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Chapter 3.7 Use of Systems and Data3.7 (a)         The Value of Data and the Use of DatabasesData can be very valuable to ...
In these systems, users plug into the interface provided by the VANS operatingcompany and the software does everything els...
Rich Text Format files. These are a complex format used to store data from a wordprocessor. They include information about...
3.7 (c)        Computers and CommunicationComputers are now used to aid communication between many devices and to providee...
3.7 (d)        New BusinessThe Internet allows communication on a world-wide basis. This means thatadvertising can be rela...
Organisations are setting up help desks for customers to contact when they have aquery. At present, most of these help des...
Staff who work in stores only take stock a few times a year instead of weekly. Stocklevels are kept on computer databases ...
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  1. 1. Chapter 3.7 Use of Systems and Data3.7 (a) The Value of Data and the Use of DatabasesData can be very valuable to an organisation providing it can be clearly analysed. Anearly example of the value of data is the use of stock control systems. As the dataabout stock can be updated each time a stock item is sold, the stock situation is alwaysup-to-date. This means that, as soon as the amount in stock falls below a reorderlevel, an order can be placed. Indeed, many systems trigger the reorderingautomatically as soon as the number in stock falls below its reorder level. This isoften done by the system sending the order to the supplier using electronic datainterchange (EDI).This automatic stock reordering has two cost effects. First it means that theorganisation should rarely run out of stock which would cause a loss of sales if it wereto happen and, hence, loss of income. It also means that the organisation should notneed to store large quantities of stock which would lead to high inventory costs.If the organisation also keeps data showing the rates of sales of products, the systemcan recognise changes in these rates and so change its ordering patterns.Thus, data about products in stock and rates of sales is valuable as they improve theprofitability of the organisation.In order for data to be of value they must be accurate and up-to-date. Often data areinaccurate due to them not being frequently updated. If the sales figures are only usedonce a week to update the stock database, the stock levels are soon out of date and thedata have little value.These days, banks offer services other than banking. They offer mortgages, insuranceand business support. If a bank is considering a loan, it is important that the bank isaware of the risks involved. Keeping data about previous borrowers, such as age,income and social background, and comparing the data for a potential new borrowerwith the historical data can help to determine whether or not to make the loan. This isoften done using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques and leads to fewer peoplereneging on their loan. Thus, the data used is very valuable to the bank.Another example is of an international company that has run two advertisingcampaigns in two different countries. The one was much more successful than theother. It is important that the company keeps data about the two campaigns in orderto determine why the one campaign was more successful than the other. This willlead to better sales campaigns in the future, improving the profitability of thecompany.However, how does the senior executive in one country know what is happening inother countries? Modern companies keep databases that can be accessed on a world-wide basis. In order to do this, value added network services (VANS) are used.These simplify the exchange of data between users of the service by using computernetworks. 6.1 - 1
  2. 2. In these systems, users plug into the interface provided by the VANS operatingcompany and the software does everything else. A VANS may operate in a singlecompany or may be of use to several companies. For example, estate agents mayshare a VANS in order to match potential buyers with sellers over a much wider areathan is possible if each estate agent only has access to their own data. This system isalso used by solicitors having access to local authority databases for conveyancingpurposes. Eventually VANS will operate on a world-wide basis. Thus data that wasonly of value to a small number of users is now of value to many more. This meansthat the data have increased in value.One of the problems with so much data being available is trying to sift the data foruseful information. This is often achieved using data mining techniques. A lot ofwork is going on to develop sophisticated data mining software which looks forpatterns in vast quantities of data.The ability to sift through data to find patterns such as  finding people who are most likely to respond to junk mail,  which products (such as bread and milk) are most often sold together in a supermarket,  which people are likely to live longest,can lead to much better targeting of customers with the result that there are betterreturns on investments.A great deal of work is being done on data mining as many companies can make useof the results. Indeed, some companies sell lists of people who may be valuablecustomers to other companies.3.7 (b) StandardisationIn order to be able to share data successfully some form of standardisation is neededso that users can send, receive and interpret the data correctly. Some typical standardsused for files are given below.Text files. These are used to hold characters represented by the ASCII code. Textfiles are used to transfer data between application packages. The data consists ofindividual characters and there is no formatting applied to the characters.Comma Separated Variable files. These are used to transfer tabular data betweenapplications. Each field is separated by a comma.Tab Separated Variable files. These are used to transfer tabular data betweenapplications. Each field is separated by a tab character.Standard Interchangeable Data files. These are used to transfer tabular databetween applications. They are not common outside the UK education market. 6.1 - 2
