At the end of the 1940s, and with the help of Cambridge University, British food company Lyons built the first...
commercially deployed computer, called Leo (Lyons Electronic Office).
Despite its 1950s success, it was overtaken by US technological developments. In 1958, the director of the UK's National Research Corporation lamented, "The American user has supported the American computer manufacturer in Britain, he has hung back."
Despite its impressive valves, Leo's enduring success had as much to do with people and process. Leo's consultants met with success in building business machines for clients outside Lyons because of their user-centric, systems-oriented approach.
As Georgina Ferry says in her feature, "Expensive it may have been, but not half as expensive as the catastrophic failures that have resulted from a one-size-fits-all approach."
The Leo project team displayed a technical ingenuity focused on solving a business problem that cannot fail to impress, even now. They studied the US military's Eniac, discovered Cambridge's calculating Edsac, and applied their learning to building a machine that could issue invoices and produce payslips.
But it was not just US government and corporate wealth that did for Leo. A British management culture suspicious of innovation also played a part.
We report in this issue that most UK businesses are clamping down on the use of social networking sites by staff. And yet these could, if harnessed intelligently, at least begin to incubate collaborative business benefits.
This killjoy culture is at the opposite pole to the entrepreneurialism evident in the fact that the biggest contingent of the latest Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA companies is from the UK.
Maybe Leo's spirit of innovation lives on.