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Ed Igler a Man behind the Barcodes at IBM

During the early 1970s IBM focused its computer marketing along industry lines. Often there was someone in the headquarters industry group with the title Industry Consultant. Their job was to be current with industry trends and educate management and the sales field about where information processing topics were going in that industry. In the Grocery Distribution industry that person was Ed Igler.

Ed accomplished much of the field eduction in an annual 3 to 5 day meeting where 30 or more of the larger Grocery accounts with installed IBM equipment met to discuss the industry. Each salesman gave a half hour presentation on the most significant information project at their customer. Since it was IBM practice with classes to assign two people to each hotel room, Ed quite cleverly matched the salesman in a way that promoted further conversation outside of class. For example, as the two largest grocery customers, the Safeway and Kroger sales people always shared a room.

Ed contributed education on overall industry trends and happenings. From 1970 to 1973 this predominently centered on the effort to standardize on a universal item code. He covered as best as anyone outside the actual Ad Hoc and other committees could know, the progress that had been made, what issues were being addressed, and what blocked progress. This meant very few IBM sales people were surprised talking with their customers.

But, as I understand it, Ed's impact on IBM industry management may have been more impactful. Confidentially IBM was exploring getting into the electronic register business, with a keyentry PLU lookup system. This would require cashiers to key in a unique code for each item, so it had to be as short a code as possible or it slowed checkout. At this point Ed walked into Marvin Mann's office, the project leader, at IBM sales headquarters in White Plains, NY, and sat down saying “Marvin, we need to talk.” He then reviewed the Industry's UPC efforts and that it was moving towards a scanable symbol approach for ringing up items in the transaction. Considering the size of grocery stores being built at the time with even bigger ones in the future, a keyentry PLU sysem would be very hard to manage. The interest at IBM industry group in scanning symbols for item ring up grew from this and Marvin was able to bring bring a plethora of IBM development imaging tools to help the industry committees with their tasks.