Thursday, March 02, 2006

March 6, 2006


PLEASE NOTE: This is the first in my series of essays on the history of Systems Development. This week's issue will discuss events prior to and including the 1950's.

I always find it amusing when I tell a young person in this industry that I worked with punch cards and plastic templates years ago. Its kind of the same dumbfounded look I get from my kids when I tell them we used to watch black and white television with three channels, no remote control, and station signoffs at midnight. It has been my observation that our younger workers do not have a sense of history; this is particularly apparent in the systems world. If they do not have an appreciation of whence we came, I doubt they will have an appreciation of where we should be going. Consequently, I have assembled the following chronology of events in the hopes this will provide some insight as to how the systems industry has evolved to its current state.

I'm sure I could turn this into a lengthy dissertation but, instead, I will try to be brief and to the point. Further, the following will have little concern for academic developments but rather how systems have been implemented in practice in the corporate world.


Perhaps the biggest revelation to our younger readers regarding this period will be that there was any form of systems prior to the advent of the computer. In fact, "Systems and Procedures" Departments predated the computer by several years. Such departments would be concerned with the design of major business processes using "work measurement" and "work simplification" techniques as derived from Industrial Engineering. Such processes were carefully designed using grid diagrams and flowcharts. There was great precision in the design of forms to record data, filing systems to manage paperwork, and the use of summary reports to act as control points in systems. For example, spreadsheets have been extensively used for many years prior to the introduction of Lotus 1-2-3 or MS Excel. There was also considerable attention given to human behavior during the business process (the precursor to "ergonomics").

During World War II, both the U.S. military and industrial complex relied heavily on manually implemented systems. We did it so well that many people, including the Japanese, contend it gave the Allies a competitive edge during the war.

The lesson here, therefore, is that manually implemented systems have been with us long before the computer and are still with us today. To give you a sense of history in this regard, consider one of our more popular Bryce's Laws:

"The first on-line, real-time, interactive, data base system was double-entry bookkeeping which was developed by the merchants of Venice in 1200 A.D."

One major development in this area was the work of Leslie "Les" Matthies, the legendary Dean of Systems. Les graduated from the University of California at Berkeley during the Depression with a degree in Journalism. Being a writer, he tried his hand at writing Broadway plays. But work was hard to come by during this period and when World War II broke out, Les was recruited by an aircraft manufacturer in the midwest to systematize the production of aircraft. Relying on his experience as a writer, he devised the "Playscript" technique for writing procedures. Basically, Les wrote a procedure like a script to a play; there was a section to identify the procedure along with its purpose; a "Setup" section to identify the forms and files to be used during it; and an "Operations/Instructions" section which described the "actors" to perform the tasks using verbs and nouns to properly state each operation. He even went so far as to devise rules for writing "If" statements.

"Playscript" became a powerful procedure writing language and was used extensively throughout the world. It is still an excellent way to write procedures today. Ironically, Les did not know what a profound effect his technique would have later on in the development of computer programs.


Yes, I am aware that the ENIAC was developed for the military at the end of World War II. More importantly, the UNIVAC I (UNIVversal Automatic Computer) was introduced in 1951 by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. The UNIVAC I was a mammoth machine that was originally developed for the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Corporate America took notice of the computer and companies such as DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware began to lineup to experiment with it for commercial purposes. The Remington Rand Corporation sponsored the project, but the company's focus and name eventually changed to "UNIVAC" (today it is referred to as "UNISYS," representing a merger of UNIVAC with Burroughs).

The UNIVAC I offered a sophistication unmatched by other manufacturers, most notably IBM's Mach I tabulating equipment. This caused IBM to invent the 701 and its 700 series. Other manufacturers quickly joined the fray and computing began to proliferate. Although UNIVAC was the pioneer in this regard, they quickly lost market share due to the marketing muscle of IBM. For quite some time the industry was referred to as "IBM & the BUNCH" (Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, CDC, and Honeywell).

Programming the early machines was difficult as it was performed in a seemingly cryptic Machine Language (the first generation language). This eventually gave way to the Assembly Language (the second generation language) which was easier to read and understand. Regardless, many of the utilities we take for granted today (e.g., sorts and merges) simply were not available and had to be developed. In other words, programming was a laborious task during this period.

