This query comes from an old database manager from the 80's when multidimensional, relation databases were new products.
What happened to computing? In the early 80's DOS-based PC's were just starting to hook up to mainframes and the mini computer revolution had come and gone. New software and incredibly fast hardware in new IBM PC's was advancing the knowledge base of people, particularly in businesses, at phenomenal rates using unprecedented amounts of data, but also saving lots of time.
My phone now has significantly more processing power than any of those IBM PC's and probably more than the mainframes, yet so much of the world's hardware/software combinations are so slow and complex, productivity is going backwards. What happened?
I remember a job I was given at a large company in the early to mid eighties that had tens of thousands of customers, hundreds of sales reps, hundreds of products and numerous States. My job was to produce a monthly report for the Board of Directors using information from Mainframes, portable sales systems on trucks & vans uploaded to depots, data from hand held POS devices from Reps, Apple and Mac computers from the Research & Development guys etc etc. I was told it would take 28 days each month to the complete the report,and it did. consequently, Board meetings always discussed 'last months' data. I thought this ridiculous and life was way too short to spend every day of every month gathering data from all of these disparate systems that never talked to one another. I would stay up all night running execution files on terminals all over the building, then getting floppy disks from the scientists one week, from the State offices the next etc etc. Crazy. I then came across a new DOS based PC software package called pcEXPRESS, owned by Information Resources (later known as IRI) but later purchased by Oracle, apparently morphing into "Personal Express". It was a database and it summarised data - exactly what I had to do for 28 days every month - only this could produce the reports within hours - and it did. The problems was, it still took me 25 days or so to key in all of the relevant data from all these disparate systems all over the company, located all over the country!
Fortunately, persistence (and plenty of sledge hammers!) paid off and we able to connect all of these disparate systems physically - DOS-based PC's with Mainframes with Apple PC's etc and within a few months, the database would be updated each month in a matter of hours. All I had to do was chase the humans down the line to make sure they did their jobs on time and made sure the data was both timely and accurate.
Before you knew it, Board reports took half a day, not 28, which left me half a day to drink cocktails on the harbour and another 27 days to work out how we could use multidimensional, relational databases to generate a huge competitive advantage. And we did. The intelligence we garnered was incredible. I was promoted, given an almost unlimited expense account, staff, travelled the world attending user conferences and a whole new way of life.
30 odd years later I wonder what happened to computing? I now own and run a small business and have to operate in a world of never-ending and ever-changing compliance regulations - accounting, payroll, superannuation, sales reporting, taxation, the list goes on. There is no time left in an average day and so I look toward technology thinking "what happened?" I would love help with our payroll software; it's dumb. Our accounting software is laborious at best and outright frustrating when things are going well. What happened to technology? Why am I still working 13 hours a day, seven days a week 30 years later????
I guess this is a long winded background, so my question to the old guys and gals on this forum is "What happened to pcEXPRESS and it's offspring? It was simple, efficient logic that appears to have suffered the same demise of other pre-Windows packages like Harvard graphic, Lotus 123 and Wordperfect. The never ending pursuit of GUI and the stifling dominance of MS might have also killed off simple databases?. Anyone know much about this?
Is Personal Express still really simple to use, even for an old Business Intelligence dude like me? Do I still have time to go out and save the world and still enjoy cocktails on a beach by 3.30pm?
If you are unsure of how pcEXPRESS worked, it had simple commands to mine the data - using it's relational structure to save lots of time and it's multi-dimensional nature to expand or contract as required.
By way of example, lets imagine a company with:-
A. 260 products - then classified into 8 categories (eg: potato chips, corns chips etc), 6 Manufacturing facilities, but also into 12 brands (already a 4 dimensional array of data).
B. Days of the week - then totaled by week (7), month (28-31), year (354-5)etc
C: 35,000 Customers - then classified into Rep area, manager area, State, Customer Type (Supermarket, Route or Vending), town, sales region, etc.
I've probably long forgotten other "dimensions" we used, but it quickly became a large database. The beauty of pcEXPRESS was it's simplicity and ability to calculate quickly based on the mining of the data. For example, if the database contains sales information for 3 years but you want yesterdays sales total only, it only has to calculate on a mere fraction of the database (1 divide by 365 x 3). If I wanted to know the sales from a particular Rep for a particular product sold thru a particular retail group over a certain period (eg: he was conducting a trade promotion with that customer group) it was pretty easy.
The (one off) query would have the following syntax:
Limit Region to Victoria West
Limit Rep to michael jones
Limit Category to Corn Chips
Limit month to April to june
limit year to 2012
This simplicity wold be perfect for voice controlled data queries.
Results were almost immediate. Nothing complicated.
If I made a "limit" command, the database query was immediately reduced to that size of that dimension, so if I said "limit category to Corn Chips", everything I did thereafter only concerned corn chips, If I typed "total sales" it would add every single corn chip sale and give me the dollar total. If I typed "total units" it would report the number of corner chip products sold. If I wanted to clear all limits and return to the entire database, I typed "limit data to all." It was pretty easy, really quick and very reliable. There was no complicated syntax, nor hard to remember 'controls' like "<" or "&" etc. It was all English.
Nowadays, databases are used all over the place but they all seem to be so "dumb"! I use Accounting software and it seems to take forever to load, When I am using the Payroll section, I select an employee but instead of limiting pay rates only to the award applicable to that employee, it shows everything; every employee's possible pay rate, in a time consuming drop-down box Why???. Ugghh, slow, time consuming. Ditto if I want to key in a sales receipt - once I select a product type, I should only ever see the tax rates applicable to that type of product, but no, you have to choose from a long list every time. Ditto this, ditto that. There are no relationships set up - all software seems really dumb now, making life more complex and far more time consuming than it should be.
Computing now encroaches on almost every hour of our lives and for some people it's much more than that. Watches are now computers, so too phones, fridges, cars and pretty much everything else in between. Computing is very "pretty" now - try to read a news article and a video is forced down your throat whether you want it or not, graphics are incredible, but for some reason, the programs that were meant to give us shorter working days have lost the plot. What happened?
Are databases still nice and quick and simple to use like they once were?