Grey Room

From Paperwork to “Mechanized Administration”: Designing the Bureaucracy of Self-Management in Postwar Yugoslavia

Rujana Rebernjak

Rade Končar’s data center in 1959. Photograph from Rade Končar, 1946–1986 (1986). Courtesy KONČAR Group.


In June 1966, the clerks of Rade Končar, a Yugoslav manufacturer of electrical equipment and white goods, set about on a Sisyphean administrative task. They were to compile a complete inventory of the company’s capital goods (osnovna sredstva), such as its factory equipment, tooling, licenses, and building facilities. The exhaustive catalogue formed the first step in the process of “mechanizing the administration of capital goods,” so as to more effectively manage the factory’s production, monitoring gaps in assembly lines, and facilitating timely decision-making that would, ultimately, increase productivity. This exercise in bureaucratic efficiency was performed on IBM’s tabulators, located in Končar’s aptly named Department of Business Machinery (Odjel poslovnih strojeva, OPS). Soon it became clear that mechanical tabulators had to be replaced by more efficient machines, such as IBM’s System 360 mainframe computer, which promised to deliver “daily balance sheets” and further facilitate “bookkeeping, tracking of expenses by location, type and bearer, carrying out pricing calculations for products, gathering analytical and statistical data to overview business flows.” The introduction of this new system of electronic data management, approved by the factory’s workers’ council in 1967, was to “instigate a real little revolution” within Končar: the crawling paper trail of self-managed bureaucracy was to be replaced by real-time computer-aided management.