History of the Division of Computer Services (circa 1972)

The University of Wyoming, being the only four-year educational institution in the state of Wyoming, is charged with the responsibility of providing a quality education to the students of the state. At its founding in 1887, education was emphasized as a civilizing influence in a vast and wild region. This emphasis has continued to the present. Fifty-five percent of the seniors graduating from high schools throughout the state seek a college education. Of these, fifty percent attend the University of Wyoming.

The University's primary goal is to provide quality education in agriculture, arts and sciences, commerce and industry, engineering, law, nursing, and pharmacy. In line with this policy, the University currently supports forty-seven programs leading to a master's degree and twenty-one leading to a doctoral degree. Since 1959 the Computer Center has existed as a fundamental part in support of this goal.

In 1959 the University obtained, through an NSF grant, a Bendix G-15. This computer was used in some computer oriented courses and by some faculty in support of their research. It was operated in an open-shop environment and scheduled by means of a sign-up sheet. Within two years it was difficult to find space on the sign-up sheet so the University purchased, with its own funds, an IBM 1620. This machine was also operated in an open-shop environment and scheduled by means of a sign-up sheet.

By 1964, both of these computers were scheduled almost 24 hours a day and seven days a week. It also was becoming obvious that research needs in various fields and some instructional needs were beginning to outgrow these small computers. By using funds from another NSF grant and matching these with University funds, a large-scale second-generation digital computer system was purchased. This system consisted of a Philco 2000, model 211, 32K words of 48-bit-word core memory, 10 magnetic tape drives, a 1000 line per minute printer, a 125 card per minute punch, a paper tape reader and punch, and a digital plotter. At this time, since most of the available funds were used to purchase this system, the decision was made to provide in-house maintenance for that hardware and thus circumvent a costly maintenance contract. Over the next three years a maintenance crew of three highly motivated people were hired and trained to provide round-the-clock maintenance. It is obvious that the emphasis, at this time, was placed on hardware as the rest of the staff consisted of the director, a secretary, two graduate assistants and several machine operators. This system was operated in a strictly closed-shop environment.

It was at this time that the policy was originated whereby no contract programming would be done by the staff of the computer center. The reasons behind this policy were two-fold. At the time, the staff was so limited that this kind of work could not be carried out on a demand basis. The second reason is much more philosophical. It was felt that if contract programming was provided, it would be analogous to giving a crutch to an otherwise healthy person and thus keeping him from learning to walk. This decision has born sweet fruit. There is currently wide-spread use of computing facilities throughout the campus and expertise in programming has been discovered in very unusual corners. An example of the unusual places was the use several years ago of the system by a doctoral candidate in physical education. This individual did the analysis, design, and programming of his problem, by himself, with only a minimum amount of help from the staff of the computer center.

In 1968 the University administration decided to combine the Division of Data Processing, a division which existed to serve the data handling needs of the University's administration, with the Computer Center and form the Division of Computer Services, administered by a director with to assistant directors. These assistant directors were to have separate responsibilities in the academic area and the administrative area respectively.

To aid in the administration of such a broad-based function, the Faculty Senate, in the fall of 1969, reorganized the already-existing advisory committee and set forth its responsibilities. The committee is composed of six faculty members, each representing a user college and each individually possessing expertise in one or more areas of computer science. Further, there are four ex-officio members assigned to the committee by the administration including the Director of Computer Services, the Registrar, the Director of Finance and Budget, and the Director of the Library. The Senate outlined the committee's function as follows:

  • The Committee shall act in an advisory capacity regarding priorities in the purchase of computers, computer systems and data processing equipment, and the efficient operation of a computer system for the University. It shall recommend Senate policies which insure the equitable use of computer services. In addition, it shall correlate academic needs, data processing, and University research needs. The long range goals of computer services and computer science shall be established and continually reviewed.

At the time of the merger, the Division of Data Processing was using a leased IBM 1401 system. This system was only being used about six hours per day to handle payroll, student records, registration, etc. Because of this light administrative load and because of the heavy academic load which was now placed on the Philco system, plans were formulated to purchase a third genera- tion, general-purpose time-sharing system, terminate the lease on the 1401, and in a smooth fashion shift both the administrative work and the academic work to the new system.

