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Information Systems In Business Essay

The topic of computers in business is probably the broadest topic available to me. It covers every way that the computer affects the business world – from computers used by businesses to the rapid rise of computer manufacturing businesses to the computers used by the customer at home to access web based businesses. I am also going to assume that in this instance the topic is limited to the use of PCs, as with the inclusion of, for example, the process control instrumentation used by an automobile manufacturer the scope of this essay would broaden to unmanageable proportions. The topic is open to a lot of interpretation as computers in business could be taken as “How do computers affect the business world?” – the answer explaining the different sectors of business that have arisen as a direct result of the rise of computers – for example the world of the solutions provider, which is climbing ever higher in the stock market, despite being nothing more than a group of third-party companies selling and maintaining bespoke packages of pre-made software to companies looking to revamp their systems.

I could look at the rise of computer and software manufacture – again a fast

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moving sector that is having more and more effect on the industrial climate, but my own interpretation of the title (given the module I am working for) would be closer to “How essential to a business is a sound computer infrastructure, and how does this affect the businesses that use computers (with particular reference to e-commerce)?”. To look at industries now, it may seem that the PC is everywhere, fully settled as the tool of choice for almost any application (just look at the depth of the scare perpetrated by the “Millennium Bug” two years ago), and yet comparing business computer use now to that over the last few years will show the use of computers still rising at an exponential rate – showing clearly that the PC has, even now, only just begun to take hold. The reasons become clear once we look at the bigger picture, and realise that as computing power, home computer use and credibility in the World Wide Web increases, businesses are having to adjust their strategies of targeting customers from the base level up.

Fifteen years ago, a typical business would be using PCs mainly in the head office for their word processing capabilities – many still ran on typewriters. Five years ago, they would be starting to implement PC based retail systems to facilitate transfer of transaction data from till to back office to head office. These days a large chain can survive only if they run a high spec, PC based retail system, powered by a sophisticated database server, that will distribute figures across the dense network of desktop PCs and laptops at head office for workers’ processing and directors’ perusal. They also need a clear e-presence, with an intricately designed marketing website, usually sporting information about the current product range and if applicable an on line ordering system, for customers to purchase products and merchandise. A typical network for a retail sector business would be modeled along these lines: The information system database server holding all sales and accounts data for distribution and processing across the network (along with a development server for maintenance and progression of the database system) being connected not only to the various departments at head office that utilize this information, but also to the home user who can view information and make purchases over the internet.

However, with increased computing power there will always come a loss of reliability, and juggling the ratios of these two factors will prove to be a critical task to any business looking to progress the information technology they work with. A system can break down anywhere from the ground up, and if the rest of the system is not designed to cope with this, then the company could come crashing down. For example if the back office server in a shop were to either stop functioning, or lose communications with either the tills or the I.S. polling equipment, then the store would have to cease trading if the tills are not equipped with some kind of buffering system to store transaction information until the breakdown has been rectified. Such a fault would still have knock on effects on the weekly or monthly figures of a company or branch, and would, as such affect business analysis and decisions based thereon.

Similarly, the retail network must be able to cope with the loss of one or more tills and still function. Until recently, all the tills were linked serially to one ‘master’ till which would then feed information to the back office server. This worked fine unless the master till itself went down, rendering the store useless, or the second or third till went down, taking the rest of the tills lower down the hierarchy out of action too, rendering a store crippled. The parallel network model was introduced so that each till made it’s own connections with the back office PC, and this problem became a thing of the past. A company also has to think carefully about their website – how it will be placed, how it will target customers, and such. It is a common problem for a company with any kind of reputation to find that .com has already been registered either by a ‘cyber-squatter’ waiting for this opportunity to sell on the domain name at a profit.

The cyber-community has worked around this by the continual introduction of new domain extensions – from the original .com .org and .net, through the likes of .co.uk to the most recent .ltd.uk and .biz. This has, however, enabled rogues to move in a different direction – that of using similar net names to a big company and passing themselves off as that company in order to steal business from unwary web surfers. The courts, both in the UK and US have set precedents that now make it harder for the unscrupulous to make a fast buck at other’s expense, but it is the brand name that can be at stake, so companies should be vigilant of such activity. The web site also need to be accessible, taking into account the speed at which the home user will be able to access the information they want, and the platform they will be using.

