Although Mead Data Central Corp. has taken “a conservative approach” to implementing NCR’s Cooperation, the company is looking forward to a liberal application of the work-flow program, according to Gary Whitney, MDC’s director of systems evaluation.
MDC, a Dayton, Ohio, provider of research services, is in the process of migrating from mainframes to work groups. The company began using Cooperation about a year ago to create user-specific desktops.
Previously, MDC employees worked at mainframe terminals or stand-alone workstations equipped with software such as word processors and spreadsheets. But the need for people to work together made that configuration ineffective.
“The thing that was missing was the sharing of information and applications and being able to configure an environment for a work group that may be different from another work group,” Whitney said. “[With Cooperation,] we’re just starting to look at work-flow automation.”
Cooperation is an object-oriented, client/server operating environment based on NCR’s Open Cooperative Computing Architecture. It was introduced in 1990 as one of the first groupware products; when AT&T acquired NCR in 1991, NCR incorporated AT&T’s groupware offering, Rhapsody, into it.
Cooperation runs on DOS at the desktop and on OS/2 or Unix at the server. The base client, which includes Windows 3.0, provides the tools for creating user-specific desktops, sharing/linking data between applications and automating frequently performed tasks.
The base server includes LAN Manager, file, print and directory services, framework libraries and a system manager. About 50 add-on modules provide sophisticated client features, such as group calendaring and remote application access, and server features such as wide-area links and mail gateways. A typical configuration costs about $800 per user, according to NCR officials, also in Dayton.
Cooperation constitutes the software element of MDC’s migration from the mainframe to a client/server environment. The downsizing has also prompted MDC to buy several NCR System 3000 multiprocessors and servers, although Cooperation runs on any Intel-based PC.
MDC’s varied applications, which range from typical office software to homegrown applications and information-systems tools, run on top of Cooperation. As such, each work group has a desktop tailored to its users’ needs. Existing third-party applications can be registered or bridged into the Cooperation environment, and the framework libraries in the server component facilitate development of homegrown Cooperation-compliant applications.
At this point, most users don’t even realize they have Cooperation, Whitney said. They know only that they have a desktop that provides access to the applications they require.
“All [users] know is that they have objects and icons they click on to do their work. If you went to users and asked them how they like Cooperation, they’d say, `What’s Cooperation?'” Whitney said. “We produce desktops within Cooperation that have the applications and data that [our users] need.”
Because Cooperation runs on either OS/2 or Unix at the server, it allows users to access applications from either system, which was not possible on MDC’s old mainframe system. Whitney said he views Cooperation’s base system as a “technical enabler.”
“It has allowed us to do things within the environment that we were not able to do before, like accessing different systems simultaneously” in a way that’s transparent to the user, he said.
MDC will soon use more sophisticated Cooperation features, including mail. Although users within the same work group already use Cooperation’s E-mail, members of different groups still communicate via the mainframe PROFS, Whitney said. That will change as the migration off the mainframe continues.
MDC has started adding modules that will lead to a more automated workplace, Whitney said. For example, the company has bought the information storage manager module, which manages files on an enterprisewide network.
Whitney said he expects this evolution into work-flow automation will result in more consistent output from MDC’s users, particularly in terms of paper flow among different groups.
“I think the biggest thing we’re looking at is to automate paper flow where a piece of paper can be generated by one person and flow through the organization, a group or multiple groups,” Whitney said.
“With the automation, we will be able to track [changes] and make sure what comes out at the end [of the work-flow process] will be consistent” with all the participants’ input and that the input has had all the appropriate approval, he said.