary in June, founded in 1967 by Dave L. Regan. The company has since grown into a multimillion-dollar business with more than 75 global distributors, and they continue to thrive in the community as one of the top businesses of its kind in the area.

In fact, the 1970s brought several inventions that would be instrumental in setting up Plas Labs, as that’s when several computer related products that made computers more practical were invented, including: the microprocessor, the daisy wheel printer, the dot matrix printer, the laser printer, the ink jet printer, word processors and more. The beginning of the 1980s brought more computer-related inventions with the introduction of the first IBM personal computer in 1981, CD ROM in 1982 and Microsoft Windows in 1985.

Technological Changes Brought Challenges

New advances in technology can bring challenges for businesses to meet, especially during the 1990s when new computer-related tools were popping up like the introduction to the World Wide Web in 1990. The DVD, the first digital answering machine, Java computer language and Web TV appeared a few years later.

MSUFCU implemented innovative technology tools during this timeframe, such as MacroImage and COLD (Computer Output to Laser Disk – MacroFiche) for document storage and retrieval, word processing with WordPerfect and spreadsheets with Lotus 123, DOS-based payroll processing and upgraded faxing technology. They launched their first website in 1996 with a version of 24-hour online banking for customers via ComputerLine and dialup modems. Prior to the installation of Windows NT in 1997, it was a DOS-based text interface.

Y2K Causes Panic Among Businesses

The Y2K Bug occurring during the year change from 1999 to 2000 was a problem that many businesses faced. The issue was that 20th century programs tended to only use two digits to represent a year, so 2000 would not be distinguishable from 1990.  The fear was that unless this was resolved, there would be mass problems with computer functions. Businesses, scientists and others worked to find a solution.

MSUFCU had people working on the potential issue and did testing to ensure their computer system would work properly when the century turned. An issue in 1999 caught the credit union by surprise that had nothing to do with Y2K: Sept. 9, 1999 or 9/9/1999. While they had planned ahead to ensure all went well, their communications data lines were accidently cut by a construction company working nearby. “We were effectively isolated from the outside world,” said Amburgey. “We could not make or receive telephone calls, nor send or receive any data or electronic transmissions. Members could also not use ComputerLine or MoneyLine. It took a couple days to resume normal business since the data communication lines had to be reconnected by hand.”  

21st Century Brings More Advances and Challenges for Businesses

Most people today can barely remember a world without these big innovative products being in their lives as they use their smartphones to watch a video, send a Tweet or like a comment on Facebook. 

By the 2000s, time marched on with more advances coming every year like Windows XP in 2001, Safari internet browser in 2003, Firefox internet browser and Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006 and the iPhone in 2007. 

Smartphones have changed business and personal live completely. Today, just about everyone in the world has one, so businesses needed to stay updated online to ensure their websites can be viewed on mobile devices; otherwise, they may be left behind to fail.

Computer Viruses, CyberCrime Cause Business Woes

Amongst all these inventions of the past, there seems to always be something that comes about to try and ruin them, and that includes the threat of cybercrime via computer viruses and other digital invasions. The fight against these forms of cyberattacks has kept businesses vigilant in protecting their data and their customers’ personal information.

The bottom line is that the way we do business has changed dramatically in the past century and is likely to do the same throughout the next century. That’s why Lansing businesses are doing what is necessary to keep providing the best modern services to their customers, today and into the future.

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