Recognizing both the limitations and potential of the computer, the 1950's represented the age of experimentation for corporate America. Here, the emphasis was not on implementing major systems through the computer, but rather to develop an assortment of programs to test the machine as a viable product. As such, programmers were considered odd characters who maintained "the black box," and were not yet considered a part of the mainstream of systems development. The "Systems and Procedures Departments" still represented the lion's share of systems work in corporate America, with an occasional foray to investigate the use of the computer. The computer people were segregated into "computer departments" (later to be known as "EDP" or "Data Processing" departments).

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...
"If they do not have an appreciation of whence we came, I doubt they will have an appreciation of where we should be going."



The Quality Assurance Institute will be holding its 26th Annual Quality Conference at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, FL on April 24th - 28th. For information, contact the Institute in Orlando at 407/363-1111.

The World Conference on Quality and Improvement will be held May 1st-3rd at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee, WI. For information, contact the American Society for Quality at 800-248-1946 or 414/272-8575.

The 15th World Congress on Information Technology will be held May 1st - 5th in Austin, TX. For information, call 512/505-4077.

The 17th International Conference of the Information Resource Management Association will be held May 21st-24th at the Wyndham Hotel in Washington D.C. For information, call IRMA headquarters in PA at 717/533-8879

The National And State CIO Association will be holding their 2006 Midyear Conference at The Capital Hilton, in Washington, DC on May 31st-June 2nd. For information, contact NASCIO headquarters in Lexington, KY at: 859/514-9153

If you have got an upcoming IRM related event you want mentioned, please e-mail the date, time and location of the event to


No, I'm not really mad at America Online, but last week I finally cancelled my subscription with them after twelve long years. I began using AOL v2.0 in 1994, well before it became the powerhouse it is today and when CompuServe and Prodigy were the big guns of the business. I tried these other forums also but felt uncomfortable with their "look and feel." Although AOL wasn't yet as robust as the others, it offered an ease of use that I felt comfortable with. Back then I was still actively using v3.0 of IBM's OS/2 operating system and it ran just fine. But when Windows 95 & NT came out, AOL was forced to use a Win32 API which put a damper on my use of the product. For years, I maintained AOL v3.5 which was the last version supported by OS/2. AOL of course went up to v9.0 but my v3.5 worked just fine.

I also let my family use AOL at home where I had a small Windows based machine and it was a great way for them to learn how to use e-mail and the Internet. My family grew up with AOL and eventually migrated away from it in favor of web browsers and e-mail tools. Frankly, we were no longer using any of the AOL features except for surfing the Net. Small wonder that AOL's board of directors is worried about the future of the company. If customers do not believe they are getting value for the service, they're going to drop their subscriptions like a hot potatoe. Even worse, they might face the same fate as CompuServe and Prodigy, namely extinction!

But then again, what do I know?

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


I received an e-mail from a Martin Dimond in Ohio who wrote me regarding last week's essay on "Why Does Project Management Fail?"
Martin writes:

"My company has invested heavily in PC based Project Management systems over the last few years, yet we cannot seem to conquer our development problems. Any ideas?"

Thanks Martin for your note,
First, I would have to ask you if you are using a uniform development methodology. A Project Management system is totally dependent on a methodology, but the reverse is not true; a methodology does not require a Project Management system. A true methodology represents an assembly line process where products are built. Now, if you want to control the methodology or assembly line, you apply Project Management. The problem is not Project Management, it is how we design and build systems. If you don't have your act together with a methodology, no amount of Project Management is going to solve your problems.

Again, Thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Folks, don't forget to check out our BRYCE'S CRASH COURSE IN MANAGEMENT which is a free on-line multimedia presentation offering pragmatic advice on how to discharge the duties of a manager, whether it be for a commercial or non-profit enterprise. Frankly, for someone aspiring to be a manager or for a new manager, it will be the best 45 minutes you can invest in yourself. Check it out on the cover of our corporate web page at:

For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

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This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."



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