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By Michael Stephen Bird
Written August 2008

According to Del Fiacco (2003, December), Unisys developed a relational database in 1968 called MAPPER with its own programming language.  This database and associated programming language was created to serve a business need that still exists in the current business environment.   A mission-critical business requirement at the Sperry Univac factory that was developing the computer systems in Minnesota sparked the creation of MAPPER.  Del Fiacco continued to state that there was a complex of four buildings that was located across land that spread over several acres with several employees on three different shifts.  Sperry Univac needed to control the engineering, procurement, storage of parts, assembly, inventory management, packaging, order entry, shipping and receiving, accounts payable and receivable, diagnostics, testing, certification, and customer support activities.

According to the Unisys Customer Education Manual (1993), MAPPER stands for maintaining, preparing, and processing executive reports. MAPPER started as a Unisys mainframe fourth-generation language and database management system.  Del Fiacco points out that while originally developed in 1968, it was introduced to the Unisys customers in the 1980’s. Many customers utilized the system as a high-level report writer but later the MAPPER system became a full-featured development system used successfully by both technical and non-technical users. This development system included a relational database, programming language, and other support tools that made MAPPER unique on the mainframe environment during the original introduction. 

The MAPPER database is comprised of series of tables. According to Rob and Carlos (2002), the relational database management system will perform the basic functions similar to any other database management system, but will have the ability to let the designer operate in a human logical environment. In accordance to this concept of a relational database, the Unisys Customer Education Manual (1993) reflects that the MAPPER database is comprised of three components:

o       Reports in Drawers (RIDS)

o       Drawers comprising of RIDS

o       Cabinets comprising of drawers

The cabinets will comprise of an application system that have eight drawers housing various tables with data, associated programs, and documentation of the system. The drawers with the database tables reflect a matrix consisting of a series of row and column intersection. The tables are related to each other by sharing a common entity characteristic. For example, a typical system would be within a cabinet with drawers that define the different types of medium ranging from “B” to “I.”  The “B” and “C” types (drawers) could reflect the database tables utilized by the system.  The “D,” “E,” and “F” types (drawers) could reflect the associated documentation for the system.  The “H” type (drawer) could reflect the security related tables for the application system. Finally, the “I” type (drawer) could reflect the MAPPER program code utilized by the system.  Rob and Carlos (2002) indicate that this concept provides a human concept in viewing the databases and its associated system.  The Unisys training manual continues to point out that the program codes, documentation, and database tables are in RIDS that are within a drawer that is housed within a cabinet. Therefore, MAPPER presents an easier format for humans in the business world to understand by storing a collection of related entities that resemble a file cabinet. This provides a visual representation of relational database’s entities, attributes within those entities, and relationships between those entities.

The MAPPER database is purely a logical structure that has become the source of a real database revolution. The advantages of MAPPER are its structural independence, improved conceptual simplicity, and a powerful database management system. Along with its ad hoc query capability through its interactive MAPPER query tools, the database management system provides for an easier database design, implementation, management, and overall use.  However, some disadvantages include the tendency for poor design and implementation that promote “islands of information” problems, due to its ease of use.  

Del Fiacco (2003, December) continues to state that factory software developers created MAPPER, considered as a self-contained and self-reliant software environment that included a relational database and programming language, depending on a lesser extent on the features and capabilities of the EXEC8 operating system. Once seen by business clients, the database and programming language became available to the customers of Unisys. Del Fiacco states that several businesses became dependent on MAPPER.

According to Shacklett (2000, September), e-business will continue to be a tremendous challenge to companies as they rapidly move towards web-enabled industrial-strength applications.  The author continues to state that proven solutions such as Unisys LINC and MAPPER products have been continuing to prove that they produce results.

Shacklett has indicated that MAPPER is a long-term, exceedingly successful foundation in the Unisys product line and it has established a way to re-create itself for the e-business environment. The author introduces a comment made by the MAPPER strategic program manager at Unisys, Walt Burdick, where he states, "MAPPER has gone through a major transition in modernization. It no longer has character-based applications. Everything is now run through a point-and-click GUI interface.”  The MAPPER system has a GUI interface that works on NT servers and has the ability to work with the Unisys Cool Ice product that will interface MAPPER directly with the internet, intranet, and extranet, making it ideal for e-business.

