Because printed reports are such a common kind of output, it is logical to assume that in any large organization printers are ubiquitous. Although other types of output are gaining popularity, it is likely that businesses will still desire printed output, or will want to design output that will look good if customers, suppliers, or vendors print it out using their own software and hardware.
The trend in printers is toward increased flexibility. This trend translates into expanding the options for the location of the printing site itself, accommodating different numbers of characters per page, including numerous type styles and type fonts, changing the position of print on the page, including more graphics capability and color, producing quieter printing, protecting the environment, reducing the number of preprinted forms in inventory, simplifying operator tasks, and reducing the amount of overall operator intervention.
Together with users, the systems analyst must determine the purpose for the printer. Once that is established, three key factors of printers to keep in mind are:
- Compatibility with software and hardware.
- Manufacturer support.
Displays as Outputs
Display screens are an increasingly popular output technology. Once used mostly for data entry, screens are also becoming a feasible technology for many other uses as their size and price decrease and as their compatibility with other system components increases.
Screens have distinct advantages over printers because of their quietness and potential for interactive user participation. Screen output can afford flexibility in allowing the user to change output information in real time either through deletion, addition, or modification. Screens also permit review of stored output through access to and the display of items from a relevant database, permitting individual decision makers to stop storing redundant printouts.
Display screens as output result in cost savings. If users can complete their tasks by interacting with a screen, they may not need paper, thereby eliminating the cost of printing, filing, and physical storage. If a report was previously sent out by post, convincing users to view the documents on screen can save mailing, as well as printing, costs. Stockbrokers, phone companies, utilities, and banks are all offering electronic delivery of output to their customers.
Electronic display may also be desirable from the user’s standpoint. A user may want just to glance briefly at a monthly statement to verify its accuracy. The user needs, however, to file the statement away for tax reasons. If the statement is delivered via email, the electronic copy may be all that the user wants. This will help record keeping and consequently encourage the user to prefer the electronic statement to the paper statement. Another reason for preferring display output to paper output is that it is easier to keep the electronic version up-to-date.
One potential drawback is showing output on a variety of display screens using different screen resolutions. If the screen displayed is from a Web page, the Web page programmer needs a plan for checking images at each resolution (for example, 800 600, 1600 1200, and so on), using different browsers, to make sure that the pages look similar. If users need access to smartphones or mobile phones to complete their work, special Web pages may need to be developed as well.
If the output is a report other than a Web page, the analyst is faced with solving other problems. Users may not have the necessary fonts on their computers, and their Microsoft Word documents may be customized with unusual margins. If a Word document is sent by email, a beautifully formatted document on a sender’s computer may end up looking poorly formatted on a receiver’s display. One solution is to convert output to PDF files using Adobe Acrobat. This allows unusual fonts to be embedded and all the margins to be set properly no matter what computer or screen resolution the receiving party has.