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Main portion of Report of a Preliminary Investigation of the Possibility of Using Computer Data Processing Methods (1968): a summary of the various parts of this report, and details of its contents (with links to the various parts), are provided separately
The UIA has been involved in detailed documentary work for the past 20 years. This period has seen the improvement in techniques for handling information, storing it and making it available in new forms for the benefit of a variety of users. During this period the UIA has continued to perform its documentation work in the traditional manual fashion, as accepted in libraries for the past 50 years.
This approach has led to increasing difficulties. The UIA is faced with the problems of the 'information explosion' in the field of international organization, just as other libraries and documentation centres have faced this problem in the field of physics, medicine, agriculture, etc. Not only has the volume of information increased, but the requirements of users have become more precise and increasingly go beyond the feasibility of answering questions under the present system of manual retrieval of information. In effect this means that the UIA is becoming less competent to meet the demands placed upon it by those requiring information on international organizations and related fields. The information is there, but it involves too much time and effort to make available to inquirers. Even in those cases where an inquirer is willing to finance an extensive survey, the allocation of a member of staff to such a task for a lengthy period is detrimental to other UIA activities from which he is taken.
There is an unfortunate result of inability to supply the information demanded in the field in which one has specialized, that is that other organizations with more efficient methods of storing and handling data will be created to fulfil such requirements. The UIA is therefore not in a position to quietly ignore those demands placed upon it but must look to methods of making its information processing more efficient in order to ensure its future development over the next 10 - 20 years.
There is another aspect to the installation of modern techniques of data handling. It is not sufficient to install the necessary equipment and hope that its activities will not be detrimental to the overall functioning of the organization. The equipment may perform perfectly, but if the information supplied to it is inadequate, or the results it supplies are not useable, then the organization will be even worse off. Furthermore,
if bottle-necks are created within the manual parts of the organization, due to the speed of operation of the machine, then the speed of data handling will remain the same. It is clear from these examples that the whole organization must be studied in detail in order to determine exactly what functions it should perform, what questions it should answer and in what proportion. This is necessary to be able to evaluate any proposed new internal system of organization in terms of the real objectives of the organization. If this is not done, the organization may find itself doing, for example, one particular job of relatively minor importance extremely well, whilst neglecting to develop the other programs of the organization. This would create a complete imbalance in the overall program to the disadvantage of the organization as a whole.
The UIA is aware of many of the possibilities of electronic data processing as illustrated by its use in commercial firms. It is also aware of some of the problems. There is, however, an almost complete lack of information on the application of computer methods by international nonprofit organizations with limited resources, particularly, as in the UIA's case, where the many complex questions of the new science of information storage and retrieval are concerned. This report is therefore designed to clarify the position and determine to what extent it is possible for an organization with similar resources to the UIA to employ computer methods to increase its efficiency.
The report first establishes the basic objectives of the UIA in order to ' enable the importance of each section of the information system to be assessed. The information system is then analysed to determine how and where data moves throughout the organization, both on the purely documentary side, and on the management, administration, sales and distribution side. A description is then given of computer systems which should be given further consideration once the objectives of the organization have been clarified.
According to available information, no other international non-profit organization has attempted to employ computer facilities. An important function of this report is to demonstrate to what extent a number of relatively small organizations can combine their data processing problems in order to make economic use of computer facilities. One section of the report is devoted to this topic, particularly with the intention of determining whether it would be feasible for the UIA to group together with member organizations of the FAIB in order to make use of a computer service bureau.
This point is considered both because of the possible cost advantage to the UIA and because of the UIA interest in ensuring that the maximum portion of funds, time and personnel is devoted to increasing the effectiveness of the programs of these organizations. Mechanization could help to liberate some of the resources currently employed on routine tasks to those which contribute more directly to furthering the objectives of each organization.
