Who is AIS? Who is AIS?
Duncan Dwelle

15 Aug 2000

Software as Alchemy or Science?

Copyright 2000 Applied

Duncan Dwelle Chief Software Scientist, PrimePay, Inc.
PMB 301
1001 Bridgeway
Sausalito, CA 94965

415-265-9090 phone
415-888-2422 fax  


When you knock over the green curtain and peer through the smoke, there's no one here but me. I wrote every word, drew every diagram in this site. Oh, I used to have a team of ten or twelve consultants serving clients all over the world. But I have chosen to spend more time thinking and less time managing. 

Some of this site is shamelessly commercial for my consulting and teaching work. But most is a labor of love, a compulsion to write about ideas bouncing around from my thirty-five years starting, running, growing, changing real businesses. 


I grew up in the 1950's on the rural waterfront of the Eastern United States looking forward to life as a sailor, photographer and poet.

Following those and other pathways took me to Maine and then California, where I became a mountaineer, business executive, writer, and teacher of information system design concepts.

For a number of years I devoted most of my time to kayaking, reading, traveling, and, occasionally, researching ways to generate information systems from abstract models and specifications. Now I have rejoined the real world.


I began my business career as the General Manager of The North Face mountaineering equipment brand when it was founded in 1965. As the first customer, first employee, and first manager - all within a few hours - I designed, sourced, and sold merchandise, ran our retail shop floors, hired and fired personnel, did the accounting, and wrote the first North Face catalogs (1966-1968)

After a change of ownership, I assisted the fledgling manufacturer Sierra Designs inaugurate its retail division. Next I took over general management of Trailwise, a manufacturer of specialty backpacking equipment.

At its inception in 1969 Plane Jane, the precursor to Esprit de Corp, recruited me as its Executive Vice President and General Manger. In this fast growing startup fashion company I managed all aspects of purchasing, production, distribution, administration, and finance as it became the world wide fashion brand Esprit. 

In 1972 I chose to "retire" early (age 27) to coastal Maine where, with my growing family, I tended 60 acres of woods and farm. Having exhausted both ourselves and our repertoire of back to the land adventures in three years, we left the backwaters of New England for more advanced civilization in New Delhi, India while I consulted for fashion exporters.

Various events led me back to San Francisco in 1975 where I resumed an intermittent association with Esprit de Corp as executive and consultant. My roles included managing several large legal matters on behalf of Esprit; creating a direct mail catalog sales division; re-engineering and automating all distribution facilities; designing a revised general management structure; and dragging the company's information technology into modern form. 

While CIO of Esprit de Corp in the early 1980s I directed design and construction of some of the earliest successful systems which were distributed world-wide via public packet nets now know as the Internet. These systems integrated relational databases, multi-tier server architecture, and global client access in ways which have become mainstream only in the late 1990s.

Meanwhile, through my own consulting firm I was actively advising a number of retail merchants such as Patagonia, Bullock & Jones, Eileen West, and The Nature Company in starting or expanding their direct marketing efforts.

In 1985 at the request of The Gap, Esprit de Corp, Patagonia, and  other apparel retailers and importers with global trade interests, I organized the American Free Trade Association, later renamed the American Fair Trade Council, to lobby the U.S. Congress and Federal administration on issues of international trade. As president of the AFTC and a U.S. Government cleared advisor, I traveled constantly to trade negotiations in Washington, D.C. and points around the world.

Through the early '90s my work, and that of my sizable team, was focused on constructing advanced information systems for commerce - retail, distribution, and manufacturing. By the late '90s my focus had shifted to research and teaching in large scale software design methods.

As a leader in the field of information modeling and automated systems generation since the 1970s, I have authored numerous technical studies and papers, made presentations at trade shows and conferences, and been a guest lecturer in graduate programs at several universities.