Knitworking clients seek integrators

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 05/89 item 01 - scanned

Ten years ago, after 14 years in 'real' computing, I moved into the personal computer business. Little did I guess that it would eventually lead back to where I came from the world of corporate computing systems. The difference is that instead of building systems from the centre outwards, many companies face the problem of integrating autonomous users back into the company DP structures.

IBM announced its intentions in this respect with Systems Application Architecture (SAA). This cosy arrangement is supposed to present a common front to users regardless of whether the system behind the screen is OS/2, MVS (Multiple Virtual Storage), VM (Virtual Machine) or OS/400. IBM has recently announced Officevision, its first major SAA application suite.

The OS/2 version of Officevision contains such goodies as electronic mail, address book, correspondence processing, calendar and decision support tools. By the second or third quarter of next year, it will also be providing an 'application platform', to enable third party products to be integrated into the Officevision environment.

IBM has made its move towards sewing together (or do I mean stitching up?) all its different users.

Esther Dyson was recently in the UK to promote the wonders of 'Groupware' for Lotus Development. Lotus doesn't much care for the term Groupware, it prefers the long-winded 'Group Information Management' software. I've taken to calling this Grimware.

Anyway, Grimware looks like a jolly good wheeze for tying together the participants in administrative workgroups. Various types of Grimware exist or will shortly be announced. They all offer to take over the management of the information flow between members of a workgroup. For example, a product designer might pass specifications on to the costing people.

Someone in marketing would then suggest a retail pricing strategy and pass this to the managing director for approval.

For Grimware to work, all the individuals involved will need some sort of PC or workstation and access to other workgroup members, probably over a network.

We keep hearing that the year of the network has arrived and, if you look at the above examples, you might think this is true. The truth, though, is that the full flowering of Grimware and Officevision is probably a way off. But one thing about both of them already bothers me. As far as I can tell, neither Grimware nor Officevision makes any allowance for mixed networks.

In the case of Officevision, we're clearly talking about IBM systems and, possibly, some compatibles. IBM harumps and mumbles when Apple is mentioned. It is clearly reluctant to even admit that it is in the same market. Grimware is being written for either PC networks or Macintosh networks but not, it seems, for a product mix.

Grimware and, no doubt, Officevision have been designed to sell lots and lots of PCs and workstations. After all, if the participants in these wonderful systems have no access to a computer, they can't improve their productivity. The problem is that the users' choice of computer would appear more restricted.

To fully participate in Officevision, they'd have to have an IBM machine or a close copy. To fully participate in a Grim environment, they'll have to have a machine compatible with the driving Grimware.

All this presents an opportunity for software developers and value added resellers. No-one wants to throw away their investment in hardware, software, information and training, so your prospects will listen to anyone who offers to integrate existing systems into a new network. If they already have a mixture of machines, they will be even more interested in software products like Omnis 5 or some cross-platform Grimware.

To differentiate the integration service and the cross-platform software from their more traditional relatives, and to stress the underlying purpose, perhaps we could call them 'Knitworking' and 'Knitware'.