In order to be able to evaluate the elements of the current and planned information systems within the UIA, it is extremely important to know very precisely what the objectives of the organization are. It is not only the objectives in their stated form in the constitution of the organization which must be known, but also in their implicit form, as they work out into practice through the routine decision making procedures of management. It is very frequently the case that an organization assumes that it is accomplishing certain objectives when in fact the balance of its programs indicate that its achievements lie in a different area. The reason for this form of discrepancy is that the true objectives of the organization are not stated in sufficiently precise or practical terms so that they can be used as means for checking the validity of each policy decision.
If an objective stated in the constitution is not used explicitly in each management decision, then such objectives are too vague and general to be useful in that case. In order to make the decision more concrete, objectives must therefore be stated or assumed.
The stated objectives of the UIA are the following: 1. To promote the development of internation co-operation with special emphasis on international relations of a non-governmental character; 2. To assemble information on non-governmental international organizations, their meetings, their publications and their other activities; 3. To make such information available to all interested persons and ensure its distribution; 4. To effect research and issue publications on the common problems of international organizations; 5. To facilitate mutual relations between the latter; 6. To promote the sudy and better understanding of international organizations in schools and universities and by the general public;
In fulfilling its objects the UIA proposes to contribute to the development of international life and to efforts being made for peace."
These objectives pose no problem for decision making provided that the UIA has sufficient resources to carry out all these self-imposed tasks. A major difficulty arises once the UIA has to compromise between carrying out some of these objectives, for which no financial support is available, and others for which financial support is available. The organization then has to develop criteria for deciding between its stated objectives, and, for a given objective, between different programs which, contribute in different ways to the objective. A given information system, particularly one based on a computer, assists in the accomplishment of certain specific objectives. Extra features can be added to it to accomplish further objectives. Each new feature added to achieve more, increases the cost of setting up and operating the system.
Once the organization is forced to compromise between its stated objectives and financially feasible objectives, the latter must be stated clearly to enable a suitable information system to be designed. The need for such objectives is explored in the general analysis of the UIA and its environment given in Appendix I.
This analysis shows that the organization is faced with a number of problems, including competition in its documentation speciality, control of operations, personnel, sales and external relations. The conclusion is that the fundamental reason for these problems is the lack of specific objectives by which the organization can decide which programs to undertake. Because of this it cannot check whether it has undertaken the correct programs and performed them efficiently and effectively. There is no explicit statement indicating specifically which groups should directly benefit by the UIA's activities and how.
If these groups include international organizations, no methods of measuring the increasing utility of the UIA activities to these todies have been developed (e.g. number of letters of appreciation or criticism per year; number of demands for membership; number of contacts with the UIA initiated by such bodies; number of queries from them per year; etc.). The UIA in fact competes directly for financial resources with some of these bodies. Its value to them may in fact be decreasing from year to year as the number of specialized documentation centres increases.
If the groups which benefit by the UIA's activities are defined as "all interested persons", no method of splitting the latter into groups to analyse their respective contributions to the UIA's overall objective ("development of internation life...peace") has been developed. The interest of some of these groups in the documentation supplied may be of far less value (in terms of defined "results" for a given measure of UIA "effort") than that of others which the UIA should cultivate.
For the purpose of the following preliminary investigation into the feasibility of making use of computer techniques, it has been assumed that the organization merely wishes to perform its current data processing operations more efficiently. No attempt has been made to produce more precise objectives. This will have to be done, explicitly or implicitly, before the final computer systems are designed. If in addition, consideration is given to the competitive situation, certain documentary and research activities may need to be discarded. For example, can the UIA afford to answer all incoming questions on organizations and meetings and if not, which ones does it wish to discard or encourage. The basis for the latter decision must be defined clearly before designing any information retrieval system.
In addition, if the UIA does develop new detailed objectives, these may require a form of information system which has not been considered here. An example is the retrieval of information on national members of international organizations. No detailed consideration has been given to such possibilities.
The processing of information within the UIA can be divided into four information systems:
The general flow of information through the UIA is illustrated by Exhibit 1.
The detailed flow of information leading to the production of regular publications is illustrated in Exhibit 2 . The volume of information and the ordering of the information in the documentation files is listed in Exhibit 3.
