Expert systems, the collective name given to systems that purport to combine artificial intelligence with information distilled from experts for different problem solving applications, are now apparently well out of the research laboratory stage. So proclaims Unibit Holdings Plc, the British expert system designer and developer, originally formed under the name of Business Information Techniques in 1978. The company, now based at Bradford University’s science park, is currently working on two collaborative expert system projects and has recently announced the fifth upgrade of its Parys program, specifically designed for personnel or human resource environments. Work on the Parys system – sponsored to the tune of some UKP106,000 by the Department of Trade & Industry – began in May 1984, and teamed up Unibit programmers with personnel managers from the Automobile Association, British Shipbuilders, Manpower UK, Bradford Metropolitan Council and Devon County Council: the product was first released one year later. UKP2m on, and in the words of Unibit’s software development director, Jim McKinnel, Parys consists of a database of rules which can be used to speed up, simplify and integrate a number of standard personnel department activities – the production of detailed job profiles or a breakdown of the qualities deemed necessary for a certain post, for example – and can subsequently be used to match the two. The Parys program can also be used as a comprehensive reference facility for storing detailed results of interviews, tests, and employee performance and can therefore supply the kind of recruitment decision analysis that employers will shortly be forced to provide under impending Government legislation. Quite what role artificial intelligence plays within the system is hard to define – Unibit claims that the system can suggest ways of refining or relaxing job attribute requirements to draw in different groups of potential candidates, but acknowledges that all inferences are, in a sense, pre-programmed. The latest 2.2.1 release enhancements include support for French, German, Dutch, Flemish and Scandinavian languages, and the introduction of three user levels – eventually to be expanded to six – to accommodate different data access rights within the workforce. Parys is written in C prices range from UKP9,000 for the MS-DOS version to around UKP45,000 for a mainframe version – if anyone asks for it: the company says that it will do an implementation for any major operating system. Unibit is currently setting its sights on the continental European market, where projected sales targets for 1988-89 hover around the UKP3m mark, but the company has yet to appoint French, German or Italian distributors for Parys. Project appraisal club Unibit is also the principal developer within a project appraisal resourcing and control – or PARC – club of companies, currently developing an expert system for project managers, designed to run on Sun, DEC and IBM workstations. Unibit has put up one third of the UKP148,000 development costs: additional funding – UKP185,000 has been provided by the Department of Trade and Industry, while member clubs, to date John Laing, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency, Inbucon, the Department of Health and Social Security, Rolls Royce, British Nuclear Fuels, Amersham International and – most recently – ICI have contributed a UKP10,000 club membership fee. The system, which is now nearing completion, will allow the user to plan, monitor and evaluate existing projects, and collate the results of past projects for future use. Unibit has also invested UKP500,000 in a joint venture with British Nuclear Fuels Ltd to develop an expert process control system – Promass – to run on Sun, DEC and IBM workstations. The companies claim the system will provide a real-time monitored overview of a nuclear plant, and pre-empt problems that could otherwise lead to plant closure. Although developed with the nuclear industry in mind, Unibit believe that the system will be of i
nterest to other chemical processing firms.