Visit Report

Hotel Metropole, London

For INDEPOL Launch

15 Oct 85

INDEPOL (Intelligence Defence and Police) is the first ICL packaqe developed exclusively as a front end for CAFS; its name reflects the marketplace at which it is targetted, and also its origins. It was developed by ICL Defence Systems with funding from MoD, originally as a way of making CAFS-800 (the hardware precursor of CAFS-lSP) usable outside Stevenage. It has had a lenqthy gestation, reflected notably in its complete independence of ICL's current strategic product line. Thus, it accesses CAFS facilities via the RSI to RECMAN directly; it has its own internal Data Dictionary; it enforces its own privacy mechanisms independently of VME. The only point of contact in fact is TPMS, which it relies on to handle concurrency, (see further below).

INDEPOL differs in several ways from the conventional static DP package, quite apart from the wonders of CAFS. Its data model is completely flexible; restructuring being unnecessary because of its reliance on SIF. The model contains only things called domains and relationships, the latter not explained in any detail; domains are more-or-less SIF data items, in the physical data model, as well as files and records (the latter containing mostly SIF items only though fixed length fields are supported) it has things confusingly called record sets which are actually dynamically created collections of record keys held in virtual store. They are also working on something like value-based sets between files. It has extensive access control mechanisms, implemented by additional predicates added invisibly to every query.

What sets it furthest apart from the query products we know and love however is its update facilities. Records are updated in situ, (hence the reliance on ISAM), any contention being handled by VME. A modified record is immediately available for searching. (I don't think this is is true even of DCI based systems, which cannot open files in read/write mode).

Its user interface is startlingly simple: you can use either (dynamically created; forms or a very simple command language which has minimal clutter. Fuzzy matching and quorum conditions are described by a syntax arguably closer to natural language than DCI's The same forms can be used for input and output. Macros can be defined both to abbreviate commands and conditions and also for record sets.

The launch was a very professional affair. We were treated to a dramatic slide show loosely derived from Raymond Chandler, in which various fragmentary clues were presented to a private eye. The online demonstration then used INDEPOL to solve the case by searching various files for leads indicated by said fragmentary clues, This was both entertaining and impressive. After lunch (passable pie, decent wine, unambitious salads, disgusting coffee), there were more demonstrations. The whole affair was very carefully stage managed; each group of punters (entirely from the military and the police, so far as I could tell) having its appointed ICL minder to fetch its drinks, introduce it to the right boffins and keep it apart from the other punters. P. Leggate from the English faculty library and I had our new salesman all to ourself, who revealed that he was hopeful of getting funds from DTI to get the package released to one University site, presumably either us or QMC. I may have blown it, by getting too embroiled in technical discussion with Jim May (main guru behind the software) to pay much attention to this heavy hint. I hope not: it looks like a very interesting opportunity. And, to round off a perfect day, neither of the trains I took broke down.