Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest for the trees. Let us, therefore, briefly review where we have been in order to have a clearer idea of where we are going.

Toward Integration and Ease of Use

In the last twelve chapters, we have examined software, hardware, and systems separately. Let us now reexamine them and see how they are evolving and how they fit together into an information processing system.

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Software All the advances in computers would be of limited value without software to instruct the computers on the operations to be performed. Historically, businesses developed their own software, mainly to run large computers and transaction processing information systems. Recently, however, the trend has been toward purchasing integrated packages, both for microcomputers and for main-frames. As we have seen, integrated software packages combine word processing, spreadsheets, data base management, graphics and communications programs. Such packages are capable of creating a data base of information, maintaining it, and retrieving information from it.

For both users and programmers, structured programming concepts have greatly improved the efficiency of the programming process. Also, applications languages are being developed that are very high level and much more user-friendly, which will benefit nontechnical users. The evolution in software is toward integrated software packages and higher-level user-friendly languages. The key words are integration and ease of use.

Probably most dramatic, however, is the increasing use of research in artificial intelligence. We may expect to see expert systems not only in specific applications, as in knowledge-based systems, but also in large-scale applications in the three levels of information systems: TPIS, MIS, and DSS.

Hardware Technology is the driving force of the information revolution, and this technology is centered on improvements in hardware. Here are some of the recent developments:

- Input devices: These are now designed to eliminate data entry steps by allowing direct data entry from source documents, thereby reducing human errors and

removing the need for batch data entry. A particularly fascinating development is the refinement of voice input.

- Output devices: These are becoming more varied, more reliable and faster. High-quality output devices are readily affordable for low-cost computer systems. Graphics

terminals and laser printers have greatly extended the capability of presenting output, enabling sophisticated desktop publishing, graphics presentations and the like.

- CPUs: Integrated circuits are less expensive, faster, and more reliable. The famous Intel "386" chip has opened the door to microcomputers with CPUs that exceed the power that only mainframes had a few years ago. The


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processors of tomorrow promise to be even more powerful, particularly with new developments in  parallel processing.

- Secondary storage devices: Optical disks and other devices allow more information to be stored and retrieved than would have been thought possible a few years ago, which means that large data bases can now be created and maintained relatively easily.

- Data communications: The communication links that allow the integration and common sharing of various information resources are constantly improving. Micros and mainframes now work constantly together, and many offices have multiuser systems for micros.

- Microcomputers: One of the most dramatic hardware advances, the microcomputer, when combined with communication links, can give users a wide variety of powers, from solving individual problems locally to calling up information from large centralized data bases. The microcomputer is a tool that enhances personal productivity, whereas the mainframe or minicomputer is a corporate tool.

As with software, the evolution in hardware has been toward integration of equipment, use of communications systems, and the development of ever more user-friendly capabilities. Especially important is the capability to integrate microcomputers into an organization's total computer information system through data communications links.

Systems. As we have seen, within large organizations, computer applications can be categorized into three areas: transaction processing information systems (TPISs); management information systems (MISs); and decision support systems (DSSs).

TPISs focus on record keeping and clerical operations. MISs focus on management reports. DSSs focus on supporting decision-making and planning activities. Although each system is separate and performs a distinct function within the organization, all require and use a common data base of corporate information.

The revolution in information systems is in the development of DSSs and the use of common data bases inside and outside the organization. The result is, once again, toward integrating information and making it user-friendly. The key to this integration has been the recent development of powerful yet easy to use data base management systems that allow TPIS, MIS, and DSS systems to efficiently share common data. In particular, the OS/2 operating system permits windowing, multiuser use, and multiprocessing, and allows better integration between system software. As

mentioned, we will probably also see further integration of expert systems and AI into TPIS, MIS, and DSS.

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