To aid understanding of the general procedure, an account is given of the processing of data for the main types of publications. In Exhibit 4 and 4a the procedure by which the data for inclusion in the Yearbook of International Organizations is processed is itemized. In Exhibit 5 and 5a the processing of bibliographical data is itemized. In Exhibit 6 and 6a calendar data is itemized.
All filing and processing of data is done using manual methods. Most of the filing and processing retires experience of the nature and activities of a variety of international and national organizations, together with a basic knowledge of the rules of indexing. The work is done mainly in English and therefore it is difficult to delegate occasional routine tasks to the predominantly French speaking secretarial staff.
The main problems associated with the documentation system are: the time taken over repetitive tasks which cannot be delegated (e.g. filing and restructuring indexes); omissions and errors in manipulation of entries; duplication of files for different purposes (and the consequent problem of having to check information on a particular point in several files); the difficulty of organizing the procedure for questioning international organizations on a regular basis (due to lack of sufficient secretarial assistance and uncertainty about the adequacy of the addressograph plate system); the progressive increase in the volume of information which must be handled each year (which means, since the personnel and space for publication cannot be increased, that the criteria for selecting information must become progressively narrower to compensate for the increased volume). In addition, because of the rapid personnel turnover and the two year production cycle of the Yearbook of International Organizations, procedures have had to remain fluid from year to year.
The UIA produces its publications with an absolute minimum of editorial and printing costs. Unless the documentation information system is integrated with the retrieval system, any proposed system must be judged solely on a basis of comparative cost.
There is no definite procedure for retrieving information which has been recorded by the documentation system. Each case must be judged on its merits to determine the most efficient means of obtaining the desired result. The types and volume of queries are listed in Exhibit 12. The main problem with the retrieval system is that, as with the documentation system, it is necessary to allocate an experienced member of staff to the repetitive task of locating the information. This means that the person has to be taken away from other important tasks and therefore slows down general productivity.
Retrieval is normally a very slow process since the questions asked relate to data which has not been published or has not been published in the order in which it is desired. This means that a laborious manual check or survey has to be conducted through card or other files. These surveys generally involve a certain amount of judgment in deciding how a given item of data should be recorded. Data in the card files is not in an entirely consistent form. All published surveys must be done manually which is time consuming and gives rise to errors because judgment is not consistent.
The problems with the retrieval system mean that although the amount of information recorded is increasing, the capability of the UIA to reprocess that information for specific queries or even general surveys is decreasing. The UIA cannot allocate staff to retrieval problems and is therefore not fulfilling its role of answering questions on the variety of aspects of international relations which it has documented.
A mechanized solution to the retrieval of information is very difficult to evaluate unless data on current or planned queries (the volume of queries, how specific a question is to be answered, how quickly the answer must be given, how easily the system can be modified to cope with new questions) is available. A sophisticated system is an expensive waste if the volume and nature of queries do not make complete use of it. (A current example, known to the UIA, is the Food and Agriculture Organization storage and retrieval system which only receives 20 queries per day.) The UIA must balance the cost of the system against its return in pursuit of income and its return in pursuit of the non-profit motive of making available statistical data.
Sales and Distribution Information System
This system is primarily concerned with the processing of orders and payments for publications and with maintaining the address file by which both international organizations, regular clients, magazine and other subscribers, and prospective clients, can be contacted.
The types of data handled by this system are so numerous, or rather there are so many exceptions to simple oases, that only a summarized form of the flow of information can be conveniently illustrated (see Exhibit 7.).
To aid understanding of the general procedure, an itemized account is given of the sales and distribution files in Exhibit 8. The complexity of the address plate categories is illustrated by Exhibit 9. The procedures of the department are itemized in Exhibit 10. A summary of the volumes of data stored and modified is given in Exhibit 11.
