Austin and Hughes (2001) identify the role of IT in today’s world of business, medicine, science and engineering as well as in integrated communication systems as follows:
Every day, people use computers in new ways. Computers are increasingly affordable, they continue to be more powerful as information processing tools as well as easier to use.
Computers in Business
One of the first largest applications of computers is keeping and managing business and financial records.
Most large companies keep the employment records of all their workers in large databases that are managed by computer programs.
Similar programmes and databases are used in such business functions as billing customers; tracking payments received and payments to be made; and tracking supplies needed and items produced, stored, shipped and sold.
Practically all the information companies need to do business involves the use of computers and information technology.
On a smaller scale, many businesses have replaced cash registers with point-of-sale (POS) terminals. These POS terminals not only print a sales receipt for the customer but also send information to a computer database when each item is sold to maintain an inventory of items on hand and items to be ordered.
Computer-controlled robots now do tasks that are hot, heavy or hazardous. Robots are also used to do routine, repetitive tasks in which boredom or fatigue can lead to poor quality work.
Computers in Medicine
Information Technology plays an important role in medicine. For example, a scanner takes a series of pictures of the body using computerized axial tomography (CAT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
A computer then combines the pictures to produce detailed three-dimensional images of the body’s organs. In addition, the MRI produces images that show changes in body chemistry and blood flow.
Computers in science and engineering
Using supercomputers, meteorologists predict future weather by using a combination of observations of weather conditions from many sources, a mathematical representation of the behaviour of the atmosphere, and geographic data.
Computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing programmes, often called CAD/CAM, have led to improved products in many fields, especially where designs tend to be very detailed.
Computer programs make it possible for engineers to analyse designs of complex structures such as power plants and space stations.
Integrated Information System
With today’s sophisticated hardware, software and communications technologies, it is often difficult to classify a system as belonging uniquely to one specific application programme.
Organisations are increasingly consolidating their information needs into a single, integrated information system.
One example is SAP, a German software package that runs on mainframe computers and provides an enterprise-wide solution for information technologies.
It is a powerful database that enables companies to organize all their data in a single database, and then choose only the programme modules or tables they want. The freestanding modules are customized to fit each customer’s needs.
Information and data processing
Data processing is the input, verification, organization, storage, retrieval, transformation and extraction of information from data.
The term is usually associated with commercial applications such as inventory control or payroll.
An information system refers to business applications of computers and consists of the databases, application programmes, manual and machine procedures and computer systems that process data.
Databases store the master file of the business and its transaction files. Application programmes provide the data entry, updating and query and report processing.
Manual procedures document the overflow, showing how the data are obtained for input and how the output is distributed.
Machine procedures instruct the computers on how to perform batch-processing activities in which the output of one program is automatically fed into another programme.
Daily processing is the interactive, real-time processing of transactions. Batch-processing programmes are run at the end of the day (or some other period) to update the cycle’s activities.
Periodic processing of an information system involves updating the master files. Adding, deleting and changing the information about customers, employees, vendors and products.
Information processing involves input, process, output and storage. Each of these phrases and the associated devices is discussed below.
Input devices: Input devices include the keyboard, pointing devices, scanners and reading devices, digital cameras, audio and video input devices and input devices for physically challenged users. Input devices are used to capture data at the earliest possible point in the workflow so that the data are accurate and readily available for processing.
Processing: After data are captured, they are processed. When data are processed, they are transformed from raw facts into meaningful information.
A variety of processes may be performed on the data, such as adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying, sorting, organizing, formatting, comparing and graphing. After processing, information is output, as a printed report, for example, or stored as files.
Output devices: Four common types of output are text, graphics, audio and video. Once the information has been processed, it can be listened to through speakers or a headset, printed onto paper, or displayed on a monitor.
An output device is any computer component capable of conveying information to a user. Commonly used output devices include display devices, printers, speakers, headsets, data projectors, fax machines and multi-function devices.
A multi-function device is a single piece of equipment that looks like a copy machine but provides the functionality of a printer, scanner, copy machine and fax machine.
Storage devices: storage devices retain items such as data, instructions, and information for retrieval and future use.
They include floppy disks or diskettes, hard disks, compact discs (both read-only and disc-recordable) tapes, PC cards, Smart Cards, microfilm and microfiche.
Computer software consists of the programmes, or lists of instructions, that control the operation of a computer. Application software can be used (for the following purpose)
- As a productivity/business tool.
- To assist with graphics and multimedia projects.
- To support household activities for personal business.
- To facilitate communications.
Productivity software is designed to make people more effective and efficient when performing daily activities.
It includes applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentation graphics, personal information management, graphics and multimedia, communications, and other related types of software.
Word-processing software is used to create documents such as letters, memos, reports mailing labels, and newsletters.
The software is used to create attractive and professional-looking documents that are stored electronically, allowing them to be retrieved and revised.
The software provides tools to correct spelling and grammatical mistakes, permits copying and moving text without rekeying, and provides tools to enhance the format of documents.
MS Word, Word Perfect, and WordPad are examples of word-processing software available in the market. Electronic spreadsheet software is used in business environments to perform numeric calculations rapidly and accurately.
Data are keyed into rows and columns on a worksheet, and formulas and functions are used to make fast and accurate calculations.
Spreadsheets, for example, Microsoft Excel, are used for ‘What if’ analyses and for creating charts based on information in a worksheet.
A database, for example, Filmmaker Pro, is a collection of data organized in a manner that allows access, retrieval, and use of that data.
Presentation graphics software, for example, Microsoft PowerPoint, is used to create presentations, which can include clip-art images, pictures, video clips, and audio clips as well as text.
Software for communications includes groupware, e-mail and Web browsers. New computers bought from authentic suppliers are usually delivered with most of these software applications on CD-ROM.