In order to begin this shift to a time-sharing system as quickly as possible, a Xerox Sigma 5 was purchased with non-legislative University funds. The Sigma 5 was chosen since it would provide direct upgrade to a Sigma 7 which was the computer of choice indicated by a previous evaluation study. The Sigma 7 was to be purchased by trading in the Sigma 5 and using funds obtained from an NSF grant for the remainder of the cost. The Sigma 5 acquisition allowed the implementation of a student registration system as well as a year of time- sharing experience before the funding from the NSF was made available. The grant was received on August 3, 1970 and the order for the Sigma 7 was then placed.

One month prior to this the Division of Computer Services consolidated its operations from two centers, one in the basement of the Commerce and Industry Building and the other in the basement of Old Main, to the basement of the recently completed Biological Science Building of the G. D. Humphrey Science Center. Within three months all administrative work had been shifted to the new system. On February 1, 1972, the Philco system was finally turned off, thus completing the shift of all computing to the Sigma 7.

Feeling that the University would be best served by providing the largest possible computer system for the minimum number of dollars, a great deal of hardware was added to the Sigma 7 by the staff of the Division of Computer Services. These pieces of hardware included two IBM 1403 chain printers, two high speed card readers, a card punch and a memory map. It is estimated that this hardware has saved the University close to $100,000.

The staff of the Division has changed character along with the hardware. The Division is currently staffed with a director, two assistant directors, an operations manager who schedules the production work and manages the operation of the facility, two secretaries, four programmers whose responsibi- lities lie in the maintenance of the system software and systems programming, four programmers whose main responsibilities lie in servicing the administrative needs of the University, three people who are employed to aid the users in the University with programming, debugging, and general consultation, six operators, five keypunch operators, and three maintenance engineers. This makes a total of thirty-one full-time employees. This level of staffing is thought to be sufficient for the type of work carried out at the present time. It is well to point out that some might think that the two programming staffs are somewhat small. We feel, however, that a small group of very dedi- cated, very talented people are far more productive than a larger group of average programmers. We feel our programmers are both very dedicated and very talented.

Services Supplied to Academic Users

Since 1959 when the Bendix G-15 was purchased, the University has maintained the policy that use of computing facilities shall be handled like the use of a library and shall be free to all users. To ration the resource, an allocation committee composed of the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dean of the Graduate School, Chairman of the Computer Advisory Committee, and the Director of Computer Services allocates time to the dean of each college using the computer. A new software processor called SUPER has been programmed to facilitate the management of computer time after it has been allocated. Each account manager can interactively create or delete passwords, account, and account privileges (run time/job, etc.). In addition the account manager has report facilities so he can determine accumulated usage for each account. There is a three-tiered structure of account managers at the university, college, and department levels.

The significant thing about this process is that the control of the academic portion of the computer resource has been put entirely in the hands of the academic community. This community takes a lively interest in managing their portion of the resource. Typically, an interested and knowledgeable faculty member will manage a departmental allocation. A dean will usually form a college committee to advise him on the allocation of his resource to the various departments, the setting up of college reserves, etc.

One of the most gratifying results of the above procedure is that computer time is no longer thought of as "free". Everyone is well aware that it is a limited resource and treats it accordingly even though there is no hourly charge.

There are four IBM 029 keypunches and an IBM 085 card sorter provided, at the Computer Center, for use by students and faculty. A complete set or pertinent manuals is also provided and kept updated for reference during times when users may not have access to their own. As indicated above, three people are available to do almost as much "hand-holding" as necessary to allow the users to complete their work. Contract programming is still not done although these consultants sometimes write small special purpose routines which may require more sophistication than the user has.

The academic part of the Division also has the responsibility to provide those changes to the operating system which will make the facility more res- ponsive to use. An example of this was the recent introduction of SUPER. Another example, which will make the facility more responsive by cutting down turn-around time of user jobs, is the planned installation of a card reader and printer which can be operated by the users. This change has, of course, required many changes to both the hardware and the software monitor.

The Division of Computer Services acts as a service organization to the academic users in the community. Within the scope of personal commitments and available funds, every attempt is made to make the use of the computer educational as well as fruitful. Seminars are scheduled when the need arises, a monthly publication containing useful information is produced and circulated, an automatic answering message phone is updated at regular inter- vals to contain timely information on the status of current daily processing and greeting messages appear at log-on to inform time-sharing users of current schedules.

Services Supplied to Administrative Users

Administrative computing at the University of Wyoming includes all of those processes which are done on the computers at the Computer Center in support of the University administration. Services are provided for more than 30 offices around campus and involves over 640 programs. The systems are presently all batch although plans are being made for installation of on- line services and an experiment involving an on-line financial expenditure system has recently been completed. There are five keypunchers, four analyst/ programmers, and the assistant director assigned to the administrative data processing activity employed on a full-time basis.

