The Integrated Voice-Data Terminal Puts More 'Work' into Workstation.
But things weren't just simpler then; they were also much slower. Professional workers had to submit written requests for printouts of needed information to the Memory Czar, and what was sent back wasn't always what wasa needed. Similarly, it could take as much as half a day to get the word processing (WP) department to correct a single typo on an important report that had to get out fast.
Some people claim that widespread use of personal computers among professional workers had made the business of doing business more complex today, but this isn't necessarily so. It just seems that way because DP and WP functions are performed much more quickly. The multifunctional professional workstation frees the knowledge worker from dependence on the corporate mainframe for simple word and data processing operations. Microcomputers are proliferating in the workplace because they improve productivity--the production of higher-quality work in less time. Machine Adapts to Man
To succeed, professional business tools must meet this productivity measure: the ability to produce higher-quality work in less time in a cost-effective manner. But they must also be compatible with the existing business environment. In other words, while all technologies create change, this change must not be so drastic that it forces people to alter the way they do business to meet the requirements of a machine.
Consider the remark of Xerox President David Kearns when a reporter asked why the company's Star 8010 workstation failed to meet sales expectations: "We've also run into some inevitable human factors. People are reluctant to commit to a product that forces changes in the way they do their work." PC Improving Productivity
By bringing word and data processing capabilities to the professional worker's desk top, the personal computer improved business productivity and flourished. Part of the reason for the personal computer's acceptance is design-by-familiarity. "The popular idea is to make new machines understandable by making them analogues of familiar ones," says Dr. Thomas Malone, a computer-design authority who teaches at MIT's Sloane School of Management. "That's why word processors are like typewriters."
But that was the trend of the '70s. Technological advancement has led to the integration of data communications (including access to information stored in other computers as well as the word and data processing capabilities of a personal computer) with voice communications, an essential work function. Venture Development Corporation, a Wellesley, Massachusetts market-research firm, predicts that integrated voice-data terminals, devices that combine voice and data communications capabilities, will be the fastest-growing product segment of the workstation market in the 1980s, particularly for senior executives at the vice-presidential level and above. Researcher Notes Phone Time
Venture DEvelopment notes, that because executives spend as much as 50 percent of their time on the phone, advanced communications capabilities will be the key factor behind this growth. But if one thinks about it, it's not just senior executives, but all knowledge workers, who spend as much as half of their time on the phone--and it may well be this level of worker who will relly spur the demand for integrated devices--the type of professional workstations that can provide personal-computer power along with advanced telephony and data communicatwon capabilities. Combating "Techno-dread"
"Techno-dread" is an excellent reason to begin with the ubiquitous telephone when designing a productivity tool for the professional worker. A professional productivity tool is worthless unless the professional will use it. Venture Development's study states that one of the challenges facing workstation manufacturers today is getting the user to adapt to new tools. New York Times Behavior Writer Daniel Goldman echoes the observation: "The user's attitude toward a machine has a lot to do with how well it will be used," he writes in a Psychology Today article. Added Line Cuts Phone Tag
There's a lot we can do with the basic telephone to improve the productivity of professional workers, even before incorporating sophisticated microelectronics. Simply adding two lines goes a great way toward eliminating telephone tag, which eats away at the worker's day in time-consuming re-dialing. An answering machine also eliminates a part of telephone tag.
And adding a speakerphone frees the worker's hands for notes, while allowing two or more people to participate in a conversation at one end. Way to Improve Productivity
A simple way to improve productivity while improving the user's attitude toward the device is to combine a number of the professional tools that normally clutter the worker's desk into a single workstation. Microelectronics begins to enter at this level, providing an electronic Rolodex, call-record memowriter, messaging system, data terminals, clock, calendar and calculator rolled into a single device that occupies one space on the desk.
But here, the system designer confronts a major obstacle: How to increase the functionality of the professional workstation without a corresponding complexity in its use. "If the user has to start thumbing through a manual looking for what to do, that's terrible," says John Seely Brown, head of the Cognitive and Instructional Sciences Group at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, in a recent Psychology Today article. "As equipment gets more complex, you'll have manuals the size of telephone books, and the user will feel enslaved by his technology."
In designing its workstation, Ambi Corporation borrowed from the field of artificial intelligence to address this problem. The AmbiSet integrated voice-data professional workstation contains a "Learn Mode"--software that remembers tasks the professional performance, and repeats them automatically at the press of a button at a later time.
For example, the process of accessing and logging on to a remote information utility, such as Dow Jones News Retrieval or The Source, via a discount telephone carrier, such as MCI or Sprint, involves numerous strings of numbers; the discount carrier's telephone number and access code, the telephone number of the information utility and its billing or access code, and the codes for the data bases containing the desired information. When dialing manually, much time is spent referring to the appropriate numbers and keying them in. Hit a single wrong key, and the process starts over again. Software Programs Sequences
On the other hand, the Learn Mode, which is activated by pressing a function key before dialing, programs the appropriate number sequence into the workstation while the user is manually dialing the numbers. This is programming the system for access to a wide variety of information sources without having programming skills or assistance from the data processing department. The number sequence is repeated automatically for future calls at the press of a button.