The main problems in this system are that: the information stored on the past purchases of individual organizations or customers cannot be used effectively to stimulate future sales; coordination of the addressograph plate system with the data received on international organizations currently operates on a time-lag of six weeks for a change of address; it is very difficult to obtain sales statistics, especially by customer or publication group or for a given geographical area (which means that it is difficult to follow the sales of a particular publication or the success of a particular advertising campaign); the number of groups distinguished on the addressograph plates is so great that it is difficult to detect the nuances of colour on the indicators used (which leads to errors and omissions in mailings); the complexity of making invoices and receiving payments means that experienced personnel must be used for the most routine tasks.
Any mechanized solution to the above problems must be judged on the same criteria as in a commercial organization. The proposed system must, aside from routine operations, provide the maximum amount of information on customers and their purchases of individual publications for a minimum system set-up and operating cost. The balance between these two factors can only be decided by evaluating particular solutions repeatedly until a system is acceptable (for a discussion of the economics of information, see Emery, J.C., M8).Other Procedures/Systems
All other data is received by the UIA in such small quantities that it is treated individually and does not require card file or other special files to be kept. This includes the treatment of: social security, income tax, creditors, personnel payment, etc. These procedures will not be considered further.Exhibit 13. The discussion must, however, be biased in terms of the means and needs of the UIA.
Much confusion is currently created by the many techniques reported in the popular and technical press. These are often completely impractical for certain classes of organization. In order to give an extremely general idea of the equipment in use in relation to classical and non -- electronic techniques, Exhibit 14 has been produced. This shows, for a given number of data items (e.g. sales record, personnel record, customer record, etc.), and a given data 'activity' (e.g. number of calculations, number of records with which a given record must be correlated, frequency with which a given record is requested, etc.), the types of equipment which could be used. It must be emphasized that this Exhibit is extremely approximate and that each case has to be judged on its merits.
The approximate figures given for the monthly hiring cost of equipment reflect the current position in Brussels. With the changes and advances in the data processing field, particularly with the introduction of data net, remote access and time-sharing systems in the next 5 years, many of these prices will be considerably reduced.
A brief note on planned future developments in the computer and information industry is given in Exhibit 15.
The most important point which emerges from these probabl future developments is the influence of national data networks' decentralization and cheaper data processing on the UIA. International data networks will favour the decentralization of information storage until a request is made. This keeps the information where it is most likely to be required and where it is easiest to update. The crucial point for the future of the UIA is whether a commercial organization will find it profitable to prepare an equivalent tut more comprehensive Yearbook in this way, or whether such an international data network will still be dependent on a pre-centralization of information as performed by the UIA. Another possibility is that the UIA should link itself into such an international data network when it is created, and if it is financially possible to do so. It is impossible to define satisfactorily the effect which such a network will have, but it is clear that it will profoundly effect the policies, finance and activities of small information centres.
Three recent references were found to the use of computers by national non-profit organizations. The U.S.A. AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department Data Center offers computer services to member unions. The computer has been used for gathering and sorting information on labour contracts, analysing companies and mergers to provide data for negotiations, as well asprocessing of membership and subscription lists. Individual unions in the U.S.A. are also reported to be making independent use of computers,
including the communications workers, the united auto workers, the letter carriers, railroad trainmen, carpenters, typographical workers. For example, the U.S.A. national trade union called the International Association of Machinists is reported to have installed a $ 1.5 million computer in 1962 and has increasingly teen able to upgrade the effectiveness of its union operations by adapting the computer to more difficult tasks. Prior to installation of the computer, union membership lists were 18 months in arrears. With a total of 950,000 members and what amounted to 100 per cent annual turnover, it was then impossible to maintain effective contact through the headquarters office. Currently, 80,000 monthly changes in membership are processed within two days of receipt of the information, which enables the union to maintain contact by issuing a weekly newsletter. (see Adams, Alan, Ml).
The article, although it demonstrates that computers have been used effectively for membership societies does not illustrate whether computer services could be adapted to the UIA scale of operations.
