ALCS - A Permanent Guest at Westin Hotels
by Ronald Rose
One thing that has always amazed me about articles in the data processing press is that they so often talk about systems that are "almost" installed in such glowing terms.An experienced migration manager might deduce that this is due to the well-established fact that most projects do not attain their intended price-performance goals. Therefore, just before cutover is frequently the only time when such positive articles can be written.
Well, today I bring you a story of another kind. This is a retrospective look at a migration that, after over a year of smooth cost-effective operation, can be honestly judged to have been a success.
It is a story of how a good business decision by Westin, based upon sound cost-benefit information, lead to a migration project which has reduced their ongoing costs, put their data processing destiny back within their own control, while at the same time increasing the number of improvements to their system that their end-user community enjoys.
While many of the stories we read deal with the apparent cost-benefits of outsourcing contracts, this tells of the opposite. After years of being "outsourced" to a vendor who was running their Westron Reservation system for them, Westin made the decision that the arrangement was cumbersome, expensive, and not as responsive to end-user needs as today's competitive hotel market requires. They decided to migrate the system from their vendor to their own computer facilities in Seattle, using Bedford Associates to assist in both project management and technical areas. Peter Hoefsmit, who led the migration project for Westin, later confirmed that the effort met all of it's intended goals, including cost. His and Westin's decision has been reaffirmed by the excellent results that Westin has had over the past year.
It's interesting to note that this is a successful case of what might be called "Insourcing". Many companies have outsourced their data processing departments for various short-term reasons, (e.g. to increase cash). Westin's success may be one instance of a trend that we may see more of in the 90's, as some companies choose to regain long-term control of their data processing facilities for strategic or competitive reasons.
Westin decided to port the original Westron application to ALCS for several reasons. While it could give them all the transaction rate performance they desired, it would also keep them closer to using standard system tools and thereby help them minimize ongoing system support staff and costs.
However, the decision to port to ALCS and migrate the system's location at the same time did pose some additional risks. Bedford and Westin examined the porting problem, and determined that the benefits of an ALCS conversion outweighed the risks. Bedford's Chris Hunt, one of the co-developers of ALCS, was a major contributor to the porting assessment, and subsequently to the actual conversion itself. The application was examined, and the porting task was assessed to be reasonable in scope. In retrospect it is now evident that the superior file error diagnostics provided during the testing of the application under ALCS actually improved the chance of the migration being a success.
Another element of risk was added by the conversion of their communications network to an international X.25 third-party solution from Sprint. This was an ambitious and innovative solution which was also led by Peter Hoefsmit. This successfully offloaded the network maintenance tasks to Sprint, thus helping Westin to reach its maintenance cost goals. Users have been satisfied with both network reliability and response times.
Careful testing was performed that involved dedicated work by end-user staff in the Westin home office in Seattle, as well as the tireless support of staff in their reservation center in Omaha. Repetitive stress tests and exhaustive application tests were performed to insure that the converted Westron environment and the new X.25 network was up to production standards.
The cutover went off without a hitch. After the cutover was completed, days were followed by weeks and then months of smooth system operation. The amount of uptime is typically an impressive 99.8%. For months when there are no system changes it isn't unusual to see 100% uptime.
The first few months after the cutover demonstrated the advantages of ALCS's diagnostic file information. Programmers were able to quickly isolate program bugs that had been present in the application code for years. "All the original discrepancies from the Westron application have been resolved" reports Helene Dahlander, Manager of Sales and Marketing Systems. "It is amazing how clean the system is now. That, in turn, has significantly reduced the amount of support required by our programmers in off-hours."
Though they readily admit that ALCS might not be the right solution for everybody, Dahlander believes more than ever that the migration was an unqualified success. "We have been very pleased with the results of our port to ALCS. We have all the transaction performance that we need, and believe that our support staff and application staff are smaller than we would have needed for the same results under TPF! We've been very pleased with the staff's productivity under ALCS vis a vis TPF. The stability of the operating system has been impressive, as our uptime statistics have indicated. The cutover to Version 2 was very smooth, and we are already exploiting some of the APPC features to do some Client-Server applications."
To best judge the effectiveness of a system migration one need usually only ask the end-users if their lives have improved or worsened since the cutover. In conversations with the users of the system over the last year, at both the Reservations Center in Omaha and at the Seattle home office, I have received consistently positive reports. They are pleased with the good response times, and the stability of the system, but most of all they are pleased with the increased rate of enhancements that they now enjoy.
So, in summary, Westin's ongoing costs have been lowered over that of the outsourced alternative they had been using. Their operational costs, and support staff costs have been minimized. The users are happier with a more responsive development cycle. And the programmers enjoy a more productive development environment. With results like these it appears that ALCS will be a permanent guest at Westin Hotels for quite some time to come.
Ron Rose is a Project Manager for Bedford Associates, who has managed migrations for Westin, NYCPD, and EVA Airways. He is currently involved in High Volume OLTP Client-Server work on Open Systems environments.