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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Flashback 1980 - Mini-computers were anything but small


 Retrospective - Part 2 of a 4 part series
(for Part 1 click HERE)

The year was 1980 and the major manufacturers of computers had already started on their mission to change the world and make our lives easier by bringing them down in price and in size to be practical for small businesses.  Well, change the world they did - at least my world.   

(The jury is still out on the “making our lives easier” bit, or at minimum giving us more time, as I sit here at 1225am on a Friday night writing my blog). 

I had taken a job with a company that sold accounting systems, quite literally without ever seeing even a demo of what it could do.  But I did understand the problem that it solved and that made all the difference in being able to embrace the task at hand.

Data General
Nova 3
Armed with a large three-ring binder that was the Operating Manual for the system, I set out from Milwaukee to Chicago on Amtrak 3 days a week to try to sell my wares. 

When one of my clients wanted to actually see a demo, I had to arrange a trip for the three of them (and me), to go to Denver.  I decided to go out three days early to learn a little bit more about the system before the prospects arrived.  I must have learned well, because the owners asked me to move to Denver and head up implementation.  To be fair, I should tell you that I was actually the first full time employee, after Marcy, who was the receptionist, answering client questions as our help desk.  

I traveled around the country Monday through Friday, converting agencies quite literally from a shoebox full of receipts and a box of invoices, to a state of the art accounting system running on a Data General Nova 3 computer that resembled a large refrigerator.   

If the ICOT terminal in the Whitefish Bay agency was the Jetsons, this was 2001 Space Odyssey.  It had flashing lights on the front that flickered whenever you posted cash receipts or requested that it print a check.  All it needed was a voice like HAL 9000 and a protagonist named Dave.

The system, known as Travelink, could even print out the “adding machine tape” of tickets to report to ARC.  Invoices and statements were a breeze and it could even remind you of the dates for deposits and final payments on tours, groups and for cruises.     
The amazing thing is that the entire program fit on a 10 megabyte hard disk pack that was bigger than an extra large Dominos pizza and about 3 inches thick.  
I still remember carrying it through airports (that’s right, there were no security checkpoints with xray machines) and putting it in the overhead when I went to an agency for the first time, or if we needed to take an upgrade to them.   


Once I had installed all the systems that had been sold, I magically became the VP of Sales.  We then hired Suzanne to replace me in installations.  She was employee number three. 

Within a year, we had doubled our account base and at a trade show, I was next to the Agency Data Systems booth, talking to Jim, the VP of Sales and Service.  He offered me a job.  Within a month, I was in Tampa, Florida for training on ADS.  Within a few weeks, American Airlines had acquired the company and I found myself moving to Dallas, Texas. 

The year was 1982.  By this time, most agencies had one of the Central Reservation Systems (CRS) sold by United, Delta, American, TWA or Eastern and many actually had three dedicated printers, one for tickets, one for invoices and one for boarding passes.  Some agencies actually had multiple CRS terminals side by side on their desk, often to service new corporate clients that used a system other than their primary system. 

The CRS (aka GDS) groups eventually spun out of the airlines as separate divisions and of course later became known as GDS companies.  Their new moniker (Global Distribution Systems) came from the international expansion of their parents.   In many cases, the “child” became more profitable and valuable than their airline parents, many of whom filed for bankruptcy or who were acquired.   

By 1990, the GDS systems now contained the inventory of not only the host airline and its close marketing partners, but all of the systems included hundreds of airlines globally and also had hotels and car rentals and were adding new types of inventory every day, including tour companies and cruise lines.  If a supplier wanted to reach the 50,000+ travel agencies worldwide that made up the various GDS company networks, GDS participation became a business imperative. 

We now had consolidated, comparative shopping across travel suppliers in multiple categories, easy to read invoices, tickets and boarding passes (yes, you could still issue advance boarding passes then) and the information that was fed to the accounting system was consistent with what was in the PNR and if the agent did their job, it was complete and relatively clean.  



There were still some bookings that took place by phone or the new FAX technology, but it became commonplace to record these manual bookings in the Passenger Name Record (PNR) with a passive segment (GK), so that the agent could produce a complete, consolidated itinerary and could ticket the manual segments.  This also allowed us to have everything in the back office systems for reporting and accounting purposes. 

I missed the simplicity of my days at Bay Travel, but had to admit that the addition of technology to the equation had indeed made life easier.   

By the mid-80s, the refrigerators had been replaced with smaller, micro-computers that could sit on a desktop and since Sabre had by then fully "adopted" the ADS group, we were able to launch an industry first called Sabre Two-Way™, where you could use the accounting system terminal to switch over to Sabre, which meant that the bookkeeper could retrieve PNRS and actually do the research themselves and cleanse the data that was incomplete in the PNR.  

Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles.  

God was smiling and all was right with the world.  

But wait, down the hall and around the corner, Terry Jones and his team were cooking up new products that ran on Prodigy and CompuServe and they actually put EAASYSabre (which was anything but) and Commercial Sabre in the hands of consumers and corporate travelers.  

The revolution was about to begin.  Man your battle stations.  

Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog, number 3 in the series.   The title will be a line from my favorite movie, In Harm's Way with John Wayne.  Danger was imminent.   "This is not a drill.  This is not a drill". 

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