There are several factors to consider when choosing output technology. Although the technology changes rapidly, certain usage factors remain fairly constant in relation to technological breakthroughs.
These factors, some of which present trade-offs, must be considered. They include the following:
- Who will use (see) the output (requisite quality)?
- How many people need the output?
- Where is the output needed (distribution, logistics)?
- What is the purpose of the output? What user and organizational tasks are supported?
- What is the speed with which output is needed?
- How frequently will the output be accessed?
- How long will (or must) the output be stored?
- Under what special regulations is the output produced, stored, and distributed?
- What are the initial and ongoing costs of maintenance and supplies?
- What are the human and environmental requirements (accessibility, noise absorption, controlled temperature, space for equipment, cabling, and proximity to Wi-Fi transmitters or access points—i.e., hot spots) for output technologies?
Examining each factor separately will allow you to see the interrelationships and how they may be traded off for one another in a particular system.
WHO WILL USE (SEE) THE OUTPUT? Discovering who will use the output is important because job requirements help dictate what output method is appropriate. For example, when district managers must be away from their desks for extended periods, they need printed output that can travel with them or technology that can access appropriate Web sites and databases as they visit the managers in their region. Screen output or interactive Web documents are excellent for people such as truck dispatchers who are deskbound for long periods.
External recipients of output (clients and customers, vendors and suppliers, shareholders, and regulatory agencies) and users within the business will require different output. Clients, vendors, and suppliers can be part of several extranets, which are networks of computers built by the organization, providing applications, processing, and information to users on the network.
HOW MANY PEOPLE NEED THE OUTPUT? Choice of output technology is also influenced by how many users need the output. If many people need output, Web-based documents with a print option or printed copies are probably justified. Some external customers may want a printed copy of specific documents, such as a stockholder report or a monthly billing statement, but others may prefer Web-based documents with an email notification. If only one user needs the output, a screen or audio may be more suitable.
If many users in the business need different output at different times for short periods and they need it quickly, Web documents or screens connected to online terminals that are able to access database contents are a viable option.
WHERE IS THE OUTPUT NEEDED (DISTRIBUTION, LOGISTICS)? The choice of output technology is also influenced by the physical destination of the output. Information that will remain close to its point of origin, that will be used by only a few users in the business, and that may be stored or referred to frequently can safely be printed or mounted on an intranet. An abundance of information that must be transmitted to users at great distances in branch operations may be better distributed electronically, via the Web or extranets, with the recipient customizing it.
Sometimes federal or state regulations dictate that a printed form remain on file at a particular location for a specified period of time. In those instances, it is the responsibility of the systems analyst to see that the regulation is observed for any output that is designed.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE OUTPUT? What user and organizational tasks are supported? Consider the purpose of the output when choosing output technology. If it is intended to be a report created to attract shareholders to the business by allowing them to peruse corporate finances at their leisure, well-designed, printed output such as an annual report is desirable. Avariety of media may also be used so that the annual report is available on the Web as well as in printed form.
If the purpose of the output is to provide instant updates on stock market quotes, and if the material is highly encoded and changeable, screen crawls, Web pages, or audio presentations are preferable. Output must support user tasks, such as performing analysis, or determining ratios, so software tools, including calculators and embedded formulae, could be part of output. It must also support organizational tasks such as tracking, scheduling, and monitoring.
WHAT IS THE SPEED WITH WHICH OUTPUT IS NEEDED? As we go through the three levels of strategic, middle, and operations management in the organization, we find that decision makers at the lowest level of operations management need output rapidly so that they can quickly adjust to events, such as a stopped assembly line, raw materials that have not arrived on time, or a worker who is absent unexpectedly. Online screen output may be useful here.
As we ascend the management levels, we observe that strategic managers are more in need of output for a specific time period, which helps in forecasting business cycles and trends.
HOW FREQUENTLY WILL THE OUTPUT BE ACCESSED? The more frequently output is accessed, the more important is the capability to view it on a display connected to local area networks or the Web. Infrequently accessed output that is needed by only a few users is well suited to a CD-ROM archive.
Output that is accessed frequently is a good candidate for incorporation into Web-based or other online systems or networks with displays. Adopting this type of technology allows users easy access and alleviates physical wear and tear that cause frequently handled printed output to deteriorate.
HOW LONG WILL (OR MUST) THE OUTPUT BE STORED? Output printed on paper deteriorates rapidly with age. Output preserved on microforms or digitized in archives is not as prone to succumb to environmental disturbances such as light, humidity, and human handling. However, if hardware to access the archived material becomes hard to acquire or obsolete, this output method can become problematic.
A business may be subject to governmental regulations on local, state, or federal levels that dictate how long output must be kept. As long as the corporation is willing to maintain it and it is nonproprietary, archival information, it can be maintained in Web documents as part of the organization’s Web site. Organizations can enact their own internal policies about how long output must be retained.
UNDER WHAT SPECIAL REGULATIONS IS THE OUTPUT PRODUCED, STORED, AND DISTRIBUTED? The appropriate format for some output is actually regulated by the government. For example, in the United States, the statement of an employee’s wages and tax withholding, called a W-2 form, must be printed; its final form cannot be a screen or microform output. Each business in each country exists within a different complex of regulations under which it produces output. To that extent, appropriate technology for some functions may be dictated by law.
Much of this regulation, however, is industry-dependent. For example, in the United States a regional blood system is required by federal law to keep a medical history of a blood donor as well as his or her name—on file. The exact output form is not specified, but the content is strictly spelled out.
WHAT ARE THE INITIAL AND ONGOING COSTS OF MAINTENANCE AND SUPPLIES? The initial costs of purchasing or leasing equipment must be considered as yet another factor that enters into the choice of output technology. Most vendors will help you estimate the initial purchase or lease costs of computer hardware, including the cost of printers and displays, the cost of access to online service providers (Internet access), or the costs of building intranets and extranets. Many vendors, however, do not provide information about how much it costs to keep a printer or other technologies working. Therefore, it falls to the analyst to research the costs of operating different output technologies or of maintaining a corporate Web site over time.
WHAT ARE THE HUMAN ENVIRONMENTAL REQUIREMENTS FOR OUTPUT TECHNOLOGIES? Analysts need to factor into their output decisions accessibility, noise absorption, controlled temperature, space for equipment, cabling, and proximity to Wi-Fi transmitters or access points called “hot spots.” When humans interact with technologies, specific environments help systems run more effectively and efficiently. Users need accessibility and support in accessing Web pages as well as other output.
Printers require a dry, cool environment to operate properly. Displays require space for setup and viewing. Audio and video output require a quiet environment if they are to be heard, and they should be audible only to employees (or customers) who are using them. Thus, the analyst should not specify audio output for a work situation in which many employees or customers are engaged in a variety of tasks unrelated to the output.
In order to set up wireless local area networks so users can access the Web wirelessly, Wi-Fi access points need to be made available. These work when PCs are within a few hundred feet of transmitters, but can be subject to interference by other devices.
Some output technologies are prized for their unobtrusiveness. Libraries, which emphasize silence in the workplace, make extensive use of displays for Web documents and other networked database information, but printers might be scarce.