On the day that I started work (3 February 1959) I wonder how I would have reacted to a man from the future explaining to me how things would work in 2017.

In 1959 an office worker's main tools of trade were paper, pen, ink and mental arithmetic. If a customer bought ten items at 3 pounds 17 shillings and 11 pence each the shopkeeper would get out his trusty pen and paper and mutter to himself as he scribbled "10 times 11 equals 110. 12 goes into 110 nine times with 2 left over. Put down the 2 and carry over the 9. 10 times 17 equals 170 plus the 9 carried over equals 179. 20 goes into 179 8 times with 19 left over. Put down the 19 and carry over the 8. 10 times 3 equals 30 plus the 8 carried over equals 38. Put down 38. Madam, that will be 38 pounds 19 shillings and tuppence".

We were thrilled when we received our first adding machine. It was correctly named. It did not subtract, multiply or divide. It just added. You punched in a number and pulled the handle. Then you punched in another number and pulled the handle again. You could do this as many times as you liked and it would still give you the correct total at the end. What a wonder.

Imagine my reaction if in 1959 the man from the future says to me "In fifty years' time the shopkeeper will merely show the item to a tiny machine which will instantly calculate the price".


 "There's more", says the man, "This tiny machine can be in two places at once because while it is serving you it is instantaneously at the bank not only depositing your money from the sale but also taking the place of the bank clerk by entering it on your bank statement". 

You, sir, are pulling my leg.

"But there's more" says the strange man, "This machine can be in three places at the same time because while it is here and at the bank it is also in the office entering the transaction in the sales journal and the ledger and instantaneously adjusting your profit and loss and balance sheet".

Get me away from this lunatic.

"But there's still more. This machine can be in four places at once, because while it is here and at the bank and at the office it is also counting how much stock you have left on the shelves and in your storeroom"

La la la la lah. I'm not listening.

"There's STILL more" says the weird man (and remember this was well before Demtel), "This machine can be in five places at once because while it is here and at the bank and in the office and in the store it is also in the ordering department preparing an order for stock to replace the items you have just sold".

Is that the time? I have to go.

"There's yet more AGAIN" says the man, "This machine can be in six places at once because while it is here and at the bank and in the office and in the store and in the ordering department it has also gone to the post office and not only mailed the order to the supplier but also delivered it directly to the desk of the employee who will process the order AND all this has happened before your customer has walked out the door". 

In 1959, would you have believed this?

Not I, but I love it. I still have occasional nightmares about trying to balance handwritten ledgers.

Now with the "cloud" or even remote access we can work with our clients' accounting systems without leaving our desks. We can communicate by texts or emails. We can download 100,000 transactions into an Excel spreadsheet and within minutes identify duplicate transactions or even transactions which are almost the same. We can check whether debits equals credits. We can see which transactions were made on weekends or out of hours or on a Monday or whenever. We can assess the risk that there has been manipulation of transactions for whatever purpose. We can find the biggest transactions or the smallest or a range of transactions. In minutes we can do all this and many other wondrous things which would have taken the great mathematicians of the past a lifetime to achieve.

The best thing of all – no paper filing (everybody's most hated job). In the "old days" (more than seven years ago) when a client phoned we would have to hold them on the line while we went to the records room and found their file, then flip through to find the documents we needed, make notes, punch and file them and return the file to the records room. Even worse, if someone had the file out we might end up with five people running around looking for it. In worst case scenarios we might waste a day looking for a file. Now when someone rings we access the file on screen and (usually) record any notes during the conversation. By the time we hang up all we have to do is click "Save".

There is one other office improvement from 1959 which perhaps tops everything – airconditioning