The keypunch section operates one staggered shift per day for five days each week. They do all the data preparation for the administrative processes. Input to this section includes documents prepared by many different offices on a wide variety of forms. All data is punched and verified. This group also services the staff of the Computer Services Division and the student and faculty on a time-available basis. In use are two IBM 029 keypunches and three IBM 129 keypunch/verify machines.

The analyst/programmers are responsible for maintenance and modification of all existing application programs as well as the systems analysis, design, programming, and debugging of all new systems. They also assist the operations staff in setting up and running the daily production work. With a staff this small it is desirable to keep maintenance at a minimum and it is necessary to schedule project activity on a priority basis.

Mandatory maintenance is usually done immediately whereas optional maintenance is scheduled. At any point in time there is a work backlog of 15-25 projects. Some of the backlogged tasks require a day or two to accomplish whereas others would need several months or longer. Priorities are determined by the Assistant Director after considering such factors as staff availability, skills required, size of the job, and impact upon the University office being served. Conversation with the parties involved usually help to make sure all the relevant factors have been considered.

All major systems use the Xerox Sigma 7 computer and utility processes are run on the IBM 1401. The principal programming language is COBOL al- though some work is done in Fortran and avery small amount of Meta Symbol. A primitive report generator/file management software package called MANAGE has been used extensively.

Recent developments have led the staff to adopt a new method of programming called "modularization". This technique reduces the time needed to write and debug programs, it lends itself to reduced maintenance, fewer errors are made, and modifications are easier. Modularization will be used on all future, major systems programming. A summary of the programs supported for each office follows:

Office MANAGE COBOL OTHER
Accounting and Budget 42 13 88
Admissions 22 -- --
Adult Education Broadcast Services 1 -- --
Adult Education Correspondence School -- -- 2
Agriculture Experimental Station -- -- 1
Alumni Association 1 -- 2
College of Arts and Sciences 2 -- 2
ASUW 5 3 2
Bureau of Mines -- -- 4
Campus Police 6 1 1
College of Commerce and Industry 1 1 --
Communications 2 2 1
Computer Services 1 -- 45
Counseling and Testing 1 1 2
Credit Union 2 -- 1
College of Education 2 -- --
College of Engineering -- -- 1
Faculty Senate -- 1 1
FFA -- 1 1
Graduate School 3 -- --
Housing -- -- 7
Library - Rare Books 13 -- --
Payroll 24 8 7
Personnel 35 -- --
Registrar 176 17 23
Student Financial Aids 4 8 4
Student Health 31 -- --
Summer School -- -- 2
University Statistician 10 1 --
Wyoming Higher Education Council -- -- 1
TOTALS 384 55 201

From 1962 through 1972 the University enrollment, number of faculty, and number of staff have each approximately doubled. During the same period the number of staff involved with administrative data processing has also doubled while many colleges and universities were expanding administrative services by four- or even five-fold. Generally personnel costs increase at an annual rate of between 12% and 15% whereas computing costs go up only 7%. Although automation rarely reduces staff size it can contribute significantly to controlled growth, long-range const reductions, and quality improvements in services. Our rather slow movement into administrative automation has prevented realization of these advantages.

However modest past efforts have been, the installation of the Xerox Sigma 7 computer and the recruiting and training of a permanent processional staff skilled in administrative processes has signalled a new era in adminis- trative data processing. With a large backlog of work to be done and a small but competent staff to do the work, considerable attention is being paid to improved productivity and elimination of re-work. Systems analysis and design are becoming responsive to the benefits of standardization and integration. Techniques and structures are being used which are particularly well-suited to accommodate change as the environments in which the systems operate change. By eliminating inflexibility and planning for change the amount of effort needed will be reduced, leaving more time for programming on new systems and services.

The short-range goal is to provide an increased number of support services to the University administrative community. Reduction of the backlog and extension of services to a wider constituency are of major importance. Coupled with these quantity goals are longer-range objectives to improve the quality of support and enable the administrative offices to realize quality improvements in their activities as well. There is a close relationship between these quantity and quality goals. By building systems based upon sound principles (quality) staff saturation can be avoided and permit realization of backlog reduction (quantity).

The notion of quality improvement extends beyond system design improvements, however. Beyond the systems which support daily operations are those which facilitate planning, analysis, and decision-making. Better, more relevant data in the hands of a competent administrator strengthens the entire University. The administrative data processing staff seeks to reduce the energy expended in solving the problems of the future.

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