1987 was a massive year for the newly founded G. G. Betros and Associates (renamed to GBA Projects in 2009). Most start-up businesses that fail do so in under 12 months but this was certainly not the case for GBA. In fact it was the complete opposite thanks in part to technology. In this web article, we take an in-depth look into the company at the time and investigate the emergence of scheduling software and the vital role it has played in making GBA Projects a successful business.

Introduction

By the mid to late 1980’s computing had started to take a giant leap forward following the release of a new PC by International Business Machines (IBM) in 1981. Commodore 64 and Spectrum were but another 2 efforts made in the 80’s which helped see the birth of home-computing. Compaq Portable 3

Importantly the development of DOS based operating systems began a huge push for better graphical interfaces.

For a new start-up company like GBA Projects, technology was incredibly important as it allowed the business to quickly expand and provide better and more efficient services. Even today we still pride ourselves on being consultants who are “armed and ready” to provide support to clients through our technological mobility. We come armed with computers and software – ready for each challenge!

However to truly understand GBA’s challenges in the business world at that time, one must understand the technological environment that helped it grow. After all the business world in the 1980’s was rapidly changing and new businesses had to keep pace with the new tools emerging to meet their needs.

Some History

1981 saw the birth of the Xerox 8010 (‘Star’) system which was the first system to utilise WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointing Devices), further paving the way for better user experiences. The following year Commodore unveiled the Commodore 64 which went on to then sell 22 million units by the close of the decade.

1982 signified the arrival of the infamous Intel 80286 which introduced ‘protected mode’ to the Intel processor. When switched to this new mode the CPU was able to handle up to 16MB of operating memory whereas previous generations of the same model could only handle 1 MB. The introduction of this feature meant that real time multitasking could occur, dedicating more computing power to software tasks. Greg using the compaq portable 3

In 1983 software packages such as D-Base 3, MS-DOS 2, Microsoft Word, Lotus 1-2-3 emerged on the market. This year also saw the establishment of the GNU Project, which kick-started the free software and Linux revolution.

When first founded in 1986, GBA Projects was fortunate enough to purchase two Intel 80286 (“the two-eight-sixers”) machines on which these software packages were installed – ready to service clients around Australia. In 1987 however, Compaq released its “portable 3” which whilst being lighter than most portable x86-PC’s was still quite large. With its 12MHz of power, 640 KB RAM, 1.2 MB 5.25’’ floppy drive and 10 ‘’ amber coloured gas-plasma display it was an attractive purchase for the young Company Founder, Greg Betros.

Scheduling Software

By this stage the race was on to establish a foot hold on both processing power, usability and price thus increasing the availability and useability of computing power to smaller end users. In our case it meant the emerging market of project scheduling software. This InfoWorld Magazine, published in 1989, compares 7 products that were readily available on the market in the 80’s however it fails to mention Micro Planner, the first commercially available software designed to run on an Apple II.

Some packages (eg Microsoft Project) at the time could be purchased for as little as $100 which inevitably created a price war within the software market. There were literally hundreds of software packages to choose from but small time players did not last very long. As newer, more advanced features began to emerge (eg risk analysis, time/location) many players simply could not compete.

Prior to establishing GBA Projects, Greg Betros had previously worked at Global Engineering who used a mainframe software called “PROJECT/2”, released by Project Software & Development, Inc. (PSDI) in 1968. One of the better known tools for IBM System/360 and System/370 mainframes, it became one of the more commonly used packages for GBA Projects consultants. Greg’s ongoing involvement with the software (across numerous projects) led to his role as Convenor of the 1989 PSDI conference.

Implementation on Projects

PSDI Australia Magazine, March 1987During the construction of Sefton Plaza in 1987 (by Fricker Bros), GBA Projects utilised QwikNet Professional which, like many software packages of the time, were heavily based on previous mainframe programs such as PROJECT/2. Fricker Bros had to that point had never used a computerised package to plan and control their projects. This meant that the Sefton Plaza expansion was a milestone project for the company.

By introducing the software to the project, it was delivered on time and under budget. Fricker Bros immediately realised the value of the software which led to an ongoing relationship between both our businesses. Together, many projects were delivered on time and on budget. Greg is particularly proud of this project as the expansion brought an out-dated plaza up to modern day standards, whilst still an operational environment.

QwikNet was also used by GBA Projects with our engagement with BAM Contracting at Olympic Dam. In 1987, BAM Contracting was engaged for the civil and structural works associated with the pipe racks at the Roxby Downs plant. 

Lamenting the Loss of Skills

Whilst the 1987 period saw GBA Projects become recognised for its ability to implement modern day software solutions, it was also unfortunately the period of time where our industry’s loss of skill and control began. Prior to the 1980’s scheduling was very much a manual effort (or if funding permitted a lengthy time in front of a large room sized machine).

As Pat Weaver points out in his article titled “A Brief History of Scheduling – Back to the Future” any mistakes made by a scheduler (prior to the 1980s) meant lengthy rework. Schedulers had to avoid making costly mistakes by combining manual and computerised calculations of their schedules and therefore they were trained professionals who intimately understood the algorithms in use.

The introduction of personal computers profoundly changed our industry because with an easy-to-use graphical interface and quicker processing times, schedulers no longer had to worry about lengthy recalculations should they make mistakes. As Pat rightly points out, the current trend is to focus on making the schedule “look right’ rather than analysing a project in detail.

And upsettingly whilst a large push for certification exists today (through AACE, PMI, The Guild of Project Controls and the CIOB), there is very little that is being done to ensure certified practitioners are utilised on projects.

Meeting David

Disregarding the loss of skillset in our industry, 1987 was a great year because not only were several projects delivered successfully, but it was where Greg met David Lynch, the Director of Bettaform. Whilst the 45 Pirie street project was not completed until 1988, it was the beginning of a brilliant business relationship which eventually resulted in David Lynch becoming Senior Associate of GBA Projects – and a very close and personal friend to all of us.

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