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COMPUTER FORUM
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COMPUTER FORUM: The Evolution of Your Information System - Part IV

This series began with a reference to recent statements made by business analysts that, at any stage of your company's development, if you are not ready to grow and adapt to the constantly evolving technologies, you may not survive in today's changing world. That premise becomes increasingly evident as we watch new hardware, software and operating systems develop and mature to accommodate the greater and more varied demands of today's business computer users. Since these developments affect the full range of computer system types, the need to adapt should be a concern for every type and size of plastics business.

This is the fourth and final column of this "evolution" series. As promised last issue, it will discuss the integration of operations into the evolution, present an overview of the process and make some recommendations concerning your evaluation of a best way to apply this process to your individual plastics industry operation.

Operations

The term "operations" covers a broad range of activities that take place within your business, so it will be discussed in very general terms here. For instance, inventory tracking is one of many possible data management operations. As in inventory tracking, any data management process shares several common concepts; data gathering (physical inventory), data storage (inventory files), data analysis (inventory inquiries), information dissemination (report generation), and decision making (ordering inventory).

Your business is internally dynamic and every decision is important to the smooth flow of its operations. Making effective decisions depends on timely access to information about events and circumstances throughout your organization. As your business expands or your time becomes absorbed by other things, gathering this information becomes more difficult. When paper reports and file cabinets full of records were the only sources of information used to run a business, even daily reports tolerated a 24 hour lag-period. Today's competitive business pace demands instant, real-time access to information.

Your customers are likely accustomed to, and expect information requiring you to know where their jobs are and when its completion is anticipated. You then want the same responsiveness from your suppliers. Your accountant wants to track cash flow in real time. Your manufacturing manager wants to know where his inventory is now. Those and many other requirements for instant information were initiated by the use of computers in business and are now the standard on which competitive businesses thrive. There is no getting away from it.

Overview

Because the source of all this information is the data gathered by or input into your stand-alone computer or your computer system, there is a demand for some amount of efficiency in gathering that information. If everybody in the company reports to one person who controls the data management process, the bottleneck in the entire process could very likely be that procedure itself and you are back where you started. The answer may be to have each individual responsible for a procedure also be responsible for updating the system with the latest information on that procedure.

Now the evolutionary process is beginning to clarify itself. Since it is essentially driven by the need for information, the decision to introduce new equipment and/or system software into your business should be determined by your need for that information. You determine how and when each step of the evolutionary progress takes place. The trick of deciding is staying ahead of the decision process by knowing what types of information are available and knowing the next action to be taken to bring that capability into the system.

From the typical beginning of the computer's involvement in a fledgling business accounting system to its integration into customer, inventory, vendor and operations management, the evolution of your management system should be responding to your need to run your business effectively and efficiently.

Recommendations

Your computer system should evolve with your company in response to the need for information. Watch for your business bottlenecks, not only on the production floor but also in the office. Too often, individual people or mechanical processes are blamed for the problems that prevent a system from performing efficiently. Although it may not be your first instinct, looking for a way to evolve your computer system can many times be the solution that serves every part of an otherwise problematic procedure. In other words, question whether quicker access to additional information might help your employees or yourself make better decisions.

Be as objective as possible and consider the following areas:

  • Take a close look at how you manage your business and be sure you are getting the best and most timely information you need to do that.

  • Make sure the other decision-makers are also getting the information they need to make the best decisions.

  • When you see a process with problems check to see if a lack of information is the cause of the problem. If so, it is probably time to look at evolving your computer system.

Microsoft®, the Continuing Tale

The Microsoft® monopoly case went a step further recently with Judge Jackson declaring that the company violated anti-trust laws and should be split into at least two companies. The likely impact on systems of the immediate future will be some diminishing of the rapid proliferation of integrated developments we have been seeing. Microsoft® has led the charge in that direction with good reason. Since operating systems control the integration of data transfer through OLE and, to some extent through mutual SQL and ODBC capabilities, it only makes sense that when the future of a major system component like Windows® is in question, the continued development of enhancements will likely slow. If alternative operating systems like Linux® are going to make any inroads into the operating system battlefield, this may be an opportune time for them, as well as for you, to take advantage of the possibilities they offer. In any case, it is definitely a time to keep and eye on cross-platform systems. As of this time writing, Microsoft® is building an appeals case to prevent the breakup and as we all know, the appeals process can go on for a very long time.

Editor's Note: This is the conclusion of "The Evolution of Your Information System" series. Parts I, II, and III can be found on our web site at www.plasticsmag.com in the Article Archives. Jerry has received several questions from readers over the course of this series, some of which he will be addressing in future Computer Forum columns. Keep those questions coming, this column was designed to be an interactive forum on the management and evolution of digital data as it relates to plastics distributors and fabricators.

For more information, click on the Authors Biography at the top of this page.

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