Ok, now I am trained up to be a Business Analyst, and an opportunity to be one was about to present itself. But first, a little about changing environments.
When I joined and for the first few years I was there, Crown was PL/1-IMS mainframe shop with all systems developed in-house. I don't know how this came about, as so many companies used COBOL and VSAM files. The fact that Crown Life did not use COBOL was one of the reasons I accepted their job offer in 1979. The only old war story I heard from some company veterans was when the first computer was installed at the company in the mid-60's. It was a big deal, all about "turning the big switch" to move the company on to using a computer.
Development of new systems moved in cycles, of course, depending on what needed built/replaced, allocation of budgets, etc. After the development of the new Stocks/Bonds Admin system was done, the focus moved to the Group Insurance business. Crown Life did a lot of business in the United States, like most Canadian insurance companies of any real size, and it was still possible to make money in group health business as well as life, before health costs sky-rocketed and HMOs took over.
So, the company had a number of group sales offices around the United States doing business, and they needed a new system. Something about the cost of using billable mainframe cycles probably played a role in the decisions to create a system based on a mini-computer located in each sales office, which employees would use all day, and each mini would then feed the days transactions to a master system on the mainframe in Toronto for consolidated processing; sounded reasonable, I guess. Adding minis to our mainframe environment was new, and probably should have been treated as a risk, but I was 26 years old and not on that project, so can't say I worried about it much myself.
The team for this project was located next to the department I was in. I recall that I did not know many of these people directly, but they seemed like a good enough bunch. Reporting about project status to people outside the project always presented things in a good light, but that kind of reporting usually does, no matter what is actually happening.
Because something bad was happening on that project; I found out about it like most of the rest of the company when I came to work one day and the area with that project team was empty, and stayed empty. The mini-mainframe mix had not worked out (more on that later), so the project was cancelled and the whole team up to director level was let go, fired. I don't believe the 'down-sizing' euphemism had been invented yet, but this was the first one I ever saw like this, quick and brutal. I think this was the cause of me realizing what a lot of other people were realizing as the 80's progressed: companies could just not afford to be completely loyal to their employees, so it was time to start managing your career yourself, start looking out for #1. Obviously this is when employee loyalty to their employers started to disappear too, and management magazines over the next 10 years or so had to gall to print articles asking "why?".
Anyway, the Group Business division still needed a system, so senior management brought in a new team that went right out and bought a Group Insurance COTS package. It was totally mainframe, so whoever wanted to avoid mainframe costs was ignored (or had been one of those who was fired), and it was COBOL-CICS-VSAM.
This was the first package I had seen purchased at Crown Life, so the developing of all systems in-house could not be assumed anymore; and the pure PL/1-IMS environment was no more. Business realities would now drive what systems and technologies would be used.
PS: About the reason why the mini-mainframe mix failed... about 5 years later, I was on a training course near Washington DC, and the direct flight for myself and a co-worker also attending back to Toronto was canceled. So, we ended up on a travel nightmare, taking a flight that stopped 3 times and we had to change planes once. A couple of other travelers were doing the same thing, so we got to talking (especially in the bar between planes) and turned out they were AT&T techies. When I said we were from Crown Life, they rolled their eyes and said that we may not want to hang out for the rest of the trip.
Why? It turns out that for the minis in those Group offices to communicate each night with the mainframe, they would need special or dedicated lines (any network techies reading this will probably know why). In those days, those lines were not easy to get, and Crown Life ended up on a waiting list measured in years. When that situation became apparent to all, it wasn't too long after that I came into work and found that project team gone.
PPS: Crown Life apparently sued AT&T over this. They had a contract, of course, and they claimed the delays breached the contract or something like that. As a Crown Life employee, I never heard about this lawsuit, but the AT&T guys we were traveling with sure had; I don't know how the suit ended up, but Crown Life was not a favorite of AT&T for a long time; but us foot soldiers who had met at random decided we would have a few more beers and not let company issues bother; we just wanted to get home that night.
So, when I started on the next big project, all assumptions had changed.