How many people have heard of Claude Chappe? What about semaphore? No? I'm sure everyone's heard of telegraphs and telecommunications though.




Way back in the late 1700s, this Chappe person took the age-old question of "how can I quickly communicate over large distances" and created the first practical telecommunication system. Instead of having riders going around with messages, Chappe's system used a series of towers to transmit messages. These messages weren't simple signals, such as those famously popularized in the US by Paul Revere's ride (a prearranged signal to indicate if the British were going over land or by sea). These towers could transmit complex messages by using a system of moving arms. The position of the arms represented a letter or number.


So, if back in the 1700s, Chappe invented a way to cut out the guy riding a horse, (thus saving time, reducing costs, and increasing security), why do we sometimes still use the modern equivalent of a post rider to get IT going?


Slowly Entering the Information Age


You may have worked there. You may still work there. You know, places where they use dead trees to get things done. Need more toner? Submit form 146A to the secretary on the fourth floor and pray you haven't horribly offended them. Computer slow? Submit form 1924-C to the circular file and don't hold your breath.  Looking for another printer? Check the book to see what's available and where.


Why do we still do this to ourselves? Even when the paper systems go away, they are usually replaced with the same kind of system, just in electronic format. Instead of submitting a form, you send an email. Instead of thumbing through a book, you search through a spreadsheet. Other than saving trees, is this really an improvement?


Digital Automation


Now that we have computers and complex programming, why don't we take a leaf out of Chappe's book and revolutionize that system when we convert it to digital bits? Instead of sending messages or forms to a black hole, send them to an automated system that can direct the requests to the right people or correct queue? Such a system could even let people know when their ticket was being worked or if it was received at all. Instead of using an electronic spreadsheet, you could put your asset information into a database so you could get the data more easily. All this, and more, could lie at your fingertips if we'd follow Chappe's example and just stop beating that dead postal horse.