It is possible for sites to have several different versions of their web site, enabling the user to choose upon logging on the level of multimedia ‘wow’ (and consequently download time) they desire, and tools such as Adobe’s Acrobat and programming languages such as Sun Microsystems’ Java offer portability and platform independence, enabling the web developer to create a website that will look and behave exactly the same, no matter what kind of system the user is accessing them from. Many companies are still using the industry standard Windows NT platform for their network system as they are reluctant to move to the newer Windows 2000 as the cost of both the software and the necessary skill set are high. Companies are, however, slowly moving more and more towards Linux based systems, as the open source ideal affords them the luxury of widespread software skill, and cheap, easily adaptable software. Linux also is strongly server geared, and as such facilitates a strong e-presence to the company by proxy. They will also use an office suite through out the departments, and will commonly have some kind of exchange server to enable them to communicate both internally and externally via e-mail.

Any company with a web presence will also need to be protected by a ‘firewall’ – a software shield against any untoward attempts at accessing the system, and usually monitoring internal web usage to ensure it adheres to the company’s Internet and Email policies, which are usually strictly enforced. A company could face prosecution for one of its employees actions if they are using the internet or email illicitly or damagingly, under the Computer Misuse Act. If their web site contains an online ordering system, then this will need to be secure, providing encrypted credit card transactions so the company can assure the home user that they can purchase goods from their website without fear of a hacker capturing their credit card details for fraudulent use, and also some kind of card authentication so that previously stolen information cannot be used.

The effects of computers on a business can be shown easily by examining the case study of Yates Group Plc in Appendix A; the result of this change was redundancy for around 30% of the head office staff, as well as major departmental restructuring. With all of the invoices being received, confirmed, processed and paid accurately and quickly by the computer system, the finance department was soon cut drastically to a minimum of staff, and those members of the IT department who were concerned with maintenance and administration of the older systems were soon ousted from authority in favour of those who had pioneered the data warehousing system. Members of staff who remained also found that with the new data warehousing system, they were able to complete their work from anywhere, as all they needed to do was log onto the internet and point their browser in the right direction. This fragmented the office infrastructure, as it meant members of staff were much more flexible in what they could achieve and where. It cut out the need for many departments all specialised in one area, and left one flexible team that could travel all over the country and still work well together.

Transactions with suppliers were now considered more secure, as there was less room for human error when making or receiving orders, and the computer system was adept at spotting irregularities – preventing both fraud and theft. It also enabled the company to instigate fail safe measures, such as the ability to automate ordering for stores that had failed to place orders in their allotted time by monitoring stock levels as they were used. The fact that the whole system was web based ensured that all this technology would not be obsolete in a few years, and could easily be kept cutting edge, because the software would move forward as the platform did. Conclusion It is easy to see that the rise of computer use across the globe will continue unabated for many years to come.

The World Wide Web certainly appears to be the way forward for the likes of Yates’ that wish to both target customers in the home, and save time, money and labour in their day to day running. With 40 000 new users signing up to Internet Service Providers every day , and this years widespread launch of Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology in the home, there is fast becoming a world of houses that are hard-wired direct to the web, at speeds that open up a new level of media. This will offer the consumer such a wealth of choice that companies will have to make every effort to keep up with the rest of the newfound competition. Despite the regular rise and fall of purely web based ‘dot com’ companies, it seems to me that a well established company moving towards being largely web based in operation and construction would create strong feet for its self in a future that is inevitably going to be more virtual than it is actual.

Appendix A: Case Study Yates’ Group Plc. The famous chain of Wine Lodges was established over a hundred years ago, and has thrived ever since, with the addition of an up market variation ‘Yates Metro ’ and their increasingly popular chain of restaurant ‘Ha! Ha! Bar and Grill’ . Until recently, the company was a leader in its class, but with rising competition from the ever growing number of ‘Super Pub’ chains through the nineties, the company started to show falling profit margins. A solution was soon found. This year, the company revamped their computer systems to create more reliability from their network and Internet servers, and placed high end PCs in every branch to run the retail system, connected to their main network by dial-up connection.

They then revised all of their procedures to work over the Internet. The pub would perform all of their contact with head office by dialing into the head office network and connecting to the Internet via the Internet (proxy) server there. They could then upload sales figures to the company servers, or perform all their ordering for food and bar supplies over the Internet using accounts created and regulated by head office. This enabled head office to receive invoices and delivery notes electronically from the suppliers, using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). This not only reduced mistakes, but the invoices were now received a day earlier, and no longer needed entering into the local system manually. Yates’ Group Plc. then took this a step further, and began to automate the processing and publishing of this data using small computer macros, and storing all the information on a huge web-based data warehouse, with all head office staff working directly over the web when looking up or editing any information.

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