Microcomputers: Minimizing the Risks

By Foster, David H. | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, April 1984 | Go to article overview
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Microcomputers: Minimizing the Risks

Foster, David H., Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

Microcomputers: minimizing the risks In early December of last year I was preparing the books of my company for review by my accountant. I spent about three hours inputting data into my microcomputer and saved the file. Later, when I tried to print out the results, the file was gone. It had simply disappeared.

Chances are, you have had the same thing happen to you, or you have heard about a colleague who has experienced a similar difficulty. And even if you have somehow managed to avoid all of the several pitfalls associated with microcomputer use--pitfalls that are becoming more prevalent every day--you may experience one or more in the future.

The purpose of this article is to identify some of the more common problems micro users face, and to suggest procedures that will enable a department or company to minimize the risks that accompany use of microcomputers.

The benefits are clear

Computing power has been in use by companies since the 1960s and early 1970s. For most workers, the operational difference between the mainframes then and the microcomputers now is accessibility. Large complicated machines costing millions of dollars and requiring highly specialized knowledge to operate were, for the most part, used only for certain esoteric or expensive functions. Procedures to make these machines workable for a business were confined to a few data processing experts.

Today, most publishing companies have invested in microcomputers or are considering it--and with good reason. The word processing functions widely available to managerial and clerical staff alike can eliminate hours of clerical procedure in making corrections. Managers who can compose on the keyboard have the option to trade their secretaries' typing time for analysis.

Electronic spreadsheet have liberated managers who used to spend most of their working lives performing calculations and putting out management reports. For example, a circulation-production-by-source report (essential to running the print orders of a magazine) that would take up to three days to do by hand can now be updated and printed out in presentation-ready form in a half hour. Share of market analyses that took two weeks from start to finish in days gone by can now be completed in a day.

Time savings and the analytical power built into electronic spreadsheets have made possible sensitivity alternatives and statistical calculations previously considered to be out of the range of everyday decision making. What is perhaps most important, individual managers now have at their finger tips the power to explore their creative imaginations.

Yet, because the presence of these machines is so new and people are just now starting to use them on a wide scale, a number of problems are beginning to emerge. Any company, large or small, that comes to rely on its microcomputers is vulnerable.

The pattern is reminiscent of the earlier experiences companies had in bringing large computers into the business. The new machines challenge every work habit, including assumptions about the kinds of work that can be done.

There is a substantial difference between then and now, however. This time, learning how to deal with the new machines is not confined to a few computer nuts who, in the conventional image, often cared more about their machines than about the business.

Learning to manage the new resources available is for everyone, from the chairman of the board to the beginning analyst. Offices and managers are having to learn to live with microcomputers the same way that companies in the 1960s and early 1970s adapted to the presence of mainframes.

Needed: New methods, new imagination

In the struggle to gain control of the new powers available, all aspects of the way an office organizes its business and the ways managers and clerks spend their time are in flux. For example, because microcomputers provide individual managers with a rapid method of performing sensitivity analyses--with little additional effort--the kinds of information being demanded in sophisticated management environments is more complete than it has been.

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