Trained in the art of murder

The Guardian (Manchester); 29 November 1990; Claire Neesham; p. 33

ACCOUNTANTS and computer managers filed into a darkened lecture theatre in central London recently for the premiere of TerminalRISK, a thriller of the Psycho genre. The plot is familiar. It's a stormy night; a woman checks into an isolated motel. She is murdered in the shower. The prime suspect is a man called Norman. The twist is that this villain is intent on destroying a company by hacking into its computer system. TerminalRISK is an interactive training video, designed to give auditors an understanding of the risks associated with computer systems. It was originally produced for trainee chartered accountants at Price Waterhouse (PW), and is now on general sale. The video tale stops at crucial moments and won't move on until the student carries out various audit procedures to unravel the murder mystery. Interaction is achieved by combining the video with a software package that leads the students through the exercises. The integration of film and software requires expertise in programming and user interface design as well as in video production. For TerminalRISK, PW worked with Julia Schofield Consultants (JSC), a London firm which specialises in computer interface design, and Premiere Productions, which worked on the design, scripting and final production of the video material. The result is a polished, fun-to-watch product with a simple mouse-driven interface. However, Julia Schofield, managing director of JSC (and no relation to Computer Guardian editor Jack Schofield), stresses that the development of TerminalRISK was not simple. PW said the product should run on an IBM PC-compatible with two megabytes of memory, a Videologic DVA-4000 card (for video frame grabbing and presentation of mixed images), and a VGA graphics card. When JSC started work in mid-1989 only 50 of the Videologic cards had been produced: IBM had 48 of them and JSC the other two. The graphical and interactive nature of the software led JSC to use Microsoft Windows/286 and to pioneer Actor a PC version of a Smalltalk-like language with an object oriented programming environment. ``I think we are always guinea-pigs because clients come to us for presentations that look different to their competitors,'' says Schofield. She formed JSC in 1983 after leaving a successful academic career in human computer interaction (HCI) research at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. Although one of the main reasons for leaving was her marriage to her boss's boss, Schofield says that making a project work as a product had always fascinated her. In the early days, she concentrated on helping companies come to terms with microcomputers. She even prepared demonstrations for Kenneth Baker, then Minister of State for IT, when he was promoting microcomputer awareness. But Schofield's background in HCI also meant she built up a reputation for producing usable software tailored to the needs of the user rather than the IT department. J SC SOON began to ex pand, and was given a boost when Schofield was Woman of the Year in 1987. There are now 12 staff plus Yates, her guide dog. That the head of a company which specialises in graphical user interfaces should have a visual disability strikes some people as strange. But Schofield points out that although there are many disadvantages, there are advantages too. For example, when her staff are designing a product such as TerminalRISK they have to explain to her what it looks like. This focuses their minds and often reveals areas that have become too complex. The PW work is JSC's first big project with interactive video. Schofield avoided plunging in until the technology became affordable. However, JSC has also done some work using high quality digital image systems for Volvo, which wanted a system for sales staff in car showrooms. This project involved designing an intelligent, illustrated, knowledge base. It required a lot of colour graphics programming and the acquisition of some artificial intelligence skills. The techniques came in useful for the TerminalRISK project, and in a multimedia teaching system for slow learners at a work preparation unit in East Finchley, London. Schofield believes that designing re-usable systems should not be complicated. And by studying the areas where her team and clients have had problems with multimedia system design, Schofield has come up with the idea of providing Lego-like user-interface building blocks. JSC produces standard bits of code for tasks such as taking images from different cameras, or cutting and pasting images between different interfaces. These ``bricks'' can then be assembled by users, picking those they need from pictorial icons on the screen. The idea has already won the company the Department of Trade and Industry's 1990 Small Firms Merit Award for Research and Technology (Smart). Schofield is also investigating the possibility of linking up with a hardware supplier probably in Japan, as the technology needed for multi media systems, such as digital cameras and optical disc players, tends to come from there. JSC exhibited on the UK stand at the InterOpto Exhibition in Tokyo this summer. Schofield has since been back to find out if any of the Japanese hardware suppliers are interested in the JSC approach to software. Meanwhile the company is already working on another interactive video contract for PW, and is presenting its ideas on interface design to a number of other major corporations. So if the interactive video business is anything like the film business, we can soon expect TerminalRISK II The Buyer Bites Back.

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