Wednesday, November 01, 2006

November 6, 2006


As you travel around the I.T. industry, be it in a discussion group or attending a software conference, the general consensus is that all processing must be "SOA", "interactive" or "real-time"; and "batch" processing is considered passé. Is it possible developers are overlooking other more important and inherent properties of processing? Frankly, I believe we are more enamored with the slick terminology of the industry as opposed to having a clear understanding of how processing works. Let's consider how data is truly processed.


In the past I have described the generic structure of an Information System, such as sub-systems, procedures, and programs. Sub-systems represent business processes that exist in specific time frames, such as daily, weekly, monthly, or upon request. Basically, there are three types of sub-systems:

* "Maintenance" sub-systems are used to collect data
* "Display" sub-systems to reference data; and:
* A combination of "Maintenance and Display" to read/write to the data base.

Files associated with each sub-system are assigned in terms of how they are Created, Updated, or Referenced (C/U/R).

This scenario implies the use of some form of transaction, whether to request an output, or to input data to a file. From this perspective, a transaction is an exchange event from one object to another. A transaction always has some form of action associated with it. For output reporting, "request," "display," "print," "extract," "search," etc. are common transactions. For input, "new," "add," "change," "delete," "update," "charge," "credit," "debit," "deposit," etc. are typical transactions.

Over the years, transaction processing has come to mean "batch" processing as associated with 80 column records (anyone remember punch cards?), and typically relate to payroll, inventory or order processing. Not true. ALL processing involves the use of transactions, either one at a time (as in "interactive") or in groups ("batch").

What then becomes important is the volume of transactions and the speed they must be processed (as specified by timing). This will determine the physical constraints of the equipment to be used. "Batch" processing has the advantage of processing high volumes of transactions within a relatively short period of time per transaction. "Interactive" processing has the advantage of processing individual transactions quickly.

Some might argue there are exceptions to this rule, such as video games, graphics packages, screen savers, etc. Let's consider each individually: Video games write transactions to maintain player scores, graphics packages write a transaction every time you use the "Save/Cut/Copy/Paste" functions, and screen savers record preferred settings. All of these transactions must be written in specific formats. Understand this, if a program uses a clipboard or some other computer file, it is writing transactions to it. A program without any form of transaction serves no useful business purpose.

The tendency to be more concerned with the techniques of processing than with the problems to be solved can cause systems to be physically implemented in ways resulting in higher operating costs. The governing issues should be, "What is the business problem to be solved?" and, "How effective is the processing method concerning the value and timing of the information to be produced?" Programming techniques have little value in these areas. Consider, for example, that batch processing will always be a viable solution for information systems design regardless of the direction technology moves. This method of processing is analogous to many manufacturing operations where products are more economically manufactured in groups or batches - as opposed to one at a time. The point is, this situation will always be true regardless of how close the costs become between the two methods. For example, can you imagine preparing the corporate payroll "interactively" (one check at a time)? Technology should implement the logical business solutions to the problem and not be a platform to display technical elegance.


There are three basic constructs for any processing, computer or otherwise (e.g., manual): sequence, iteration, and choice.

SEQUENCE - This type of processing represents a continuous series of steps, for example: we execute step 1 before executing step 2, before executing step 3.

ITERATION - Represents repetition until a certain condition is met.

CHOICE - Permits the selection of processing paths based on prescribed criteria. It also allows for parallelism.

Obviously, these processing constructs can be combined in many different ways to process data. All procedures, programs, and steps consist of combinations of these constructs.


As previously mentioned, timing plays a substantial role in the design of a system, which is derived from the information requirements to be supported. Timing ultimately dictates when data is to be collected, stored, and retrieved. By using timing as a design parameter, we can synchronize the data base to serve all systems, not just one.

Timing (frequency, offset, and response time) dictates how often processing must occur, when each process is to start, and how fast it must process data. Without timing, processing will be awkward and cumbersome to perform. Since all business processes exist within a time frame anyway, why not use this as part of our design criteria from the outset as opposed to trying to synchronize the data base afterwards?


