Computers - Feb 1984

  • 31 January 1984
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The application of computers as means of performing banking transactions made considerable progress last month when three of the four main banks linked their automatic teller machines (ATMs) to a central network. The new system affords users of Bank of Ireland's P ASS machines, Ulster Bank's Service-tills, and Northern Bank's Autobank, the convenience of using the ATMs of all three banks, although they may have an account with just one.

The ATM has been one of the most successful banking initiatives in Ireland in recent years. Introduced initially by Bank of Ireland in 1979, and followed soon after by the other main banks, the A TM was to lift the burden of cumbersome cash transacctions from the banking staff, with obvious advantages for the customer who is invariably pressed for time. More importantly however, was that the A TM would provide an afterrhours cash dispensing service.

From a commercial viewpoint the concept of the ATM presented some situational problems. In order to provide the service successfully, the system would have to be extremely reliable, a description which in pracctice hasn't always been appropriate. However, a decision was made by Bank of Ireland to use off-line ATMs, machines which weren't linked to a central computer but acted as distinct units in themselves. The alternative here is an on-line system, with which the ATMs are connected to a central computer through the telephone line.

The NCR system installed by Bank of Ireland, and subsequently by Ulster Bank and Northern Bank, has the added advantage of being able to go on-line when suitable conditions preevail. The basis of this condition is a relia ble and extensive telephone sysstem, not yet at their disposal. Neverrtheless, the other main bank, Allied Irish Banks, is intent on switching their IBM system on-line sometime this year.

The ATMs have been a great succcess, particularly in the personal saving sector. From an initial scatterring of less than a dozen machines, mostly in Dublin, there are now 211 A TMs in operation around the counntry. Included in this figure are the eleven A TMs operated by the fifth Irish bank to introduce A TMs, Trustee Saving Bank.

But while the ATM networks have evolved in tandem, the market for ATM users is marked by fierce commpetition and rivalry, particularly between Bank of Ireland and AlB. The recent merging of three networks has not come about because of any philannthropic notions on the parts of bank chief executives, but rather because of two aspects of the prevailing bankking climate.

Firstly, the Associated Banks' share in personal savings growth is diminishhing due to the attractive interest rates and tax status of the building societies. In order for the banks to hold their own, let alone achieve a better growth rate, they are looking for ways in which banks can offer more to the personal saver. The new system allows the relevant banking public to avail of computerised banking facilities in 140 locations throughout the whole island.

Secondly, with particular reference to Bank .of Ireland, the ever-escalating profits of AlB and its fast-increasing firm hold of the number one spot has meant that the three other main banks have had to retaliate. The new system is part of this fightback.

The Irish software industry is gathering considerable momentum with the impending opening of the National Software Centre and the creation of many new software commpanies. One of these new companies recently launched its range of products on the UK market.

Dillon Technology Limited was established early last year by a Kerryyman, James Dillon, with the assistance of the IDA Enterprise Programme. The company has received further funding from Investors in Industry (Ireland) Limited, a subsidiary of the internaational 3i Group, which has taken a minority equity investment.

The company is producing business application packages initially aimed at the l o-bit micro computer market. The first three systems - sales, purrchase, and nominal ledgers - are ae-eady on the market, with order eritry and stock control packages to follow in a couple of months time.

The systems are designed for the Xenix operating system, the equivalent of the industry standard Unix system. Package language is Micro focus level 11 Cobol, allowing application with a variety of single and multi-user systems.

Ten people are presently employed by Dillon Technology, with a doubling in staff levels anticipated within 18 months.

The latest in the unceasing processsion of home computers arrived in Ireland just before Christmas. The Acorn Electron is the successor to the Acorn Atom, which was one of the most popular of the first breed of computers which constitute a home computer. Advance orders suggest that the Electron will easily outsell the Atom.

The delay in the machine reaching Ireland was caused by one of the most bizarre, yet effective, coups in the home computer business so far. British newsagency chain W.H. Smiths ordered the first five months production capaacity of the Electron, which at 10,000 a month makes a hefty 50,000 commputers. This had the effect of giving W.H. Smiths a virtual monopoly for the launch and early market life of the Electron.

While they didn't physically possess the computers, Lendac Data Systems, the Irish distributor of the Electron, took orders from individuals in the belief that the units would arrive from Britain in time. Lucky for Mr Lendac, they just made it.

The Electron itself has 64k of memory (32k ROM, 32k RAM), with built-in BASIC interpreter. Softtware for the Electron is available in great quantities through Acorn's softtware house, Acornsoft. There may, however, be problems with distribuution until retail outlets throughout the country are supplied which may be some time yet.

One of the programming languages used by Acornsoft, Comal 80, was the subject of a meeting held in Copennhagen recently at which the language was standardised by a group of interrnational experts. Ireland was represennted at the meeting by personnel from the TCD Software Engineering Laboraatory.

The main characteristic of Comal 80 as a programming language is that it combines two other languages, Pascal and Basic. The standardisation meeting, the third such gathering, was held to ensure that the language developed in a coherent manner, preeventing the proliferation of incommpatible dialects.

The obvious advantage of conntinued standardisation for users is that Comal 80 packages can be used across many computing systems. Many exxp erts believe that in 1984 Comal 80 will emerge as the preferred language for portable software. _