  3. 3. Rich Text Format files. These are a complex format used to store data from a wordprocessor. They include information about fonts, sizes, colour and styles.Picture files. These are used to represent sound/pictures in digital format. There aremany different formats such as BMP (bit mapped), JPEG (Joint Picture ExpertsGroup), GIF (Graphical Interchange Format) and MPEG (Moving Picture ExpertsGroup). JPEG and MPEG involve compression techniques. It is these techniques thatallow pictures to be quickly transferred over the Internet. MPEG has also allowed theintroduction of many more television channels through a more efficient use of thebandwidth available over the media used.Sound files. As with picture files, there are many different formats that store sound indigital form. WAV files are common on PCs. Storing sound requires a great deal ofmemory. CDs sample at the rate of 44,100 samples/sec and DVD (Digital VersatileDisk) at 96.000 samples/sec. Thus 3 minutes of music requires 3 x 60 x 96,000 =16Mbytes. A typical DVD can hold 4.3 Gbytes or 13 hours of music.Without standards there would be a proliferation of formats and it would not bepossible to move data electronically. Not only must file formats be standardised butalso communication methods. For example, if two computers need to communicate,it is essential that both are sending and receiving data in the same format. It is uselessif one computer sends in one format and the other is expecting the data in a differentformat. As communications are world-wide and there are a multitude of computermanufacturers, it is essential that standards are set for consistency.The method of transferring data over a wide area is usually by means of ISDN(integrated services digital network) connections. ISDN is used by telephonecompanies to connect digital exchanges.In order that data are understood when received, it is not sufficient to package datainto a format that can be sent along ISDN connections. The data may representsound, pictures, text or many other things. It is necessary to package this data intosome standard format first. The standard used is Open Systems InterconnectionReference Model usually simply called the OSI model. The OSI model is simply a setof rules (protocol) for the transmission of data from one piece of hardware to another.These rules will have to cover the medium used for the transmission and then rulesabout the software itself. This is an obvious subdivision for the rules that are needed,but these can also be subdivided. In all the OSI model has 7 subdivisions (othermodels have more or fewer, but all work on the same basic principle). The point beingthat if the whole protocol was treated as a single entity then every time a small changewas necessary, perhaps a different peripheral being added to a system or a differentsoftware being used, the whole protocol would need to be altered. However, in theOSI system, only one of the subdivisions (actually called ‘layers’) needs to be altered. 6.1 - 3
  4. 4. 3.7 (c) Computers and CommunicationComputers are now used to aid communication between many devices and to provideextra facilities that were not available with the old telephone networks.Voice mail digitises spoken messages and stores them on disk. When recipientsaccess the messages they are converted back into sound.Digital telephone systems provide many facilities. Because computers can maintainvery large databases, it is possible for users to have itemised bills, recall storednumbers and to have accurate timing of calls. Although itemised bills can be sent outon a regular basis, users can, using the Internet, access their own accounts at any timeand see what calls they have made and the costs of these calls. These systems alsoallow the use of voicemail. Mobile phones rely heavily on computers to route calls.Electronic commerce (e-commerce) is becoming more popular. It is quite common toorder goods over the Internet. Many companies use computers to maintain largedatabases that can be queried by customers online who may then place orders. Anextension of this is EDI (electronic data interchange). EDI allows users to send andreceive order details and invoices electronically. It differs from email in that the datais highly structured into fields such as senders name, recipients name, order number,quantity, product code, whereas email is completely unstructured in that it is simplytext. Fig. 3.7 (c)1 shows how this works. Many companies insist on using thismethod of ordering and invoicing. Retailer Customer Order Payment Invoice Computer Delivery Note Computer Price List Fig. 3.7 (c)1Teleconferencing allows a group of people to communicate, throughout the world,simultaneously using telephones and group email. Video conferencing is similar toteleconferencing but also allows users to see one another. These methods ofcommunication have reduced travel costs as meetings can be held without peopleleaving their desks. Originally, special rooms were required for videoconferencing.This is no longer necessary as videoconferencing can now be done using standard PCsand a video camera. In this system whiteboards can be used to produce drawings thatcan be transmitted electronically. 6.1 - 4
  5. 5. 3.7 (d) New BusinessThe Internet allows communication on a world-wide basis. This means thatadvertising can be relatively cheap. Organisations can advertise all round the worldfrom a single site. There is no need to advertise in each individual country. It alsomeans that it is easier to sell goods throughout the world. Organisations can createWeb sites that advertise their goods and let users have access to their productdatabases. It is also possible to allow users to order, and pay for, goods on theInternet. This means that people will be needed to create Web sites, to keep them up-to-date and to manage large databases of goods and customers. Users can transmittheir details and orders over the Internet at very little cost. The main problem issecurity of information and people are needed to create secure systems for EDI.Another area of expansion is in providing information. For example, medicaladvances can be posted on the WWW that can then be accessed world-wide. Indeed,doctors can request advice using the WWW.The use of the Internet by media reporters can mean that news can be quickly updatedand that information is in electronic form. This means that it can be manipulated foruse on other media.3.7 (e) TrainingTraining in the use of IT is essential if users are to make the best use of it. Youngpeople