As well as being one of the central characters in the cult Sega video game Phantasy Star, ALIS is also the name of an investment management application. The flagship product of the Israeli software company Formula Insurance Solutions (FIS), ALIS is a system for managing life, pension and investment products. It is available for Windows NT and UNIX and can work with any relational database. To provide the reader with an insight into the exciting and varied experience of working with this software package, I include an extract from my notes that I took while working at AMP Financial Services. Those long-handled mechanical adding machines of the early part of the 20th Century might have long since disappeared, but their spirit (of abject drudgery) lives on.

Working with ALIS

Starting Up

On running the ALIS application, you will be prompted to choose which instance of the system you wish to use (should your employer be running more than one). If this is the first time you have run the application that day on that machine, ALIS will then retrieve any patches and updates that have been made available. You will then be prompted for your user name and (case sensitive) password.

Retrieving data

Before you can perform operations on data held within the system, you must retrieve that data and the domain to which it corresponds. The search form is brought up by clicking on the 'Client WB' icon. A person, company, scheme, or scheme type can be searched for by their name or by their unique identity codes. (One quirk of this part of the interface is that search terms cannot be fully deleted just by pressing 'delete' - you have to press Ctrl-delete.)

The Client Workbench

ALIS presents the domain you are currently working on as an interactive diagram (The Client Workbench). The financial product or Scheme is at the centre, with the individual Policies listed to the left, the Client (the organisation that is served by the scheme) below, and the financial entities (such as different funds) above. Items can be dragged to the centre to bring them into focus, and inspected by double clicking on them.

Payroll and Schedule (PS)

One of the most common operations on the system is to allocate funds for a scheme. The client will (with any luck) have sent you a cheque (or bank draft, or whatever) and a payment schedule (hard copy) indicating how the money should be allocated between the scheme members.

1. Using your choice of calculation tool, (we favoured huge desk calculators that looked as though they were modelled after Imperial Stormtrooper helmets) firstly check that the figures on the schedule actually add up to the total that's the same as the cheque. Or suffer a great deal of wasted time.

2. Bring up the scheme details as described above (by entering the name or ID number).

3. Select 'Pay In' (an icon with a picture of a safe) and 'External Payments' from the dropdown menu.

4. Now a slightly counter-intuitive part: double-click on the 'Payee' field to bring up a search box (similar to the one you used to locate the scheme details). Click 'retrieve' and then 'choose' in this box. Then click (twice, due to loss of focus) the 'retrieve' button in the payments window. If you forget this step and just click on the payments 'retrieve' button, you will retrieve every payment logged on the system. This can take several minutes to chug through depending on the number of schemes and your network status, so it is a mistake best avoided.

5. You should now have a table of all the payments made to this scheme. With any luck you will be able to identify the one you want by the figure on the cheque and/or the date it was logged. If there are cheques for identical sums and you are unsure about the date, you will have to open the payments in turn to find out which is the last to have been processed. (You should then only proceed if you are certain that the payment you have chosen corresponds to the schedule.)

6. Double-click on the payment to open it. Switch to the second tab on the payment workspace that comes up. You should see one entry of type CLIENT which represents the total value of the cheque. The balance of this sheet will, therefore, be in credit to that value. The objective is now to add entries of type POLICY to the until the balance is exactly zero.

Unfortunately, the notes end abruptly at this point, although the chapter headings for some of the other common tasks remain:

GPPP Leaver's Pack (LP)
GMP Leaver's Pack (LP)
Change Policy Details (CPD)
Premium dispersal checking
Quick and painless methods of suicide

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