17 August 2013

Deke at Dorset County Council

I was not intending to do any own-trumpet blowing but a story on Facebook about the musician Deke Leonard reminded me of the days in the 1980s when I worked at Dorset County Council (DCC) and led a team developing an information retrieval package called "Deke".

When I started work at DCC as a Trainee Programme in 1978 they were using a ICL 1904 mainframe running George. Cobol was the main programming language with some stuff written in a lower-level language called PLAN. FILETAB was used to do quick and simple reports, often once-offs.

Soon after I joined, DCC moved on to a ICL 2900 under VME/B. We still used Cobol but there was no equivalent to FILETAB; so we wrote one. I was the main designer and led a small team of developers that included, at various times, Alan Fowler, Martin McMeeken, Steve Crook, Chris Whitley and Vince Pomagalski.

To submit a query in Deke, users completed a few easy screens, e.g. select "rateable value > £500" and "district = Purbeck", print "address" and "rateable value" and sort by "rateable value". This generated a Cobol programme to run the query.

The whole point was to make it easy and we boasted of never having to train anybody in how to use it. They key was to use terms like "rateable value" and "rv" that users were familiar with and to build the query in a few simple screens.

To provide this level of simplicity for users we had to do some work up-front to define each of the files to Deke. This took around half a day even for an application that had several related files. Once set-up this way there was nothing else that we needed to do and the users could generate reports and queries to the hearts' content.

We developed Deke for in-house use and we started to promote it to other organisations when we realised that other people moving to ICL 2900 would have the same problem. This was a few years before Query Master and Report Master appeared.

Prompted by the other reference to Deke, I did a quick search for "deke dorset county council" and found these two extracts from BIIRISA the Newsletter of the British Urban, and Regional Information Systems Association.

BIIRISA 62, February 1984

Operating STRATPLAN consists of two distinct ,stages :-
(i) Data entry and maintenance, using up to five standard data entry VDU screen displays (including a menu screen);
(ii) Data retrieval and analysis using the DEKE inquiry package.
DEKE is a powerful but very easy to use general inquiry programme generator which has been developed by Dorset County Council.*
••• DEKE is available for ICL 2900 series machines running under the VME operating system. For further details write to : County Treasurer, Dorset County Council, County Hall, Dorchester DTI 1XJ, or telephone Ridiard Goodridge on (0305) 63131, ext. 4078.

BIIRISA 78, May 1987
File interrogation will be via Dorset' s DEKE report. writing package. This is not only exceptionally easy to use, but also is already familiar to a wide spectrum of administrative staff in the Colleges.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous17 June, 2014

    Interesting! DEKE is still going in the wider world, perhaps proof of its ease of use.

    ReplyDelete

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