The Role of Information Technology in Business

The role of information technology systems in a business environment can be classified into four broad categories. These categories include function performance, communication through networking, management and enterprise roles.

Information technology provides commercial and industrial systems for businesses. These systems enable businesses to function effectively and efficiently.

Function IT Systems

Function IT systems are applications that allow individuals to function effectively in the workplace. Examples of common IT systems that enhance workplace functions are word processor applications, spreadsheet applications, statistical analysis software and computer aided design (CAD) programs. Employees can work and perform their task individually or collectively using these specialized software technologies.

Network IT Systems

Network IT systems allow effective communication within and outside an organisation. Examples range from simple e-mail (electronic mail) to blogs, wiki sites, IM (instant messaging) and electronic conferencing systems. These types of technologies promote interaction and collaboration among working groups and also facilitate quick information flow at all levels.

Management IT systems

Management IT systems(MITS) can be defined as planned applications that are designed to process data and transform the processed data into useful information for management decision making.

It should be noted that Management Information systems (MIS) are subsets of Enterprise IT systems (this is explained later on in this article). However, because of the vital role MIS play in a business environment, it is considered here as a major information technology for businesses.

In a typical scenario, management operates at different levels and so it is possible to apply management information systems at these varied levels.

Basic examples of management information systems are human resources management systems, financial management information systems and marketing management information systems.

Enterprise IT Systems

Enterprise IT systems are technologies designed to integrate and manage entire business processes for large organisations. Typically, enterprise application software is hosted on large servers over a computer network. Transmission of information can either be internal or external.

Examples of enterprise information systems may be accounting software, health care specific software or Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Another good example of software application within this category is Customer relationship management software (CRM).

The role of Information technology in business is wide and varied. It can be said that IT provides a huge range of capabilities that enhance management performance at all levels. It is therefore important to understand the four major categories of IT systems and their functions and roles in a business environment.

Technology & Your Business: A Beneficial Relationship

As a home-based business owner, you probably don’t have a high-priced IT manager on staff to fill you in on which technologies could help boost your efficiency and success. You may also lack the confidence to incorporate new technology into your home office, particularly if that technology is unfamiliar.

The reality, however, is that there are technologies out there right now which could save you money and help your business run smoothly. Below are just a few examples.

Networking

Networking is basically the connecting of multiple computers so that users can easily share and access files and programs on other computers. Most companies use computer networking to help their workers get their tasks done effectively. If your home has multiple computers you can network them as well to receive similar benefits.

Networking can save you money. For one, you only need a single printer or scanner because all of your home computers can use the same one. You can also save on Internet fees. If you use a broadband connection, home networking will allow you to use one connection for all of your home computers.

Another benefit is that many pieces of software can also be shared between computers so you don’t have to buy multiple copies.

To establish a simple network in your home, each computer needs to be outfitted with a network adapter. Today, many come with these right out of the box. You will also need to purchase the necessary cable and hardware; the equipment you need varies depending on the type of network you decide to establish.

You can use your existing phone line, install an Ethernet network, or create a wireless network. While the prices vary for all of these types of networks, all of them are affordable for most budgets.

Remote Access

As you may have realized, working from home often means being tied to your computer and that can significantly limit your mobility, even if you use a laptop. Remote access technology changes all that.

Remote access technology will allow you to work with all of the files and programs on your primary computer even if you are a hundred miles away from your office. If you are on vacation, on a business trip, at the park with your children, at a coffee shop, or wherever you can keep waiting, keep checking your email, and keep communicating with your customers and clients.

Never being tied to your desk again simply requires you to purchase remote access software. Some of the program, such as Norton’s pcAnywhere (http://www.symantec.com/pcanywhere), are available for outright purchase while others like LapLink (http://www.laplink.com) charge a monthly fee. Costs range from $40 to $200 and $9.95 to $29.95 respectively.

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

If your business is like most, one of your biggest operating expenses is your phone bill. Those long-distance calls to customers and vendors can really add up each month and can dramatically eat into your profits. With VoIP technology, however, you can reduce those bills and save more of your revenue.

The technology allows you to use your broadband connection to make unlimited local and long distance calls without having to pay those additional fees or using a long distance carrier. Unlike early types of voice communication over the Internet, VoIP technology does not detract from the quality of the telephone reception. In fact, using the technology to make or receive a call seems no different than using a traditional telephone service.

