Monday, November 13, 2006

Previous experience: end user computing flexibility

From 1979-1981 I worked for a "Combined A&B Medicare Consortium" put together by six or seven Blue Cross/Blue Shield Plans that aimed to put together a state-of-the-art claims and back end processing system to sell to all plans. The project was hosted by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas and was always hosted in the Stemmons Freeway area of Dallas, near Oak Lawn. At the same time, BCBS Texas signed a contract with EDS at the time for Medicare processing of its own, creating quite a tense political situation that eventually helped undermine the project.

The project tried to use the Bryce "Pride-Logik" methodology for specifying all of the system components through various stages of the full system life cycle. I worked on the back end systems, particularly Surveillance and Utilization Review.

Because it was so difficult to get the Plans to agree on their exact reporting requirements, I wanted to develop a method of user-specified options for generating the various reports, particularly for Part B. This was fought as being too vague and too hard to understand.

Yet, perhaps twelve years later, when I was working for USLICO (to become ReliaStar and ING) in Arlington VA, end user specification was part of the philosophy of the salary deduction system (billing and collections), all of which was handled by very well structured COBOL programs (this was even the old COBOL 85). Some of the business was to be put on PC's with Microfocus so that business users would have ultimate control of their business relationships with clients.

So the "philosophy" of computing that I tried to sell in 1981 in a contentious political climate among the non-profit BCBS Plans (and we all know how political BCBS plans are) was becoming everyday design by the early 90s, still in the mainframe world, and would be well embraced by vendors like Dun and Bradstreet MSA, which we used for accounts payables. 4GL's like IE (Information Expert) were being developed then to paramterize everything for easy installation in mainframe environments.

Of course, we all know how Internet thinking took over everything by the late 90s, when everybody was writing GUI's with replication/midtiers or direct connect.

But actually, user-defined computing was pretty well known by the mid to late 1970s. At NBC (National Broadcasting Company), on a Univac 1110 environment, by 1976 we had a General Ledger system from a San Diego company named Infonational, which had heavily paramterized ways of setting up the Chart of Accounts for the various accounting proofs, and which offered a Report Writer (complete with a reconciliation step) that paramterized all of the financial analysis report.

The BCBS environment for the penultimate Medicare system did try to develop a state-of-the-art IMS implementation, which in 1981 was what you had. (Yup -- IMS and CICS, although an alternative for the TP monitor was IMS/DC). They were even going for the ultimate flexibility of "field level sensitivity" in the PCB's, which IBM explains at this link.

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