The second reference was to a U.S.A trade association called the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society. This organization with a membership of 23,000, monthly journal mailing, subscription list maintenance, statistics (training course attendance, insurance, etc.), reports that it decided to lease classical data processing equipment (tabulator, card punch, sorter, collator). The decision was made to lease the equipment rather than use a service bureau because although the actual cost of service bureau operations was somewhat less than leasing, it was considered that for long range requirements, the cost of increased use of the service bureau would, then far outweigh the possible initial savings. A study of personnel involved with the new system revealed that there would not be as much reduction using the service bureau as there would in using leased equipment. After one year of operation the conclusion is that the equipment does not necessarily reduce costs. The labour costs plus the lease and operating costs are approximately equal to the former total labour costs. (see Stafford, Willis, M15).
It is clear from the article that the system was well adapted to control of a membership list. The system was not used for the processing required in the production of complex invoices, and its research uses were limited to an annual census.
The third article in the same magazine reports on the use of computer produced trend studies of industry changes as produced by trade associations. No details are given but it is stated that the cost of com. puter-oriented trend programs is generally within reach of national associations, or most larger state and local groups. The author of the article is the director of a firm which designs and manages computerized information systems and programs exclusively for non-profit trade associations. (see Tyson, Charles, M16).In London, the Institution of Electrical Engineers is planning a 1968 conference with the aid of computer techniques. Questionnaires on conference subject preferences have been analyzed to determine the most effective way of balancing the program.
These examples are only given to indicate that some non-profit organizations have made use of computer techniques. Whether an organization is profit or non-profit makes no difference in the design of a computer based information system. The purpose to which a given collection of data is to be put does not affect the techniques by which the arrangement should be prepared. The UIA can therefore make use of the multitude of techniques developed by computer manufacturers for commercial organizations and their data processing problems.
The problem which the organization faces is to ensure that the efficiency of each of the information systems is increased without the need for increased operating costs or a substantial investment of funds. This definition of the problem rules out a number of intermediate alternatives. Orders and mailings could be handed over to an organization which specializes in such procedures. This could not be approved because the UIA hopes at some stage to develop its administrative services to handle precisely this form of activity for other international organizations. In addition, the current low cost of this service to the UIA, together with the commercial profit required by the outside service organization, make it improbable that this course would lead to a more efficient service, plus increased sales information, for the same cost.
A second possibility is that the UIA should hire the necessary equipment to increase the efficiency of the routine operations, e.g. accounting machines, electrical addressograph, punched card equipment, etc. This course has not been considered, since the UIA could not make full use of the equipment. Without a complete and expensive compatible collection of units, the current data processing complexity could not be handled without creating manual bottle -- necks.
A third possibility is that the organization should take on extra personnel and improve the conventional manual systems. This course would require a complete change in the personnel policy and on the basis of the past history of personnel relations is not certain to lead to a satisfactory solution, despite the increase in costs.
A fourth possibility is that a remote access computer terminal should be installed to link up to a computer service bureau. This is currently quite impractical, since such terminals are only economical when used for short periods on complex calculations.
This analysis has therefore been restricted to the possibility of using either classical equipment, a card computer, or a third generation computer. In each case these have only been considered under the service bureau system of operation. A note on the use of service bureaus is given in Exhibit 16.
Each information system raises a different type of data processing problem. The most fundamental distinction is between the processing needed to produce the regular publications and the processing required during the normal commercial treatment of orders and subscriptions. The only common element between these two forms of processing is the collection of addresses of international organizations. This has to be kept up to date in both systems.
The production of the regular publications using computer typesetting techniques seems to be the only method of radically improving documentation efficiency. This is discussed below. The commercial problems are similar to those met by commercial organizations. Most of these problems have standard solutions. The definition and solution of these problems are discussed below.
The use of computer techniques to solve the publication production problem is closely related to the use of the stored data for research and retrieval of information for special studies.
Each of these problems could be treated separately or all UIA data could be handled by one integrated system. This question will be discussed further when solutions to the preliminary data processing problems in each section have been discussed.
A further complicating feature, or possibility, is that since the problems of handling orders, subscriptions, membership lists, mailing lists, etc. are common to many international non-profit organizations like the UIA, it might be possible to group this section of the work with that of other organizations. This would probably mean a complete split from the documentation work. This question is further discussed below.