are growing up in an IT environment and receive basic training in its use.However, older generations find using IT daunting and need careful and appropriatetraining. This may be as simple as switching on a PC and loading software or mayinvolve the use of particular packages. In the latter case, the packages taught need tobe pertinent to the jobs carried out by the learner. It is very easy to alienate learnersby teaching them how to use software facilities that they will never use.It is also important that courses provide sufficient time for the learners to practise newskills and to be provided with sufficient notes to enable them to redo tasks, set duringthe course, at a later date. Online help is not enough; most people prefer to have theirnotes in printed form. This is because they need to look at their work and their notesat the same time. Adjusting the size of windows so that the work and the notes areboth on the screen at the same time is often unsatisfactory. Also, learners like to flickback and forth through their notes and this is much easier when the notes are onpaper.IT is an ever-changing subject, which means that users continually need retraining.Application packages are continually being upgraded and new applications are beingcreated daily.IT is changing the way things are done all the time. Robots weld cars, what is to bedone with the people who used to do the welding? They will have to be retrained todo a different job. Bank clerks used to add up columns of figures, now they presskeys on a keyboard. However, they are now expected to provide new services to thecustomer other than handling cash and cheques. They have had to be retrained assales persons as banks now sell mortgages, insurance and other services. 6.1 - 5
  6. 6. Organisations are setting up help desks for customers to contact when they have aquery. At present, most of these help desks involve large numbers of people. Infuture a lot of this help will be provided electronically by means of databases thathold data about frequently asked questions (FAQs). This means that the operators ofthe help desks will have to be retrained to create these databases.Training in the use of IT is not sufficient in itself. Employees can be trained to useemail but also need training in how email can be used to enhance their work. Insteadof groups of workers meeting, say, once a week, the workers can keep one anotherinformed of progress when it happens. This means that all workers on a project knowthe current stage of development of that project. This speeds up the work. However,training is needed in these new working methods, particularly to prevent anoverloading of email communications.3.7 (f) Changing Work PatternsAt one time a sales person went to a customer with a catalogue and a price list. If acustomer wanted something unusual, the sales person had to go back to the office toget details. Now a laptop and a modem can allow the sales people to access thecompanys database from customers premises. This allows them to spend more timewith customers.A similar example is that of selling double-glazing. At one time someone went to thecustomers house and measured all the windows. The next step was to go back to theoffice and prepare a quotation which was then sent to the customer. Now, the salesperson can use a laptop, with suitable software, to prepare a quotation on the spot.It is quite common for people to work on a project in the office, email it home andcontinue working on it later at home.Like banks, factories have seen major changes in working patterns. Fewer people areneeded in the assembly process because of more machines being used, many of themintelligent and robotic. However, more technicians are needed to maintain theautomated plant. This seems like a balance of job lost against jobs gained, but it ismore complicated because the jobs lost are normally low skill while the new jobs arehigh skill. This movement of skill levels in the work force has major implications forthe education of people and also means that many who were employed may not beable to learn new skills and hence get new jobs. There is a consequent social problemin society of a whole new underclass of people who are unable to gain satisfactoryemployment.Office personnel use computers to produce invoices using databases of orders,delivery notes and customers. The company payroll is fully computerised withmoney being transferred electronically from employers bank to employees’ banks.No longer do wages clerks have to calculate wages and count money into pay packets.Hotel receptionists have access to a database for all the hotels in a group. This meansthat they can now book hotels for customers other than the one in which they work. 6.1 - 6
  7. 7. Staff who work in stores only take stock a few times a year instead of weekly. Stocklevels are kept on computer databases and need to be checked occasionally in casestock is removed without passing through point-of-sale terminals. (This may be dueto products being damaged or stolen.)Teachers and lecturers often set assignments using computer networks. Students thenpost their work to their tutors electronically. Tutors view the work on screen andreturn the marked work, with comments, electronically.People expect much higher quality in documents, whether it is posters or letters.Students expect teaching materials to be of a higher standard. This book has beenproduced in electronic format so that you can read it on a screen and print it off forlater use. This means that your school or college only has to have one copy of thebook and it can be shared using a computer network.Products can be manufactured to a much higher standard because of the use ofcomputerised machines and robots. This increase in accuracy has lead to an increasein quality. Self- assembly furniture is easier to put together because the parts aremade more accurately. Childrens building toys look much better because thecomponents are more accurately made and are of better, more consistent, quality.This increase in quality has led to fewer faults in end products such as motor cars.This means that, in the case of motor cars, mechanics spend more time servicingvehicles and less time correcting errors in manufacture. However, the increase inquality has also led to a reduction in the need to service motor vehicles. 6.1 - 7
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