With VoIP, a phone adapter is connected to your telephone and to your broadband modem. When you make a call using your ordinary phone that adapter converts the signal from analog to digital and sends it over the Internet to the person you are calling.

When someone calls you, your telephone number essentially works like an email address that guides the signal over the Internet and into the phone adapter. The adapter converts the signal and sends it to your phone. All of these steps occur in about the same length of time it takes for a signal to travel those standard phone lines.

A number of providers currently are offering VoIP services. The phone adapter, which is the only piece of hardware required, is not expensive and some providers even include it for free when you sign up for service. Most of these services charge a monthly fee that includes an unlimited number of long distance and local calls, plus features like call waiting and voice mail.

The most popular of these services, Vonage (http://www.vonage.com), offers unlimited minutes which can be used for local or long distance calls within the United States as well as free voicemail, caller ID, call transfer, and more as part of their small business plan. This plan costs only $49.95 per month. That’s considerably less than what the average business spends on their phone bill.

The bottom line is that in today’s business world, you need every advantage you can get. Technology can help give you that advantage. Make the most of it.

Social Networking Technology and Business

The merge of social networking technology and business has caused an epic shift in working culture as a whole, especially when it comes to the new required levels of transparency in businesses. Enterprises are now obliged to be more interactive on a personal level with their customer, whether their customers are other businesses or the general public. The whole marketing monologue of a company now needs to be shifted to an ongoing dialogue with customers over a wholly public channel, moving the power straight into the realm of the consumers.

With such a strong demand for not only an online presence but an active, engaged, interactive, social and networking personality, how can a company find a balance between social networking for the benefit of their business and networking for the recreation of their employees? The fact is, social media means different things to different people, to some it is just a place to connect with friends, and to others it is a valuable tool through which to convey the personality of their business.

Inside the workplace, is the promotion of social networking as acceptable work activity really justifiable? Are your staff encourage to tweet, blog and update for the company, do you have one person solely dedicated to such tasks? Or is there a blanket ban on all forms of social media uses whilst on the clock? So the debate battles on… There are considerable doubts as to whether set rules that favour either opinion can be successfully monitored by managers or HR without sending the wrong messages to employees about work ethics and levels of expectation.

Opening up social media as a way of handling customer service is also causing a split of opinion, the combination of online platforms and cloud-based technology can provide intelligent solutions to small businesses who are struggling to handle the needs of customers. It allows them to cater for consumers who now want their questions answered and demands met around the clock; intense as this seems the insight into customers’ needs and most importantly; their wants, are the result of opening such channels, which many believe is very much worth the trade-off.

So, increasing numbers of SMEs are reaping the benefits of a good social networking policy, however it is very important to measure its effectiveness, no one policy is a right fit for all businesses, it must be adapted to meet your specific needs.

How do you reap the benefits of social networking? Social media platforms are hubs for promotions and giveaways, are you using them for this purpose? Are your security settings set to allow comments from everyone? Opening up work-orientated social media sights is one thing, actively trying to drive traffic there is another, the extended networking circles of employees are a good place to start, but potential and existing customers should be next on the list.

Many small businesses have adapted to using Facebook as a recruiting tool, believing that this medium allows them to locate the candidate with the best cultural fit for the company, plus someone who is naturally enthusiastic about the brand, which is always a place to good begin when searching for new-hires. Employing individuals who are already engaged with the company may benefit retention rates and improve customer service levels as a high engagement level is also linked to a strong belief in the objectives of the business.

If correctly managed, the amount of social media users alone is reason enough to allow social networking, the potential reach for a company is astronomical. If there is a solid policy in place then perhaps usage can be successfully managed in a way that would only do positive things for the business. On the flip-side, the method of actually implementing a blanket ban, regardless of the size of the HR department, is a considerable task to tackle. A sense of distrust would be immediately established when imposing stringent restrictions; this may affect retention rates as well as motivation levels if employees feel they are constantly monitored for social network activity as opposed to actual work productivity.

Irrespective of the decision, having a social media policy in place is paramount, so at least the boundaries (or lack of them) are clear from the start. This policy should clearly detail what the company considers to be fair usage of social networking and also guidelines about what distance needs to be maintained between the personal and professional when it comes to social media.