Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself!
Having recently been involved in a major console automation implementation at Federal Express in Memphis, I felt that it would be appropriate to share our experiences with the user community while in Toronto at the TPF User Group Conference. During the course of the presentation, and in conversations I had with several people from different TPF installations, I couldn't help but get the feeling that the biggest obstacle to console automation is fear.
Our efforts at Federal Express were driven by the need to solve many of the problems we all experience: lack of inter-departmental communications, effective stream lining of both online and offline procedures, reduction of operator intervention, and elimination of human error. What better way to address these issues than with automation. Setting our sights admittedly high, our goal was to provide a prime CRAS platform which would not require any operator intervention at all - effectively, a "hands-off" operation.
Our choice for an automation platform was Diversified Data Resource's Automated Console Expert (ACE) facility. One person was dedicated full-time for 4 man-months, and produced approximately 400 procedures (ACE XPROCs) which were then subjected to over 300.000 test entries and commands to shake the bugs out. We went live with ACE on our TPF production system on March 20, 1994 and I don't mind saying that we pulled it all off without a hitch. As of this writing. we're 95% fully automated, and working diligently on the remaining 5%. Everything from tape switching to error processing to running utilities is automatic, and requires no keyboard input from an operator at all (yes, even full system capture and Recoup!). The big question now is why hasn't every TPF shop accomplished the same thing we have? With all of the automation platforms out there (and practically every shop has licensed one of the three on the market today), why the lack of console automation actually in use? I believe its fear.
The biggest problem shops seem to have is deciding who is going to do the work. While the suggestions run the spectrum from Operations to Coverage to Systems to the "PC Group", the strongest recommendation I can make is the following. Ideally, you want someone with some TPF operations experience, some knowledge of utility processing and exception (error) processing, and certainly someone with some programming background. But even more importantly, find someone that wants to do the job! The pre-req's just won't be enough if you assign the job to someone who doesn't have the desire to do it. Now that the easy part is out of the way, you have to face the politics of automation. It doesn't take a genius to realize that once you automate your TPF console, someone is going to have a hard time justifying the TPF Operator headcount, especially if you're aggressive in your automation efforts. Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of Operations management like console automation, and when their headcount has the potential to be reduced, they immediately go into coronary arrest.
With the experience and talent available at every TPF installation, finding the right person(s) to do the job shouldn't be a problem. As with anything new there is always a reluctance to leave the comfort and confines of existing procedures and organization. We all went through the move to XA architecture from TPF2.3, we've all graduated from dumb terminals to PC workstations on our desks, and in time, we're all going to automate our TPF consoles, because as in the past, the day will come when it is finally acknowledged that the cost savings resulting from fewer human errors, fewer manual keystrokes, fewer unplanned outages and quicker system recovery times will far outway any presumed sacrifice whether financial or political.
The bottom line kids, is that the effort to automate the TPF console is an investment that will pay for itself over and over again. Start with the right person. a copy of the OPRGUIDE, a copy of MESSAGES AND CODES, and a weeks worth of console logs from your prime CRAS and the possibilities are unlimited. There are hundreds of things out in the world we should all be afraid of but I assure you, console automation is not one of them!