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Software Sisters Word Processors.

Software Sisters Word Processors

A good way to cause heartbeat irregularity in an information systems manager is to suggest casually that word processor XYZ is not compatible with the system just installed. Compatibility is a constant concern for nearly all large and medium-size firms; and besides health problems, penalties in time and money result when missteps are made.

The difficulty in communication among word processors with incompatible software comes largely from long-standing vendor strategy: Make the processor's code tricky and proprietary enough and the customer will have to buy all his/her equipment from that one vendor.

Of course, the real world is quite different. An executive at General Electric's Nuclear Energy Business Operations (NEBO) confronted a typical office-automation Tower of Babel. NEBO had allowed each division to pick its own word processing equipment, ending up with a variety of different systems.

Don Lysiak, formerly with NEBO, now Automation and Information Center manager for GE's Plastics Business Group, said, "The need to communicate arose because we had a large base of purchased AM Jacquard equipment with thousands of pages of documentation already stored on them; and as we got further into office automation, we decided to standardize--at least within GE Nuclear--onto IBM equipment. We needed a way to translate from AMJ into the IBM world and vice versa; we sure didn't want to re-key documents.'

Much the same thing happened at General Motors' Information Systems and Communications Activity division. William Roberts, the unit's senior systems analyst, explained, "GM corporate staffs had just about every type of word processing system under the sun, not to mention the processors in the divisions. As people became more familiar not only with word processors but personal computers, terminals, modems and other devices, they saw the need for having these systems communicate with one another.

Strong Tail Tries to Wag Dogs

"Initially, I was asked to design a General Motors standard document file architecture that all word processors would be required to communicate with,' he recalled. "My instincts told me that that was going to be a nearly insurmountable task --not only from the design standpoint but also from the support standpoint. I felt that a lot of the word processing vendors wouldn't be willing to cooperate and support editable document exchange to and from our own operating standard.

"After that, we looked at black boxes and hardware interfaces that could handle conversions, but we found them inflexible in terms of the different word processors,' said Roberts. "In many cases, they only provided page image format on the output side and were generally incapable of being incorporated into a network environment, not to mention that using them would have been expensive, considering that everyone would have to have one.'

Like so many corporations and government agencies, GE and GM suffered from incompatibility problems common to word processing systems. Both opted to try Cosmos, a software system that allows seemingly incompatible word processors to communicate. Designed by New York-based United Systems Group, the software runs on the IBM Series/1 minicomputer under CF (Communications Facility) with the EDX operating system. At present, the system supports IBM's 5520 and Displaywriter, plus Wang, Lanier and AM Jacquard equipment.

After a survey of the compatibility software available, GE installed the Cosmos system at its NEBO site. "We entered the whole venture on the basis that it really was a serious problem General Electric had. We felt that if the system was a viable solution, the savings would be tremendous, because we could translate our documents from AM Jacquard into IBM or Lanier or what have you, without having to re-key them,' said a spokesman.

"Presently, we're converting somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 pages worth of boiler-plate documents from the Jacquard to the Displaywriter. The conversions will span an undetermined period of time, depending on the document's priority and the installation of our Displaywriters,' he remarked.

Meanwhile, General Motors was starting to experiment with Cosmos. After initial research by Bill Roberts, the system was installed at his GM division. Trouble soon followed. GM word processor operators had difficulties changing over to electronic document exchange from traditional methods of handling paper copies.

"In some instances, operators thought of their word processors as mere replacements for their typewriters,' said Roberts. "When we told them they would have to interact with a more centralized computer, that scared them. There was a lot of resistance. Some of them felt that this would jeopardize their jobs, when in fact, participating in document exchange would enhance their career potential in the eyes of managers.'

At General Motors, during a six-month evaluation period, the Cosmos system supported IBM's 5520 and Displaywriter, Wang OIS, Wang WPS and Lanier. At General Electric, the system supports the 5520, Displaywriter, Wang, Lanier and Jacquard word processors.

While the Cosmos document-translation and management system does not require a mainframe computer, it is fully compatible with mainframe-oriented network environments.

System Supports New Adoptees

Perhaps there's only one constant in today's word processing marketplace-- change. The Cosmos system provides a universal standard within which any new, unsupported word processor can be added in two or three months, say its designers.

One of the cited advantages of Cosmos is that it can meet the need for impromptu document transmission. As GM's Roberts put it, "There have been times when I've gotten calls from people in other divisions needing to transmit a document. The system is so simple that we've been able to explain the transmission procedures over the telephone, and in a matter of minutes they were operating the system themselves.'

Another example of the system's usefulness was provided by Roberts. "We once had a document relating to a particular GM activity that had been in the news. It was highly sensitive, and required immediate transfer from Wang OIS to Displaywriter. The document itself was roughly 75 pages long and 158 positions wide. We were able to take that document from the Wang environment through the system into the Displaywriter environment in, I believe, about 30 minutes. I had watched the transfer with bated breath, because the document was about as wide as Wang can generate and was very complex. But to its credit, the system handled the job.'
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Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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