Handel at 20 -Technology Evolution Over the Past 2 Decades

Note: This is one in a series of stories written at the 20th anniversary of Handel Information Technologies.

In the history of mankind, 20 years is merely a blink of an eye. In the history of information technology, 20 years represents an eternity. As Handel is turning 20 I find myself in a reflective mood. Going back to July 1997, the month Handel was incorporated, the world was in many ways not that different from what it is today. Yet, when it comes to technology, it would be difficult for a human being time-traveling from 1997 to 2017 to recognize our world today.

Here are a few examples of some technologies we take for granted today that were non-existent in 1997:
  • Always-on Internet access in all but the most rural areas
  • Super computers that you can carry in your pockets (which among other things also happens be a phone, a camera, a video conferencing system, and a music player)
  • Instant access to all information ever created including movies, TV shows, music, and books.
  • Ability to broadcast yourself to the world at the click of a button
  • The ability to buy anything from your phone and have it show up at your door the next day

These are but a few of the things we take for granted today that would have been foreign to a human being, ca. 1997. Oh, did I mention self-driving cars?

In the mid- to late 1990s I remember technology leaders of the era (including Bill Gates who later admitted he and Microsoft were late to recognize the significance of the Internet) predicting how the Internet would change how we live. I don’t think most of us from that era could have predicted where we would be today. It wasn’t just the Internet that enabled the radical transformation we experience today. It was a combination of several factors. Continuously faster and cheaper processing power making computing power increasingly more affordable. The evolution of extremely compact computers moving from the desktop into our pockets. The evolution of wireless networks allowing you to be connected from anywhere. The development of social networking, enabling information sharing in a completely different ways than we have seen before. Software moving from desktop to the web.

In the late 1990s, before most people had broadband internet and little government data were available online, we published annual property assessment databases on CD ROMs which made it much easier for realtors to look up  property values. 

The result is that the majority of human beings in the industrialized world now owns a smartphone and is always connected to the Internet. Compare this to 1997 when according to the U.S. Census,  36% of US housholds owned a computer and 18% were connected to the Internet. Of note, 1997 appears to be the first year the Census Bureau measured the latter statistic. Thinking back to the summer of 1997, I was starting Handel in my basement, my wife and I owned one desktop computer and a laptop. We accessed the Internet with a dial-up modem, which gave us just enough speed to read news, check e-mail, and check mostly text-based websites. This week I installed a new wireless network in my house. I was surprised when I counted the number of unique IP addresses in my home. As mentioned, in 1997 I had two computers in my house. Apparently, our family now has 28 electronic devices each with a unique IP address. That may seem high, but when you think about a) our family has grown to include 3 more individuals that it had in ’97, each individual has their own computer, tablet, and phone, there are devices like printers and scanners that connect wirelessly, there are other devices like Amazon Echo’s, Apple TVs, Raspberry Pies, Kindles, media players. etc. Forward this another 10 years and I believe every electronic device in our home from lightbulbs, thermostats, applicances, vehicles, to other devices yet to be invented, will all be connected to the web.

This transformation that we have seen in the past 20 years I would argue is as revolutionary as when humans developed the first language some 100,000 years and when Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. What distinguishes us humans from other mammals is the way we can communicate with each other and thereby share knowledge. Each new human being born, inherits all this knowledge from all humans that lived before. The changes we have seen these past 20 years simply accelerates this information sharing to a new level.

What has Handel’s impact been for our customers and our industry over these past 20 years? Starting out, we were really just a consulting company, developing custom solutions wherever we could find work. It wasn’t until 2001 that we focused on making RiteTrack and government social services our primary focus. In 2008 we developed the first web-based version of RiteTrack and the next year we started experimenting with web-hosting. Today, the vast majority of our clients are on a web version of RiteTrack, and about 50% is being hosted in our data center. We expect to continue to see our clients moving their data into cloud infrastructure. While slower to change than consumers and business clients, government is recognizing the efficiencies gained from web-based technologies in a hosted environment. While government resources are often limited, demands for services continues to grow. As such, our customers have to find ways to do more with less. We believe that one of the keys to doing less with more is by more intelligent deployment of technical solutions. RiteTrack is well positioned to help our clients and future customers in accomplishing this goal. Ultimately, our job is to give our customers better tools so that they can provide better services to the clients that they serve. Regardless of technology evolution, RiteTrack is ultimately about helping those in need and that is what I expect we will still do 20 years from now.