Detroit Diesel-Allison Revs its Engines

Detroit Diesel-Allison British Columbia (DDABC) can trace its heritageback to the 1920s when Hoffar’s Ltd. was one of the first General Motors dieseldistributors in North America. Robert J. Cullen joined the company as a marine enginesalesman in 1954. Through a succession of promotions, he became President in 1968. In 1974he purchased the company from the Hoffar family and, with the help of a second generationof Cullens, has grown the operation to six locations throughout British Columbia.

DDABC’s product line includes its own Detroit Diesel engines, themainstay of its operation. These popular engines are used in marine, industrial, truck andbus applications. The Series 60 engine, one of its new electronically-controlled diesels,is one of the most popular heavy-duty highway truck engines in North America today. DDABCalso distributes engines from Perkins, Volvo Penta, Mercedes Benz Industrial and MTU. As adistributor of Detroit Diesel Corporation and allied manufacturer’s products, DDABCprovides a complete range of product support services including parts, service,remanufacture, overhaul and training.

Changing Gear

DDABC’s systems applications contained 1,300,000 lines of VS COBOLand resided on a Wang VS10,000. DDABC’s satellite offices were connected to it usingVS5s and VS5000s and 9.6K dedicated lines. The system was serving 120 concurrent users.According to Gerry Cullen, Director of Special Projects at DDABC, the Wang hardware wasnot only starting to show its age, but was also beginning to affect the ability of thecompany to operate efficiently. Add concerns for Year 2000 compliance, and Cullen wastasked with identifying and implementing a new operating system.

DDABC had invested a lot of time and money over the years customizingthe VS COBOL systems applications to perform very specific tasks, and finding an"office shelf package" to fit their needs was problematic. "We evaluatedseveral software packages and found that the initial purchase price and yearly maintenancecharges were excessive. Our main worry, therefore, became finding a solution thatwouldn’t cripple us financially. Wang wanted to charge nearly a million dollars forcompletely abandoning our existing system, and choosing new Y2K-compliant hardware andsoftware. We were simply not able to cost justify the purchase, as they didn’t offerany significant benefit over our existing software." Cullen elaborates, "Ourconcerns were not only with the applications themselves, but with our programming staff.Add an additional $500,000 for staff retraining, and the cost quickly became prohibitive.Besides, it was imperative that we reduce the learning curve and training on the newsoftware to avoid any negative impact on production."

After exhaustive research into the possible solutions available toDDABC, Cullen chose Unicon Conversion Technologies Inc. to provide its turnkey migrationsolution to Open Systems and further conversion to full millennium compliance. "Wechose Unicon because they were able to convert our code to a pure ACUCOBOLenvironment." This allowed DDABC to migrate to a true native Open Systems environmentwithout any proprietary inclusion.

A Smooth Transition

Cullen chose to utilize Unicon’s optional UNIconX MigrationEnvironment. This standalone suite of utilities facilitated the move across to UNIX, wherethe fully automated conversion process to Open Systems COBOL took place. For the targetCOBOL, DDABC selected ACUCOBOL from Acucorp Inc. With its ability to migrate to thecutting edge of Open Systems architecture, ACUCOBOL enabled DDABC to experienceexceptional portability, ease-of-use and functionality. As a result, ACUCOBOL providedDDABC with the solid computing language it required to take it into the 21stCentury.

In the Fast Lane

DDABC’s user staff performed the detailed user testing. It wastheir task to put the code through a rigorous testing process to ensure that the programsoperated as desired. Once user testing was complete and the system was declared ready,DDABC threw the switch and went live. The increase in performance was immediatelyapparent. The entire conversion to ACUCOBOL occurred smoothly, without any unforeseenmaintenance costs or disruptions to the organization's end users. DDABC has also realizedincreased performance levels and programmer productivity as a result of Internet access,enhanced client/server functions and database access.

"We are absolutely thrilled with the new system," declaresCullen. "Not only are we now using a more stable UNIX platform, but everything runsso much faster -- before, some jobs took six hours and they now take only 20 minutes. Wehave also installed a 56K-frame relay network to increase response time in our remoteoffices. With our old system, the WANG VS 10,000, we would randomly lose one or more daysin downtime – now we run much more efficiently."

DDABC’s programming staff are able to continue to develop theapplications making full use of the rich features and functionality offered byAcucorp’s ACUCOBOL. "Our user staff are extremely happy with the system,"adds Cullen, "not only is it faster, but they don’t need any training to useit!"

Has Gerry Cullen heard of any complaints? "Just one – fromour programmers…they can no longer put their feet up with a nice cup of coffeewaiting for programs to compile!"