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Management of IT pioneer dies

IT heads in the 1970s could not have predicted today’s tech revolution, yet two IT experts established a business to consult on the imminent tsunami

David Butler, co-founder of Butler Cox, the UK’s first CIO club, has died.

Butler was born in north London on 1 February 1936 and was the youngest of six children. In an article posted on the Archive IT website, Butler once described his parents as ordinary, working-class people. His father was an upholsterer who made “cheap and cheerful furniture for ordinary people”.  

After his first job in IT, working for Hertfordshire County Council, Butler joined Diebold Research Program. Following his time at Diebold Research, he joined forces with George Cox to set up his own CIO group, Butler Cox.

The pair produced research papers exploring the profound changes that IT would make in the business world. Cox later went on to head up Unisys’s European business and was director general at the Institute of Directors.

In one interview, Cox reflected on the influence Butler had on his career, saying: “The individual who had the most influence on my career and my attitudes is David Butler. Our company, back in the mid-1970s, was one of the first to recognise that computing was about to develop into something far bigger and broader than almost anyone had realised.”

John Leighfield, former head of RM Group, convinced Butler to donate the Butler Cox papers to Archive IT. “I first got to know David in 1970 when he was setting up Butler Cox with Geoge Cox,” said Leighfield. “He was a very thoughtful, analytical chap and was very persuasive putting ideas across.”

Both Leighfield and Butler read classics at Oxford. “Once he realised my background, he wrote me a letter in impeccable Latin,” said Leighfield.

In the 1970s, heads of IT tended to be very conservative in nature, but Leighfield said he always wanted to embrace new ideas, which would often come from the Butler Cox reports. Trends in office automation, published in 1977, Trends in email from 1980 and the 1987 paper The impact of information technology on corporate organisation structure, are examples demonstrating the depth and breadth of Butler Cox’s research.

For Leighfield, many of the topics are as relevant today as when they were first published.

US IT firm CSC acquired Butler Cox in 1991 and the Leading Edge Forum, which CSC set up, can trace its routes back to Butler Cox.

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