The Integrated Office Ties Technologies Together to Increase the Knowledge Worker's Productivity.
What's really meant by "the integrated office'? Most vendors have offered definitions based on their product offerings. Others have offered a definition that centers on "utopia,' where several existing technologies are somehow mysteriously merged into a cohesive office system. Simply, the "integrated office' can be defined as the integrated application of office automation, data processing and telecommunications technologies to satisfy the needs of the knowledge worker, clerical staff and management.
The purpose of the integrated office is to increase the productivity of the people within an office while reducing the costs of operation. This is accomplished by eliminating redundancy, improving communication efficiency and providing decision-support tools and instant access to data.
Before the integrated office can become a reality, the communications industry must refine many newer technologies to allow for integration into an office systems network. Standards that allow for office network integration must be defined. Many of today's technologies that offer viable alternatives for office systems are still too costly to be used on wide-scale implementations.
The integrated office should revolve around multifunctional workstations using distributed data processing principles. The office systems network should be designed to place resources according to the method in which people work and the way that organizations function.
The focal point of the integrated office is the individual office worker. Although job functions vary from company to company as well as within an office, several common tasks can be defined. Most people gather, analyze and process information. The information is then communicated to others, who in turn act on the information.
The key to the integrated office is to provide tools that assist people at all levels with handling and communicating information. These tools should minimize the number of steps required to obtain the information. Once the information has been obtained, the tools should simplify the process of analyzing and subsequently processing the information. Once the information is ready for distribution, it must circulate quickly and be in a form that minimizes the time required to act on it.
People usually work in a department with a common purpose. Most of the information flow within a company stays within the department working on the information. The integrated office must provide the means for people working as a group to share this information. Collective efforts should be easily combined and decision-making processes simplified.
Departments whose efforts complement each other should provide common access to shared information. The flow of information between departments is often time critical. Fast, simple methods of communicating information between departments are a must.
Many companies have several office locations--some have them within a short distance; others, hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Many of these offices are mini versions of several larger departments rolled into one office unit. Access to information from several locations may be necessary. Each location may require access to common information and may need to provide information to one or more departments within a company.
Multinational companies have an even more-complex problem with information flow. Many office locations must mirror the same functions as the main office complex. Communication with other locations is difficult due to time differences. Relatively sophisticated worldwide office networks must be linked.
In order to integrate these different types of offices and locations, an extensive network must be installed with several optional characteristics available to support differing requirements. First, individuals should have access to a multifunctional workstation that provides a variety of office support tools. The workstations would then be integrated into a departmental cluster providing common resources and access to external communications (see diagram). Individual departments would be linked by one or more networks and to the corporation's main data center. Several company sites, including multinational offices, would be linked via a worldwide network and remote access to the data processing center.
Each industry and each organization will have unique problems to address in establishing the integrated office. Once the structure is in place, we can begin to solve these unique problems. The common starting point is a multifunctional workstation. This type of workstation would handle personal-computing/office-automation-type applications. The workstation would provide access to the data processing and telecom networks.
Individuals within an office would either have access to a workstation, in cases where infrequent use is needed, or they would have a workstation on their desks. Several individuals within a department would be linked together via a cluster processor. The cluster processor would provide mass storage and common output devices, such as printers, plotters and intelligent copiers. Information and data common to the department would reside at the cluster processor, while private data could reside either at a workstation or at the cluster. The cluster would provide mail and file-transport services to individual workstations and be the gateway to communications outside the department.
Each department within a company would be linked by a company-wide network providing access to the data processing center and to services outside the company.
Companies with several locations would link each location via a remote network access facility, which may in turn link several departmental clusters. The remote sites may also be linked directly with an electronic-mail/telex-type network. The level of activity from each site may require a direct link with the data processing facility.
Multinational companies would most likely install data processing facilities at major central sites. Several offices would be tied together through remote systems. Each office throughout the world would be integrated into a worldwide communications facility offering electronic-mail and file-transfer services.
Before the integrated office becomes a reality, we must solve the problems caused by automation as well as the problems that prevent automation. Executive-level participation in office automation will require voice and single-touch control. Very few senior-level executives have time to learn how to use automation devices. Managers throughout the organization must be trained in the technology, as well as how to type, before the integrated office offers productivity gains. We can learn from the industrial revolution about people's fears of displacement. Jobs must be kept interesting and not be reduced to mundane chores. As people worry about jobs, the unions will make inroads into the office.
Management must address these issues and develop plans to provide a smooth transition to the integrated office.
The key elements of the integrated office start at the desk top. Computer technology today has provided us with multifunctional capabilities. A single desktop unit can provide data processing power, word processing and communications capability.
New telecommunications technologies can be interfaced with the desktop computer to provide computer control of voice communications. Single-keystroke dialing and automatic-messaging systems provide an end to telephone tag.
Data communications networks provide faster methods of accessing mainframe data bases. Distributed processing systems allow for data capture on larger local storage devices, which minimize the amount of traffic on communications lines. Intelligent terminals tied to data communications networks are providing more local intelligence for the cost of older "dumb' terminals.
A variety of other office equipment, such as intelligent typewriters, intelligent copiers, OCR scanners and image-processing systems, can be linked with departmental computer systems and communications networks to provide an integration of what used to be stand-alone functions.
New, more-powerful software products are providing extensive work and data processing tools. Electronic calendars, word processors with spelling dictionaries, spreadsheet programs tied into data bases, and graphics-support software are beginning to provide the integration necessary for office automation success.
Multi-tasking operating systems and new "windowing' software will make it easier for people to work in a normal manner, instantly switching between tasks. Electronic-mail facilities will make communications information much faster and more efficient.
Networks providing the integration of LAN (local-area network) technology with PBX systems and data processing networks need to be provided. A network processor that will tie together separate network technologies will be key to providing the integrated office.
Most corporations must solve several problems associated with supporting the integrated office. This will require planning at several management levels. Senior management must establish specific goals to be achieved by the integrated office. Funding must be set aside for training people on the proper use of new technologies, as well as retraining people whose jobs are affected by change in the office environment.
The information systems or data processing department must plan for training unsophisticated, nontechnical users who need access to corporate data processing. Planning for network traffic and data processing load from possibly hundreds of sites must be undertaken to properly administer and control the network. Providing security for corporate assets (data) is crucial to the survival of any organization. Planning is also required for the type of systems and software that can integrate within a network.
Managers must plan for the proper use and allocation of systems within their departments. Work and information flow must be laid out to minimize duplicate efforts and unnecessary expense.
Training must be put in place to not only teach users how to use the office systems but also how to apply their use productively. Courses in when to use graphics or decision-support tools and how to plan time and schedule work effectively must be developed. A starting point would be perfecting typing and calculating skills. Proficient use of 10-key numeric entry and typewriter keyboards is essential to office automation.
A master schedule should be developed to provide equivalent levels of automation throughout an organization. The highest level of productivity gain should be implemented first, with subsequent priorities established for less-productive but cost-effective gains. Gradual placements of both equipment and software tools will allow for increases in productivity while providing a learning curve for users. As users become comfortable with technology, new technology becomes easier to install.
The foundation for the integrated office can be installed today. The technology exists. We are still a few years away from a full implementation that will prove cost effective. But as the newer technology is refined and becomes more widely available, the integrated office will finally exist. The planning and training must be done now--and the foundation must be laid-- to take advantage of tomorrow's fully integrated office.
Table: The Typical Departmental Cluster
Table: The Integrated Office Network
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|Date:||Jan 1, 1985|
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