Computers really are everywhere, from cash registers to diagnostic tools on auto shop floors. Wineries have web sites. Electricians have e-mail. Since mainframe computers first emerged in the workplace in the 1960s, organizations have progressively become more reliant on computer-driven technologies to handle everything from complex data analysis to daily communications. Computers help even the smallest of small businesses to operate effectively with a minimal amount of resources. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, computers could almost be considered as vital to organizational survival as food and water is to human survival.
Employees who do not produce products or services do produce information and knowledge. Peter Drucker classifies these human resources as "knowledge workers," which can include everyone from accountants to engineers. These workers process information as a matter of course. Computer databases enable knowledge workers across the organization to use the same information after it is created just once, and then continually build upon it, rather than recreating the information over and over again in different locations and at different times.
Common Computer Programs and Applications
Computer programs and applications in use at workplaces everyday could be said to be the tools of the trade for a traditional office worker. Examples of these tools include: word processing for writing everything from simple e-mails to complex technical manuals; spreadsheets to record and manipulate data in ledger or tabular formats; and databases that organize complex data into information that knowledge workers can use to make decisions.
Beyond the common applications, more use-specific tools enable employees to create and maintain websites, presentations and publications. Engineers often use Computer Aided Design, CAD, or more comprehensive Computer Aided Engineering, or CAE, programs which enable the development of technical documents and parts lists in addition to the design itself. Enterprise Resource Planning, ERP, and Materials Resource Planning, MRP, applications enable companies to keep track of everything from initial sales to the customer's final payment using the same data. The applications follow orders from receipt of the initial purchase order to production planning, from purchasing to manufacturing, and from distribution to accounts receivable.
Computers also provide knowledge workers with tools to collaborate with colleagues across town or across the ocean. Tools commonly used include e-mail, instant messaging, file sharing programs and live meeting platforms, such as Microsoft Live Meeting and Cisco WebEx. File sharing programs such as Microsoft SharePoint provide for document management and revision control, and enable employees to build upon each others' information. Live meeting platforms make it possible for employees in different geographic locations to meet in real-time and actually see information presented on each other's computer screens.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.