I used our recent office relocation to review some files I had not visited in a while. Though an arduous undertaking, it provided some surprising rewards. Among other things, I came across one of my first major projects, done with the great firm of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell — which soon after became KPMG.
Out client was the Department of Taxation and Finance for New York State. I worked under a business economist, Don Welsch — a brilliant and fun guy, a real visionary.
My job was to develop a model for the economy of New York State, segmented into more than 100 sectors. The State wanted to have a computer model ready to go so they could change sales tax rates (read: raise taxes) in selective categories if they needed to rapidly plug a revenue gap.
I had in effect become the firm’s reigning guru in sales tax during a previous engagement, and before that had studied data analysis and linear modeling at Yale. This was a unique opportunity to leverage both cognitive streams.
Things were different then
It hardly needs saying that many aspects of this assignment were much different then than they would be today. It was the Digital Dark Ages! (Though of course we didn’t know that at the time. We were just trying to get our work done in the best way possible.) The Internet was still a dozen years in the future. Personal computers were just barely on the horizon, and nowhere to be seen even at well-funded firms like KPMG.
Don had a relationship with Chase Econometrics, a timesharing service that we used for time-series data by dialing in on a TI Silent 700 terminal through an acoustic coupler, into which we plugged a landline phone. Results came back to us dot-matrix printed on proprietary thermal paper at a blazing 300 characters per second.
That was a quick sprint through the infotech graveyard — but, for its time, our process was pretty high-tech. The Silent 700 was one of the first portable terminals to achieve major commercial penetration, so we could work from an office (ours or those of our client), rather than have to go to a data center. Many of our consulting colleagues regarded us as futuristic space cadets.