TCO: What's Old is New

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(By Info-Tech Analyst George Goodall – Printed with permission from Processor magazine,

A colleague of mine recently posed an innocent question, “When did the concept of total cost of ownership emerge?” Several responses pointed to the actions of the IT analyst community in the mid-1980s. Another colleague said, “Phooey. We used TCO at UNIVAC in the 1970s.” But the concept seems to be much older.

In Search Of TCO

The New York Times is always a good source for harnessing zeitgeist. The first technology article in the Times that mentions “total cost of ownership” dates from March 1995. It's called “The Executive Computer; A Dinosaur in Open Systems Clothing” and parrots the analyst lingo. It's about—no surprise—the AS/ 400. The classifieds are more interesting. An ad from July 16, 1967, lists total cost of ownership as a crucial skill for a “Support Systems Life Cycle Cost Analyst” for the aerospace industry. I should note that this ad predates the birth of the IT analyst industry by several years.

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