Transactions, processing constructs, and timing greatly influences the design of any process. For example, if a sub-system is needed upon request within a couple of seconds, then an "interactive" application is a likely solution. Conversely, if a sub-system is needed on a monthly basis to process voluminous transactions, then a "batch" process is a likelihood. However, if a sub-system is needed to process numerous transactions instantaneously, it may not be physically possible to do so (or practical).

All of this ultimately means the design of the process is ultimately based on the volume of transactions and the time required to process them. Buzzwords like "on-line," "real-time," "interactive," and "batch" only cloud the issue.

As an aside, it is interesting to see how such terminology has become a part of our vernacular. For example, the terms "on-line" and "off-line" really date back to the old days of computing. They were used to indicate whether a device was connected directly to a computer or not. As an example, the UNIVAC I had "off-line" card-to-tape and tape-to-printer devices. When the next generation was produced, the card reader and printer were connected directly "on-line" to the computer. Today "on-line/off-line" generally means if a person is logged on to a computer network or not.

But what is more important from a design point of view: our slick vocabulary or a true understanding of the fundamentals of processing? I think the latter. What do you think?

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...
"A program without any form of transaction serves no useful business purpose."


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The Association of Management Consulting Firms will be holding their 60th Annual Meeting on December 6th-8th at the Harvard Club in New York City. For information, contact AMCF headquarters in New York at 212/551-7887 or visit their web page at:

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


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I'm sure a lot of you have a pet traffic light you abhor. Mine is about a mile from my office and I can always count on it to screw up traffic no matter what direction you approach it. It almost seems like my car has a homing device which the traffic light senses and changes the signal. I guess I'm getting a little paranoid about this. I don't mind stopping to await my turn in line, but I start to lose patience when a traffic light routinely stops me no matter what the circumstance is.

I wonder what sadistic mind programs the traffic lights? Sometimes I get the feeling someone has embedded a random number generator in the timer to cause the light to change erratically, either that or squirrels have nested in the main control panel.

Has anyone in the Transportation Department ever heard of motion detectors? I've got some simple motion detectors on my outside lights at home; they're cheap and work just fine. Wouldn't it be nice if traffic lights had motion sensors to keep track of traffic volume and adjust the timing of lights accordingly? That would make a lot of sense to me and do away with the problem that really burns me; that of coming to a four way traffic light where nobody is moving.

If you hear in the news of a Florida man shooting out traffic lights, you'll know I finally snapped.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


Folks, we've just released a new book on management entitled, "The Bryce is Right! Empowering Managers in today's Corporate Culture." This is a frank and candid description of the state of the art in management and includes essays on the problems in management today, along with some pragmatic advice on how to deal with them. Basically, this is a condensed course in management. As such, it is suited for managers, either those aspiring to become a manager or for those who need a refresher course. It will also be of interest to young people entering the work force, and is excellent for college curriculums.

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I received an e-mail from a Kurt Davis in Cincinnati who wrote me regarding last week's Pet Peeve entitled, "Dude."

Kurt writes:

"I found your commentary amusing. Actually, I'm not surprised by the use of the word "Dude" as most of the young people are text messaging these days and have developed a new language."

Thanks Kurt for your note,

Yes, you are absolutely right. If you read some of the emails today, the younger people are using a new form of shorthand to communicate as expeditiously as possible. However, this shorthand can be irritating when you are addressing someone you don't know. Years ago, when I was in High School, we all took typing classes where we learned to write business letters. Unfortunately, the typing classes of yesteryear have been replaced by what is today called "keyboarding" and here the emphasis is on how to use the computer and a word processing package. Rarely, if ever, do the students learn how to type an appropriate business letter. This has resulted in a new generation of office worker who can move like grease lightning on the keyboard, but are at a loss as to how to address someone or construct a proper sentence. Spell-checkers and grammar-checkers are nice, but is anyone using them? I wonder.

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

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

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This is Tim Bryce reporting.

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



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