There is an information revolution going on in
the business world currently. The crux of that revolution is that
control of information systems is passing into the hands of the
users of the information. For more than 35 years, business
information processing and control belonged to MIS departments in
their "glass houses." Two advances in technology in the
past 10 years have caused the balance of control to shift. The
first was the development of the personal computer (PC). The
second was the concept of shared data. Today we call this the
client-server environment that connects many users via local
communication networks. This new environment has provided users
with more control over what goes in and comes out of their systems
than ever before. As with all advances in technology there is
"no free lunch." No sooner had PCs and local area
networks begun to proliferate than new information system problems
appeared. Data were being kept in more than one place and were
inconsistent; data protection standards were weak or missing;
there was little validation of the quality of the data that was
being entered; and data were now fragmented over many host
These problems began to cause serious data
integrity problems as well as causing management to lose sight of
the big picture because the parts were not easily assembled to
reflect the needed view. The choices were clear: stop the
expansion of local control and return to centralized MIS shops or
find a way to maintain
control over the disparate pieces of the
business information systems and provide management with what is
needed for strategic decision making.
The Current Environment
If we think of traditional mainframe and mini
database environments, we think of having all the applications in
one place. That's a comforting thought. We also think of everyone
trying to access those data, often at the same time, and that can
effect system performance. Also, if the system develops a fault
and goes down, all the users are cut off from using the database.
Not a comforting thought (see Figure 1). Then there is the other
issue of two distinct databases that need to communicate with each
other. As an example we might think of the situation where design
engineering has constructed the bill of material and the drawings.
And those data reside in the Engineering database on machine X. In
the same company we have the material planners who need that data
to develop material plans. They are on machine Y. The problem and
solution seem obvious, but they're not.
It's not just that it's double the effort to
reenter data from another system into ours. We still must deal
with the accuracy problem of the second data entry, and the time
lag between the synchronization of the two databases. Also, if we
are transferring data electronically, is it timely, is it secured,
and is it accurate too? We can extend this example to Purchasing
and Accounts Payable, Order Entry and Master Scheduling, and of
course, Production and Cost Accounting. Often, all these pairs of
functions are on different machines and databases. In the past we
have hedged these problems by duplicating certain portions of one
database in the other. One example we are all familiar with is
having two vendor files. One for Purchasing and one for Accounts
We are well aware of the issue of trying to
keep those two databases in sync with each other.
Information system strategists began to explore
alternatives. There were several pieces to the puzzle that needed
to fit together in some sort of integrative fashion if progress
were to be made. The major ones were:
• a database that could keep track of itself when it
resided on more than one host.
• a database that would eliminate redundant data so that a
piece of information only appeared once.
• a set of tools that permitted both users and MIS to
maintain and manipulate the data in almost any manner they
• a method to enforce organizational policy and procedures
consistently with respect to business transactions.
How does the client-server environment overcome
these issues, and how does it lead to this new enterprise view?
The recipe: take one relational database, a user/operating
system interface, several display terminals, good application
software and local storage for each user. When you put all these
components together, it sounds and looks something like that
entity we call client-server.
To be Continued
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