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IT REPORT

 

 

This is the first issue of our Information Technology (IT) Report. It was delivered to both our clients and our prospective clients in March 97. If you would like to receive a copy of this report or of subsequent issues, please email us at hal@hollings.com.

The following is the slimmed-down digital version of our report.

 

We believe that the very foundation of a business is the information technology supporting it. For some, it will be a springboard, for others, loose sand.

Contents

IT Should make business sense

General trends in the IT industry

Future outlook

 

IT should make Business Sense

Windows 95 is mainstream! PCs equipped with Intel Pentium processors have become 'entry level'! RAM chips dive in price! The Internet beckons! What will happen when we enter the year 2000?
Among the chaos and confusion of the Information Technology (IT) industry, it is hard to know which lures bring rewards and which have hooks buried just below their flashy exterior. For the owner of a business, keeping an eye on the market to decide which new piece of technology to invest in could be a full-time job. The right decision will give a much needed boost to business performance. Any mistake could set the business back in money, time, and morale.
We at Hollings Associates Ltd. are in the business of watching and studying the IT industry so that we can make informed and practical recommendations to our clients.
The way to approach IT decision making is with the question, "Will my investment in this technology now, bring a sustainable increase in profits tomorrow?" To answer this question we look at the following aspects of the technology:
· features, price and performance
· support offered
· ability to integrate with existing systems
· probability of future upgrades
· conformity to leading IT standards
· flexibility to allow for tailoring to the needs of the user
The following is a breakdown of the different categories of IT that we use to serve our clients. In each category we consider strengths and weaknesses of products. Our actual recommendations for a specific client depend on the needs of the client.

Operating Systems

Just over five years ago DOS was the dominant operating system on PC's. Along came Windows, which promised many features including a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and the ability to multi-task (run more than one program at any given time). Initial releases of Windows ran on top of the DOS environment and, though they were much more aesthetically pleasing and intuitive than DOS, were crash prone in a network environment and required expensive hardware. As a result, we were reluctant to advise our clients to invest the extra money to move to Windows.
With the new Windows versions (Windows 95 and its 'big brother' Windows NT), many of the old problems have been overcome. Being much more stable than its predecessors, almost all software producers have recognized it as the dominant operating system and thus are spending most of their resources developing for it. We too have begun developing under Windows 95 and are now convinced that the Windows environment is 'ready for prime time'. For a business, it is no longer a question of if it should go to Windows but when.

Productivity Software

Microsoft has been the dominant player in the software market for the last several years. They have the largest influence on standards and, as the developers of Windows, they know the best ways to optimize performance of the software that runs on top of it.
We believe that Microsoft will continue to dominate and set the standards for the PC software industry for many years to come and thus we have chosen Microsoft Office 97 as our productivity package. It contains a word processor (Word), a spreadsheet program (Excel), a presentation package (Power Point), and a personal scheduler and E-mail manager (Outlook). These are all integrated, not only with each other, but also with Internet standards to allow such things as exporting an Excel spreadsheet directly to the World Wide Web (Internet). Staying with the Microsoft productivity 'family' means all the components have the same 'look and feel'. This promotes efficiency, reduces errors and can save a business time in training employees.

Development environments

While the cost of hardware continues to go down, software development requires scarce, expensive programming skills. The solution is to use hardware power together with software development 'power tools' to increase the programmer's productivity. We at Hollings Associates recognized this many years ago and adopted a RAD (Rapid Application Development) relational database product called ZIM.
An exciting new development is the imminent release of a new version of ZIM for Windows, with facilities for the concurrent operation of both DOS and Windows workstations sharing the same (server based) master files! This version also includes facilities for database integration with Microsoft Office and the Internet.
Windows has opened up several new options for development, one of which is Microsoft Access. We have already used Access for a few projects and have been impressed with its capabilities. Since it can directly interact with Microsoft Office applications and with the Internet, its capabilities go far beyond a typical database. We also favour Access because, since it is one of Microsoft's front-line products, we expect upgrades and enhancements that will constantly improve and extend its capabilities.
Development environments for Windows are still in their infancy and we are open to, and expect the industry
to develop, many new options in the near future.

