Enabling ‘artisan work’

Mark Gross, president at Data Conversion Laboratory, tells the story of the firm’s birth and its work in scholarly communications

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications … Other than the fact I was always an avid reader, not much in my early background would suggest that I would be building a company to process millions of pages of scholarly documents. I graduated with a BS in Civil Engineering from Columbia University; my first job was building nuclear power plants. However, I soon realised that with the changing political winds, building nuclear plants was not going to be a growth industry for long. In fact, the nuclear plant I was working on was one of the last plants constructed in the United States. NYU Graduate School of Business was down the street and offered me a job as a computer consultant in the computer centre, and accepted me into the MBA program, where I got my MBA in Computer Applications and Marketing. I later taught at the New York University Graduate School of Business, the New School, and Pace University before leaving

24 Research Information June/July 2020

to join the consulting practice of Arthur Young, where I managed large-scale data implementations in the pre-desktop world.

Can you give us some background to Data Conversion Laboratory? How did it come about?

In the early 1980s the first ‘personal’ computers were coming onto the market but weren’t yet considered business machines. One day my dentist showed me a billing system he had built for himself on an Apple, and I was hooked. I was convinced that these machines soon would replace ‘big iron’ for many applications, and some large systems I was building could be built on this much smaller footprint. When I found little enthusiasm on using these new-fangled devices at the consulting firm, I left to start, with my wife, what became Data Conversion Laboratory. While slow going at first, six months later IBM announced their first PC, validating

“The industry started looking for new and innovative approaches to deal with the ever- growing mountains of content”

the concept, and businesses started coming on board. An early customer was a large

accounting firm with 160 offices, each with a group of VYDECs, an early stand- alone word processor, the standard of the time, wanting to convert to the PC using MEC, an early, way ahead-of-its-time, code-based word processing software. Neither word processing system exists today. Since the Vydec didn’t use coding, we needed to somehow infer a coding

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