Dr Brian Ford OBE, Founder Director of NAG, received the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from The University of Bath

Dr Brian Ford OBE, Founder Director of NAG, received the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from The University of Bath

Speech by Professor James Davenport, Orator, at degree ceremony:

It is rare for a software company to remain independent and successful for 35 years, though I suspect Microsoft might achieve this milestone soon. It is rarer for a single individual to lead such a company for such a long period. The company is NAG Ltd., and the person is Dr Brian Ford.

Originally a mathematician with a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Nottingham, in what would now be called Quantum Mechanics but with a strong numerical element, Brian went on to be a major figure in University computing and then national and international computing. It is hard from today's point of view to realise the fragmentation of computing, even British academic computing, in 1970. The previous Government policy, that British academic computing only needed three computers, had been overturned by the Flowers report, and now every University was allowed to own a computer. Universities had different computers made by different manufacturers with different word sizes (e.g. the PDP-10 had a 36-bit word divided into 5 characters of 7 bits each - a sum that does indeed not compute). In the light of this fragmentation, and constant re-invention of the wheel, Brian called the inaugural meeting of what was then the Nottingham Algorithms Group, a collaboration of various mathematicians and statisticians from several countries, in 1970. It moved to Oxford in 1973, when Dr. Ford became its full-time Chairman. In 1976 NAG became a company limited by guarantee, i.e. distributing no profits to shareholders. In 1978 NAG founded NAG Inc., initially in a spare bedroom of an Argonne Laboratory staff member. Through NAG Inc. NAG software is incorporated in the Maple computer algebra system, so many people use NAG software without knowing it. NAG also provide a range of Excel add-ins, a Matlab toolbox and over forty other software products. NAG has also had a German office since 1991 and a Japanese office since 1994 specialising in NAG's graphical software, IRIS Explorer.

Standards form a fundamental part of modern computing. Brian has led NAG's involvement in international standards, with NAG, a British-led company of 100 staff punching in the same league as IBM and Microsoft, in view of its internationally recognised technical expertise. NAG wrote what has become the reference compiler for Fortran 90 and its successors, and NAG now provides the editor for the relevant standards agency (X3J3). This compiler is in use by over ten computer manufacturers, so here too people are using NAG products without knowing it: this "closetware" accounts for about 35% of NAG turnover. Fundamental to high-performance linear algebra, and higher operations, BLAS (Basic Linear Algebra Subprograms), a cooperation between NAG, Argonne and JPL, where again NAG provided the editor. Relevant to the use of mathematics on the Web are the standards MathML and OpenMath, where again NAG provided the editors. 6% of NAG staff are, or have been, editors of international standards: a most impressive ratio. The only relevant international standard in which NAG has had a (major) role and not provided the editor is IEEE floating point (standard 751), now used in virtually all computers.

In the 1970s and 80s, NAG replied on an army of implementers, largely though not exclusively from British universities, who transferred the NAG library to the wide range of computers then existing, often a process that took a year. NAG still has a number of external collaborators, including your orator: though the role has changed, NAG still remains a unique example of industry-university collaboration.

Chancellor, in view of his contributions to the computing industry, international standards, and university-industry collaboration, I present Brian Ford as eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.

[Ceremony details are also available.]