From: John Conover <>
Subject: FYI
Date: Mon, 22 Mar 93 23:47:30 PST

Attached pls. find a section of the report about some IT/managment
experiments that we ran at S-MOS FYI,
        Thanks for the help,

Information systems are used in program management, which must
coordinate the various activities of the corporate functions (ie.,
engineering, marketing, etc.) involved in design projects. After
researching the issues, (see below,) I have concluded that a
distributed full text system that uses the mail (MTA) system as a
communication medium is the desirable direction to pursue. My
reasoning is as follows:

        1) The Unix MTA is almost universal, and will operate
        effectively over uucp and/or ethernet connectivities in a
        non-homogeneous hardware environment.

        2) Each transaction is logged, with a date/time stamp, and who
        created the transaction.

        3) The MTA already has remedial file storage capabilities,
        which can be used to query/respond to transactions at a later

        4) Most(?) computers are already connected together, and users
        are familiar with how to use the system.

        5) The MTA database can be NFS'ed to conserve machine

        6) It is a text based system.

I am not a fan of a "hyper text" type of system, because the links
must be established before the document is stored-which is fine if you
know what you are going to query for. In a general management
application, this is seldom the case. I set up a prototype system,
using the following (readily available) programs:

        1) elm, because it has a slightly more sophisticated file
        storage structure, and a very powerful aliasing capability
        that can alias team members as a group. Additionally, it has
        limited query capabilities, and can, through its forms
        capabilities, send mail transactions in a structured format.
        (Which is advantageous if the transactions are used for
        notification of schedule milestone completion, etc.)

        2) gdbm (GNU dbm) to build an extensible hash query system
        into the file storage structure made by elm.  This was
        operated in two ways, by an RPC direct call, and a mail daemon
        that "read" incoming mail (to a query "account") and returned
        (via mail) all transactions that satisfied boolean
        conditionals on requested words. (A data dictionary was added
        later, so that the dictionary could be scanned for matches to
        regular expressions, which were then passed to the extensible
        hash system, but for some reason, this was seldom used.) The
        query was made through a very simple natural language
        interface, ie.,

                send john and c.*r not January

        would return all transactions containing my name, excepting
        those written in January. (I did not attempt phrases, it
        looked complicated-this is ill advised by Tenopir, etc.

This prototype was well received, and was used in the experiment as

        1) Management decreed that the system would be used as a
        management tool, and all data had to be entered, or
        transcribed into the system (including the minutes of
        meetings, etc.) If it didn't exist in the system, it did not
        exist. All discussions, and reasons for decisions had to be
        placed in the system. ALL team members and upper management
        had identical access to ALL transactions. (Mail could be used
        for private correspondence, such as politicking, etc. but all
        decisions, and the reasons for the decisions had to be placed
        in the system.) The guiding rule was that at the end of the
        project, the system contained a complete play by play
        chronology and history of all decisions, and reasoning
        concerning the project, and, by the way, who was responsible
        for the decisions. On each Monday, everyone entered into the
        system, his/her objectives for the week, and when each
        objective was finished, she/he mailed the milestone into the
        system-ie., all group members and management could thus find
        out the exact status of the project at any time (ie., a
        "social contract" was made with management and the rest of the
        members of the team.) At any time, a discussion could be
        initiated on problems/decisions in the system by anyone. The
        project manager was assigned the responsibility of
        "moderator," or chair person for his/her section of the
        system. Each Friday, the system was queried for project
        status, and the status plumbed to TeX for formating, and
        printed for official documentation. This document was
        discussed at a late Friday people-to-people staff meeting.
        (The reason for setting things up this way can be found in
        Davido, below.)

        2) Marketing was responsible for acquiring all pertinate data
        on magnetic media, (from services like Data Quest, the
        Department of Commerce, etc.) and each document was "mailed"
        into the system so that the information is available to
        everyone.  They have access to the progress made by
        engineering, and can contribute information on pertinate
        issues as the program develops-ie., this was a "concurrent
        engineering" environment.

        3) Engineering was responsible for maintaining schedules, and
        reflecting those schedules in the system-if slippages occurred
        the situation could be addressed immediately by management,
        and a suitable cross functional resolution could be arrived

The results were very impressive not only by productivity standards,
but also by "correctness to fit and form" standards (ie., the right
product was in the market at the right time, the first time.) This is
becoming a central agenda, as outlined in Davido (below, which is
damned fine reading, and goes into great detail on why one would want
to do this) and many others.

Thanks to Thanos Triant of Sun MicroSystems for help in the philosophy
of the system.


"Computer-Supported Cooperative Work," Irene Greif
"A model for Distributed Campus Computing," George A. Champine
"Enterprise Networking," Ray Grenier and George Metes
"Connections," Lee Sproull and Sara Kiesler
"5th Generation Management," Charlse M. Savage
"Intellectual Teamwork," Jolene Galegher, Robert E. Krout and Carmen Egido
"In the Age of the Smart Machine," Shoshana Zuboff
"The Virtual Corporation," William H. Davido and Michael S. Malone
"Accelerating Innovation," Marvin L. Patterson
"Paradigm Shift," Don Tapscott and Art Caston
"Developing Products in Half the Time," Preston G. Smith and Donald G. Reinertsen
"Full Text Databases," Carol Tenopir and Jung Soon Ro
"Text and Context," Susan Jones

John Conover,,

Copyright © 1993 John Conover, All Rights Reserved.
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