Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Memories of IT - unexpected consequences of system development

(Actually, I need to wrap up a few things and start a few others before I get back to PCs...)

So, I came off of the big PL/1-IMS development project, as it wound down, 1983 or so. The system from my viewpoint was brilliant, supporting all the stock and bond investment business of the company. I worked a lot on look-up screens, starting with a definition of a security and breaking it down to all the lowest levels of investments the company had in that security. A friend of mine was quite proud of a program he wrote to allocate bond income across the company's complete portfolio after one hit of the enter key. However, it still faced two challenges:

1. the easy-to-program architecture of the online system did require more of the system to be loaded in memory at a time than an architecture based on a single screen structure. As a result, the online system always had lowest priority among all the online IMS systems, and so response to the users was always slow.

2. the actual securities traders had been doing business over the phone and writing down their trades on scrips/paper, then handing these to clerks to code up transactions to feed the existing batch systems. A major proposed benefit of going to an on-line system is that the traders would now enter their trades directly into the system, giving real-time updates and removing the clerical effort. So, our BA/PM shows a test version of the system to management and the traders, to show just how this was all going to work for them. Apparently the traders weren't aware of this benefit, and they reacted very negatively. Typing anything was for clerks and secretaries, so using a system that required typing was beneath them. So, when the system went live, traders continued to write their trades down and handed them to the clerks, whose jobs continued but as the new users of the online system.

The system did go on to have a useful life of about 10 years. I did not work on it again, so I don't know if the traders ever warmed to it. I do recall some outside consultants doing reviews of our existing systems later in the decade, and they said something stupid about this one; given its volumes compared to say, our core individual insurance systems, they wanted to know why we had not developed it on a mini-computer. I think the architect,s head probably almost exploded. I suppose not owning a mini-computer did not mean anything, nor the fact that that the company's core IT skills at the time of development were all on mainframes. By the time of this review, however, other changes had occurred; packages were being purchased, which meant COBOL and CICS were invading our previously pristine PL/1-IMS world. The architect left the company not too much later. Breck Carter, wherever you are, if you see this, drop me a line.

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About Me

Ontario, Canada
I have been an IT Business Analyst for 25 years, so I must have learned something. Also been on a lot of projects, which I have distilled into the book "Cascade": follow the link to the right to see more.