CCD Central Computing Division Mainframes

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PROFS (PRofessional OFfice System)was an IBM office automation product for mainframes running under VM/CMS. It supported e-mail, the creation, distribution, filing and retrieval of documents, diary and other scheduling functions, spreadsheets and it could be linked to other applications such as databases as the need arose. It had menu-driven user interfaces, designed primarily to work with the IBM 3270 terminal, or with the then emerging IBM Personal Computers if they had 3270-emulation. It used the standard CMS file store.

PROFS was introduced to RAL through a 6-month pilot project starting in October 1983 involving about a hundred administrative staff from RAL and the SERC Central Office at Swindon as trial users. The pilot was successful and it was decided to retain the system indefinitely, gradually expanding its user base and the functions supported and embedding PROFS into the core businesses of the establishments. PROFS ran initially on the IBM 3081/Atlas 10 complex and later on the IBM 3090. Overall it took only a few percent of the total computing resource, although the daytime interactive loading, when over 200 PROFS users might be logged in concurrently, was significant.

By 1986 RAL had become an IBM reference site to which organisations considering the use of PROFS were frequently directed. The success of PROFS can be implied from the growth in the number of registered users: over 400 in 1985; 800 in 1988; and over 1000 in 1989 including roughly half the staff at the Swindon Office. In the early 1990s the service was further extended to include some Daresbury Laboratory staff, and by 1994 the user population had grown to 1400.

The users covered a broad spectrum of administrators, finance staff, senior managers and many scientists with managerial roles. At RAL it was expected that all senior staff kept on-line diaries which were accessible to others and greatly eased the scheduling of meetings and meeting room faciities. Documents and reports, including Division Heads Committee papers and minutes were routinely prepared and stored (with access controls) in PROFS, and over the years many developments were made to improve the system's interactions with PCs, with e-mail and networking systems used in the academic community and with financial and other applications. From 1990 IBM evolved PROFS into a product known as OFFICEVISION, or OV/VM, which was a move in the direction of client-server support and provided closer integration with IBM PS/2 workstations.

PROFS and OV/VM provided a robust and effective service to its users for a decade and made a major contribution to the spread of IT into administrative and management areas. However by the early 1990s the product was looking increasingly dated: in particular it lacked the modern type of graphical user interface that users and applications were coming to expect. Its eventual demise came with the move away from IBM mainframes for scientific computing and by 1994 a replacement system, to become known as CLEO, based on Microsoft software and a client server architecture was being developed. CLEO came into service during 1995.

Related literature

Report on PROFS Pilot, 1984

PROFS for the scientist, 1987

Swindon Office PROFS System, 1988

A New Office System, 1994

IBM Systems Journal article on PROFS development and functions, 1981