The following events were reported in "Nightwatch -- 'IBM Central' CEs Answer Calls 'Round the Clock," IBM News, Volume 4 Number 6, March 27, 1967, p. 3.


As a global business, IBM is a company that never sleeps. But then again, the same is true for many of IBM's customers. For that reason, IBM Field Engineering (FE) Division customer engineers -- the men and women who maintain and repair equipment installed in customer sites -- have to be available anytime, anywhere.

In Los Angeles, after sunset, this means quickly responding to as many as 73,000 night customer emergency calls a year via "IBM Central" -- a special FE radio dispatch system that consolidates several night dispatch offices in New York, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco. IBM Central operates from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. during the week and all hours on Saturday and Sunday. It controls service assignments for 72 customer engineers (CEs) -- 50 on the second shift and 22 on the third -- on temporary assignment from the nine major branch offices in Los Angeles. Most of the 865 CEs in the L.A. area will spend a six-month tour of duty on the Central night shift at one time or another.

On the nightwatch

Lee Stauffer, of the Los Angeles Downtown office, on his way to answer a service call.

Lee Stauffer, of the Los Angeles Downtown office, on his way to answer a service call.
Lee Stauffer, of the Los Angeles Downtown office, on his way to answer a service call.
Last year, 1966, was the busiest in the five-year history of the Los Angeles Central office. It handled more than 73,000 off-hour calls for service and answered more than 90 percent of them in two hours or less.

In the IBM Data Processing Division's Western Region headquarters, the FE dispatch office is a room full of radio dispatching equipment, phones, maps and duty rosters. After 5 p.m. in Los Angeles, that one room becomes "IBM" to thousands of computer users in this sprawling metropolis.

The dispatching system works like this: Calls come to Central where one of four dispatchers takes the information. The dispatcher picks the CE available for the job, considering factors such as customer location, the nearest CE and the CE's training profile. He reaches the CE via a radio signal -- each CE carries a small transistor receiver. The customer engineer receives the message and responds to the emergency, stopping only to assure Central and the customer by telephone that he received the message and is on his way.

On the nightwatch

Customer Engineer Dave Martin

Customer Engineer Dave Martin
Customer Engineer Dave Martin, standing near the new fine arts center in Los Angeles, notes a message from IBM Central. He works out of the Glendale office.

This approach has enabled IBM to provide better response to customer service requests by assigning the largest number of CEs to an area where, through past records and experience, IBM knows the most calls will come in during the night. It also provides a more organized life for the customer engineers. Since Central was established in 1962, it has effectively reduced the disruption of the home life of first-shift CE's at night.

Says Ken Weiss, an FE specialist from the Wilshire branch office: "The work on night duty is much more interesting. You get all kinds of new problems to solve. At night every call is critical so you have to respond in a hurry and know what to do immediately when you get there. You never know what to expect next."

On the nightwatch

Field Engineering specialist Ken Weiss

Field Engineering specialist Ken Weiss
Field Engineering specialist Ken Weiss, of the Los Angeles Wilshire office, calls Central to advise that he has received a radio dispatch message.

So, for IBM people in Los Angeles and elsewhere, there is nothing new about providing service "24/7"; they've been working around the clock to help customers for decades.