11 - Banff

Biographical notes

The reference in this chapter is to Banff in Alberta, Canada, rather than to the place with the same name in Scotland, although I assume the Canadian version was named after the Scottish version. It is in a most beautiful location in the Eastern section of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and has an altitude of around 4000 feet. It is surrounded by mountains, the closest being Mount Rundle, cuddling right up to the town, with a major ski hill a couple of miles away called Mount Norquay. It has a river running through it called the Bow River, which ambles along to Calgary and beyond.

Located there is the magnificent Banff Springs Hotel with a superb and scenic golf course, as well as the Hot Springs (where you can swim in an open air pool in Winter while at the same time icicles form on your head), and the Cave and Basin, which is a cave containing mineral springs. The railway goes through the town not far from the Cave, and the familiar "whoo, whoo" of the trains is often heard. Also there is the Banff School of Fine Arts, an internationally recognised venue for artists of all types, particularly in Summer, with a variety of studios for musicians and artists.

Attached to the latter is the Banff School of Advanced Management (BSAM), which is a Canadian attempt at the equivalent of the Harvard Business School. This is a venture with participation from the many Canadian Universities located West of the Great Lakes.

While I was located at the University of Manitoba I was distinctly surprised to receive an invitation to lecture at BSAM on my special subject of Information Systems. Apart from being a wonderful location, and a great honour to be asked, they also paid all expenses and a generous stipend along with it. The University were delighted to have me participate and so I agreed to go there for the two weeks of the six week course. I went there twice, once in the Fall of 1966, the second time a year later.

Participants are senior managers from Western Canadian businesses, with about ten percent of participants from overseas, the size of the group being between fifty and seventy, split in to four working groups. Each day is divided into a working session in the morning, recreational activities in the afternoon, and evening workshops. My own schedule usually included a walk part way up Mount Rundle before breakfast, morning lectures, an afternoon swim in the hot springs followed by a stroll or shopping, and then the evening workshops.

For the sessions I arranged for a remote entry terminal to be located at BSAM, attached over the telephone lines to the powerful University computer in Winnipeg (one of the early uses of such a connection). This was to try out the generalised concepts, which later led to GENETIX, in a working environment, and to see if the concepts were simple enough to be readily understood by working managers. This worked out well and established my idea's validity.

The topics of the lectures I gave were:

Week 1
  1. Computer hardware
  2. Assemblers, compilers and business data processing
  3. Control of Systems in an Organisation, the Broad Brush Systems Study
  4. Systems Implementation, the Detailed Systems Study
  5. What is a Data Bank, how is it created and used
  6. Management Information Systems
Week 2
  1. Generalised techniques of data handling
  2. Real time computer systems. Company networks and their economics
  3. Economics of computers
  4. Controlling and Auditing
  5. Organisational impact of computing now and shortly
  6. The future of computing

For the evening workshops the participants were divided into four groups. First I gave them a two evening introduction to the generalised software I had brought with me (the embryo of the future GENETIX) and then asked each group to develop a simple information system which they would then run with real data on the terminal that was located in Banff and attached to the Winnipeg based computer 850 miles away. A typical example of the systems they designed was to keep track of the Class bar profits, needing a small inventory file, a way of handling stock receipts and product sales, storage of cost price information, selling price, and profit if any.

After four evenings their embryonic systems were developed and they spent the balance of the evening workshops preparing data and running the system remotely from Banff into Winnipeg. In this time all four groups were able to get a working system, from which they learned the practical things that needed to be done by their staff when they asked their staff to prepare systems for the computer.

All the participants seemed to enjoy the exercise and I received many compliments, summed up in a bawdy poem they created (which I will not reproduce here). They in turn became familiar with the problems faced by many different organisations, as well as making lasting friendships through networking.

After I returned from Banff on the second visit I was approached by the publisher, Macmillan of Canada, to see if the notes I had generated for Banff might be expanded to a book. I showed them copies of the twelve lectures and they decided there was material for a book, which I then started to produce. It involved expanding the text and obtaining a number of illustration to accompany the text, with approvals for use of same from the originators of the illustrations.

The text itself was relatively easy to expand, as was the obtaining of illustrations. The most time consuming part was proof reading and the creation of the index, now always done by computer. Before it was published in Canada Macmillan approached publishers in the United States and MIT Press became interested. They appointed an editor who liked what he saw, but asked that I make a few changes. Shortly after making these changes the editor left the company and a new editor was appointed. After another review this editor decided that the company would not publish the book. At this point Macmillan approached Cahner's, who agreed to publish the book in the United States. Both books were essentially the same, with a variation in the cover. The title was Modern Data Processing for Management, the final publication being in 1973. Although several thousand copies were sold between the two countries, I did not make a great deal of money, but it did serve to enhance my reputation.

The course material developed for BSAM also served as the basis for the ten television programs I gave for the "University of the Air" series, referred to in a previous chapter.

I had decided that one book in a lifetime was sufficient, until I received pressure from several people to write of my experiences with computers from the day that there were only two in the world, leading to this series of biographical notes.

The material from Banff also served me well when I was asked to give a series on systems analysis with the Arthur Andersen consulting group in St Louis, Missouri. This again was part of a several week course being given by the consulting company to a group of Mothers General and Mothers Superior of the Roman Catholic Church.

My host at that time was Dr Irwin Jarett, whose PhD was in Accounting, and who later became Associate Dean of Medicine at Southern Illinois University, later still forming his own software company. When he sometime later offered Harvard a series of lectures on a management technique he had developed I was given as a reference. Harvard spent well over an hour on the telephone asking me for a detailed evaluation of Irwin's abilities, his lecturing skills etc. He was accepted for the series of lectures and was well received.

For the senior members of the Catholic Community I decided to follow the same format as in Banff, a series of lectures and then workshops. Again there were four workshop groups and again they developed simple systems. Two groups developed systems to keep track of novitiate training, one developed a simple property management system, the fourth group I think did an inventory system. Instead of hooking in to Winnipeg, however, we hooked in to the University in St. Louis, which had an IBM 360/50. Again they were successful in running their systems live on the University computer. At the end of the sessions the ladies gave us a delightful banquet, complete with wine and excellent deserts.

Three amusing incidents took place on that trip. I had arranged for one of my staff to fly from Winnipeg to St. Louis to install the generalised software. He flew down, met with the operators and successfully installed it. He then phoned me and asked what he should do and I said to come on back. A little later in the day the Head of the Computer Centre phoned to see when my staff member would be arriving to install the software. I said he had been, it worked and he was on his way home. It was highly unusual for software to work first time in those days and the people in St Louis shook their heads in utter disbelief. But this has been true of GENETIX since its beginnings.

The second amusing incident was in respect to Irwin and his wife Ronnie. Both were very prominent members of the Jewish Community in St. Louis. They had booked tickets for a performance of "Man of La Mancha", the story of Don Quixote. Irwin dropped Ronnie and me off at the theatre and went to park his car. While the two of us were standing in the foyer (Irwin had some difficulty parking his car) many members of the Jewish Community passed us with wondering and questioning eyes. On that same visit I went up the elevator of the huge arch that dominates St Louis, a rather claustrophobic experience.

The third amusing incident was when I apologised to the Mothers General and Mothers Superior that the response on the computer was so slow, and they couldn't understand why I apologised because to them it was very fast. In fact, using the 360/50 in St Louis, we were getting responses of about 2.8 seconds at the nuns' video terminals, whereas on our 360/65 system back home in Winnipeg it was about 2.2 seconds between screens. To me there was a significant time lag, but to the ladies it was almost instantaneous.