Once the UIA can handle its mailing activities without undue strain on the organization, it is possible that computer techniques could be used to develop several new markets which could considerably increase the UIA income. One of these is the organization of international congresses (handling registrations, distribution of literature, reports, etc.). The other is the processing of orders for international meeting reports, to which the UIA is currently unable to devote any attention. These questions will not be discussed in detail. The above data processing problem areas have been summarized in Exhibit 17. The following sections deal with each problem in detail. To clarify the variety of possibilities requiring consideration, Exhibit 18 has been produced. This shows how the UIA can combine its publication production with research, treatment of semi-commercial problems, or in cooperation with other organizations, or any grouping of these four.
The UIA can choose to employ a system entirely for its own data processing, or it can decide to develop a system to be used by other organizations in a 'pool'. The member organizations of the FAIB would be the most obvious suitable candidates. This section is therefore divided into two parts. In the first part the UIA-only systems are discussed. In the second, the UIA-FAIB systems are discussed. There is some overlap between the two parts but this is made clear within the text. The numbering of the systems discussed corresponds to that used in Exhibit 18.
A. UIA-only Systems Production of Publications (separate document)
B UIA-FAIB System (separate document)
In order to reduce costs and to stimulate the use of modern techniques in other non-governmental organizations, it is possible to combine UIA data processing with that of other organizations with similar problems.
In terms of the UIA's non-profit aims and its membership of the FAIB, it would be useful to encourage other organizations to pool together into groups with common data processing problems. Commercial organizations with similar problems have given rise to standard programs for the solution of these problems. Similar programs would reduce the initial cost to a non-profit organization wishing to make use of a service bureau.
If a UIA semi-commercial processing system is implemented, it might be possible to sell the program to other organizations or groups of organizations. A single program which dealt economically with all the membership, invoicing and accounting problems of a small organization (perhaps with slight modifications) could have a useful market. The market could easily extend to the national member organizations of international organizations. If the program could be adapted to the problems of a group of even smaller organizations, this would not only extend the market for the program to local organizations, but serve as a valuable inducement to small organizations to collaborate. Collaboration in the resolution of technical administrative problems would clarify the very important distinction between differences in objectives between organizations and the similarity of the routine problems encountered in accomplishing objectives.
From the technical point of view there is no difficulty in introducing any of the suggested systems. It is obvious that the more complex the system becomes, and the more an attempt is made to integrate the Yearbook of International Organizations text preparation, Calendar preparation, Bibliography preparation, and research, the more non-standard and costly the initial set-up would be.
The main argument against introducing a complex system, is that the future of the bibliography has not yet been decided. In addition, the increasing competition in the production of calendars may mean that the UIA will have to change its program in this area, either by including a broader selection of meetings, coming to some arrangement with the competitors, or suppressing the calendar. Once a complex system is introduced, such changes are difficult and costly to make. A second argument against the complex system is that the monthly volume of data to be processed appears to be uneconomical.
The most fruitful areas for further investigation are separate systems for the Yearbook typesetting, research and the semi-commercial procedures. This allows for greater flexibility and many of the computer programs involved are nearly standard, which is an important cost factor. Each program is then designed for maximum efficiency rather than with compromises to ensure integration of the system. The different programs, which are required at different periods, can then be run when sufficient information is available.
Before continuing with the investigation, it is essential that further thought be given to defining the precise objectives the UIA wishes to achieve by instituting any of these systems. This is necessary in order to determine the relative weight to be given to each question or information retrieval facility in the Yearbook, semi-commercial and particularly, the research program.
On the basis of current activity computer typesetting will not introduce important savings unless the UIA intends to produce many specialised Yearbooks. The semi-commercial processing could probably be performed satisfactorily by an improved manual system. This possibility should be covered during the course of any further investigation. Once the research problems have been defined, a deck of punched cards on the Yearbook organization can be maintained up to date. These could be used whenever necessary to survey particular combinations of characteristics of international organizations.
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