As business demands and technology has provide the necessity for business to convert and migrate the applications and databases from the mainframe to other environments such NT or UNIX. The need to improve operational efficiency, manage risk, and reduce costs has generated the migration need.  The MAPPER system with its relational databases and programming language has survived this migration process by Unisys enhancing the product to handle the newer technology.  The conversion of MAPPER applications to the other servers is more cost-effective due to the ability of the MAPPER database to migrate across various platforms.

Shacklett (2000, September) stated that the self-reliant nature of the MAPPER design has presented many developers a tremendous latitude in technological innovation because of the advances did not have to be synchronized with dissimilar software structural design, design, and development outside the MAPPER domain.  It is due to this latitude that MAPPER has pioneered in many advanced concepts in the business environment.

Hoffman (1994, April 25) stated that in an effort to bridge the gap between distributed systems and their relative inability to perform robust online transaction processing, Unisys had introduced the necessary middleware to ensure MAPPER the portability of the relational database and its associated fourth-generation language package. Shacklett (2000, September) further states that tremendous strides have been made on web-enabled front-end browser technology but the strength for web-enabled systems will continue to come from the legacy and in some-cases, the server-based database repositories that back them up. MAPPER has been able to offer Unisys customers the capability to quickly interface the existing data repositories to the outer browsers that connect the organization’s stakeholders in an e-business format. Both Hoffman and Shacklett have indicated that MAPPER has expanded to new internet applications, wireless application protocol, and mobile access capabilities through enhancements made by Unisys. This has contributed to the long history of the MAPPER database. According to the Unisys corporate website, MAPPER is now part of their Business Information Server product line.

Del Fiacco (2003, December) states that the MAPPER database system invented client server programming before the actual industry defined it. The author continued by stating that MAPPER stored, rendered, and displayed digital images on graphical displays before the Windows product was invented by Bill Gates. The author went on to say that MAPPER reflected data in a dynamic, computable spreadsheet form before Excel even existed. Del Fiacco points out that MAPPER was Heterogeneous Multi-Processing (HMP) enabled years before Unisys actually coined the HMP term and created the ClearPath platforms with this name. Therefore, MAPPER was ahead of its time which contributes to its current success.  The fact that it currently can be utilized in many platforms besides the mainframe and allows for GUI and Internet technology, also accounts for its continued success among Unisys customers. At Carnival Cruise Lines, the MAPPER applications was a part of the total integrated package tied to DMS1100, ORACLE, and other databases across the infrastructure. Based on my personal knowledge, MAPPER has been an integral part of many organizations, including the Hillsborough Sheriffs Office, National Data Corporation, some trucking companies, and governmental agencies.

  One could conclude that the software product known as MAPPER, which comprises of a relational database and a fourth-generation programming language, was conceived and generated to serve a need that continues to persists and thrive to the current business environment.  Remaining ahead of its time and building upon this strong history, Del Fiacco indicates that Unisys has renamed MAPPER as the Unisys Business Information Server (BIS) and adapted the product to a Microsoft Windows environment. 

Del Fiacco continued to state that beneath the surface, major revamp and enhancement of the BIS engine have occurred in recent years. The author continues to state that much of this has been focused on performance which is needed to keep pace with the demands of the Unisys community of BlS applications and end users, as well as to take advantage of the mounting capacity and power of various hardware configurations.

In conclusion, the MAPPER database management system, regardless of the name, has been a successful database and will continue to thrive over the years by remaining ahead of its time.  As presented in this paper, the MAPPER database management system has been strong in the Unisys client community and remained successful, even with its rename to BIS, by evolving to meet the changing conditions and needs of the business community.




Del Fiacco, Gerry (2003, December). Mapper: A mission critical legacy. Enterprise Networks & Servers, 9, 12, 9.


Del Fiacco, Gerry (2003, December). Mapper: A mission critical legacy. Unisys World, 24, 12, 1.


Hoffman, Thomas (1994, April 25). Unisys unveils distributed OLTP. Computerworld, 28, 17, 4.


Rob, Peter and Carlos Coronel. Database Systems:  Design, Implementation, and Management. Boston:  Course Technology, 2002.


Shacklet, Mary (2000, September). LINC, MAPPER make transition to e-business applications. Unisys World, 21, 8, 1 – 3.


Unisys Corporate Website. Retrieved on August 4, 2006, from http://www.unisys.com.


Unisys Customer Education Manual: MAPPER Training (1993). Roseville, Minnesota.  

© Michael Stephen Bird, 2008
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