As MIT's Malone writes in the International Journal of Machine Studies. "It is not enough for the system to provide a powerful functional capability if the user cannot make us it. The system should help the user without getting in his way, allowing him to concentrate on his task, not the system; it should be efficient to use and easy to learn, it should be consistent, logical, natural." Active Device Takes Messages
To truly automate the office, a device must take action and operate independently, rather than sitting on the desk waiting to be used. For instance, if one's not there to answer a telephone request for information, the device should take the caller's message or forward information. The device should work like a professional worker, handling multiple tasks and varied responsibilities at the same time.
The professional worker's day is schizophrenic, spent partly analyzing and partly communicating information. This realization, along with technological advancements that allow the merger of personal-computer and communications capabilities, has led to the development of devices that work the way the professional worker works, combining processing power with communications ability.
The AmbiSet, for example, has two lines, capable of either voice or data communications or both simultaneously. This means that a user can take calls over either line, merge calls from one line to the other, call out on the second line while a call is in progress on the first, or--as an active device--program the workstation to divert a call on one line to another number, which is automatically dialed while the workstation is in unattended program. User Calls Up Information
It also means that the user can call up information from a remote computer on the second line while a call is in progress on the first, or transmit information to the caller on the first line over the second line, so that both parties are referring to the same visual data under discussion. With two such communicating devices, for instance, a comptroller can call up a manager's budget on a spreadsheet on the workstation's display, telephone the manager and transmit the spreadsheet; and the two can simultaneously perform what-if analyses on the same spreadsheet while discussing the results.
The true professional workstation has a multiple personality. It can do several things at once. This is extremely important; it's why windowing software and concurrent operating systems are among the fastest-growing segments of the software market.
By integrating several professional tools, such as the telephone, computer terminal, programmable calculator and Rolodex, into a single device, designers overcome techno-dread through familiarity and functionality. Productivity is improved by eliminating fumbling for the appropriate tool and by speeding access to information. But in a recent study, MIT's Malone discovered another, equally important aspect of the desk top the reminding function.
"It is no surprise that people organize their desks, in part, so that they can find things. But perhaps the most important insight from this study of desk organization was that . . . an equally important function of most desk organizations is reminding," Malone writes in ACM Transactions on Office Information Systems. "Much of the information that is visible on top of the desks and tables in most offices is there to remind the user of the office to do something, not just to be available when the person looks for it."
In examining a sample desk top, Malone found that "about 67 percent (of the piles of information) were piles of things to do, presumably placed there to serve as reminders." One of Malone's conclusions was that "systems should make it easy for their users to store certain information so it will automatically appear, without being requested." Device From Follows Function
Malone's observations about the reminding function of information is similar to the thinking behind the development of an active rather than static workstation. In the case of the AmbiSet, its integral clock/calendar can automatically flash messages on the display for the user at a preset time, place calls, or access and display information a user feels will be needed at a particular time and date.
With its interactive communications capabilities, the device takes the reminding function one step further: One workstation user can transmit a reminder to another automatically. For example, a secretary can send a message to the screen of the boss's workstation while the boss is involved in a conversation on the other line. Or the unit itself can display a preset reminder for a particular time, even while the boss is on the phone.
Design-by-familiarity, functionality and ease of use are attributes of systems that an organization should select to begin automating the work of its professional staff. But it should also remember that users begin to demand more and more functionality from a system as their computer literacy increases. Expandability is also important.
"The worst mistake executives can make is to go for the lowest-cost vehicle to get into office automation," Thomas Kavanaugh, president of NBI, once told a reporter. "Often they lack performance, functionality and extensibility. The first-time user has to choose carefully; he won't be able to handle too much machine, and his office can't grow with too little machine," he explained. Functionality Satisfies User
The problem then is how to keep the user satisfied with the system after overcoming the initial techno-dread. A Rand Corporation paper presented at the 1983 National Computer Conference noted that "satisfaction with functionality is the best predictor of use of the system." Here lies the answer: Providing a machine that can grow in functionality as the user's needs grow more sophisticated.
Many designers have addressed this problem by making their systems compatible with the IBM Personal Computer, which allows their devices to run programs from the vast library of software available for the PC. Another solution is to allow the user to link the device to peripherals that increase its functionality. The AmbiSet, for one, can be linked with an external disk drive to provide greater data storage, with a full-screen display for intensive data or word processing applications, with external printers, or with a local-area network to connect the system with a data communications network external to its voice communications lines. Progress Promises Even More
During the 1970s, the personal computer was heralded as offering all the tools the professional worker needed for dramatic productivity improvements. But advances in the understanding of how professionals work, along with improved erogonomics (better interface between people and machines) and new voice and data communications technologies hold the promise for something even better.
Just as the human professional worker is split between analysis and communications duties, the new professional workstation improves productivity by simultaneously handling both information processing and communications tasks. This new device is active, not a static partner waiting for the professional's approach, and is able to handle tasks in an unattended mode. As a partner in the project at hand, it provides reminders when needed. And, most importantly, it can grow in capability as the professional user's skills increase and as the nature of the tasks at hand gain in complexity.
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|Date:||Oct 1, 1984|
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