Tech Consultant John Diebold Dies at 79

John Diebold, the business visionary who preached computerization as the future of worldwide industry during the era of Elvis and Eisenhower, died Monday at his suburban home. He was 79.

Diebold passed away in Bedford Hills, N.Y., from esophageal cancer, said his nephew, John B. Diebold.

Although Diebold is now hailed as a prophet of the computerized future, his zeal for computers was less than widespread in the 1950s. After graduating from the Harvard Business School in 1951, he was hired by a New York management consulting firm.

But he was fired three times by the company over his insistence that clients should consider computerizing.

"I was too early," he once said. "It was before the first computer was installed for business use."

The native of Weehawken, N.J., then laid out his bold vision of a computerized future with his 1952 book "Automation," which presented the radical notion of using programmable devices in daily business.

The influential book, since hailed as a management classic, was reissued on the 30th and 40th anniversaries of its publication.

Oddly enough, his vision of the future was conceived while serving in the Merchant Marines during World War II. He watched the ship's anti-aircraft fire control mechanisms, with its crude self-correcting mechanisms, and envisioned adapting the technology for business use.

Diebold, who held degrees in business and engineering, was also responsible for a dozen books — including nine that collected his speeches and scholarly articles.

In 1954, when Elvis Presley was recording in Sun Studios and President Eisenhower was in the White House, Diebold launched his consulting firm John Diebold & Associates. That year, General Electric unveiled the first full-scale computer system for a business.

He was not associated with the banking security company Diebold, Inc.

Diebold was now the go-to guy in a brand-new way of doing business. Over the next half-century, he provided counsel to AT&T, IBM, Boeing and Xerox, along with the cities of Chicago and New York and the countries of Venezuela and Jordan.

He was appointed by President Kennedy in 1963 to the U.S. delegation for the inaugural U.N. Conference on Science and Technology for Developing Countries.

A perfect example of Diebold's influence on daily life was his firm's 1961 creation of an electronic network for the Bowery Savings Bank in New York. The system allowed immediate updates of all transactions, allowing customers to bank at any branch.

His company also developed a network that changed the way hospitals keep their records, allowing researchers to collect medical records and statistics electronically.

Some of his ideas took time to reach fruition. In 1963, Diebold presented newspaper executives with a plan to use keyboards for inputting stories that could be edited on computer consoles — a system that did not became standard until the 1980s.

Diebold is also survived by his wife, Vanessa, along with daughter Joan and son John. Funeral arrangements were incomplete, said his nephew.