Accounting Software

All the mature Accounting software for PC's began life under DOS. Now that the Windows environment has matured, developers of accounting software, such as Business Visions, are offering Windows versions of their packages.
There are also several new accounting packages that have emerged including one called 'Solutions Accounting' that has recently caught our eye. Though it is a newcomer to the industry, it offers many innovative features. Since it is developed in Microsoft Access (see Developing Environments above) with the source code provided, we can tailor Solutions Accounting to the exact needs of a client and can even integrate it with other custom software we develop under Access.

Desktop Hardware

With hardware prices as low as they are we recommend that clients not only buy to meet their needs for today, but also for the next few years. For a Windows 95 based system, we currently recommend a Pentium-133, 32 MB RAM, 1 GB hard drive, 1 MB video RAM, a 28.8 BPS modem, and a 15 inch monitor. This now costs around $1600 per station.

Networks

Depending on the needs of the client, either a peer to peer network or a network with a dedicated server can be used. A peer to peer network is an inexpensive way to connect existing computer stations for file transfers and the occasional sharing of resources such as printers.
For a business that needs to share corporate data (e.g. accounting data) and resources on a regular basis we recommend designating a station as a dedicated server. This will increase the speed and reliability of the network. To maintain this dedicated server the two leading operating systems are Novell Netware and Microsoft Windows NT. Novell still has the largest market share in this field but Windows NT is gaining ground and is our first choice in 'all Windows' environments (no 'legacy' DOS applications).

General trends in the IT industry

Understanding the general trends in the IT industry is important when giving advice on which technology to invest in. Without this understanding, it is easy to get lured by technology that seems quasi-magic now but within a year is obsolete. That is why we at Hollings Associates Limited are constantly studying the industry and feel confident recommending technology to our clients.
The following is a summary of the general trends we have observed and studied in the IT industry of today.

Smaller, Faster, Cheaper, Better!

The information technology industry is advancing exponentially. All changes move towards smaller, faster, cheaper and better technology. Already notebook computers, weighing only four pounds, surpass the power that mainframes had 20 years ago. By the year 2000, a single microprocessor will surpass today's mainframes in raw power. Hardware prices have dropped and are continuing to drop at a staggering rate. Three years ago the price of sixteen megabytes of RAM was almost $ 1,000 today it is little more than $ 100.
Not only are old ideas being improved, but new technologies are emerging like the Internet which has had as profound an effect on the world as the invention of the microchip. E-mail, duplex phone conversations, and soon, video-conferencing can and will be globally available to individuals for the price of a local phone call.

Integration

From large companies to the home user, people are realizing that the emerging technology enables them to be much more productive because it is integrated. Instead of having a list of contacts in your phone book, information on clients in your accounting software and email addresses of friends in your mailing program, all these sources of data can now be combined into one database resulting in the three programs being integrated.
Large companies are merging business processes with their accounting systems. Software producers are creating integrated productivity packages like Microsoft Office. Small companies are connecting their main databases to the Internet to allow customers and suppliers to access them. These are only a few examples of this general trend that will surely progress to maximize the productivity of people using information technology.

Standardization

With integration comes a need for a common language between separate software programs, networked PC's, servers on the Internet, and even just people. The trend of integration has thus given birth to the trend of standardization.
Objecting Linking and Embedding (OLE) and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) are examples of standards for the Windows operating system. TCP/IP and Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML) have become standards for the Internet. A new developing environment called Java allows programs written in it to run on any operating system (Windows, Unix, Mac OS, etc.)
Similar to speaking a common language, embracing the standards of the industry enable a company to integrate with business partners. Recognizing these standards allows software programs, different computers, and people to communicate more effectively.

Future Outlook

Mark Anderson, the founder of Strategic News Services, claims that "in this next year we will see more advances in computing than we have seen in a decade. And the real revolution - in communications - will be unmatched by any prior advance in our lifetimes."
Those in the computer or telecommunications industries will likely be involved with creating these changes. But even those who don't own a computer will find their lives affected in significant ways by these advances.
If you are the owner of a business, effective use of the emerging technology is a matter of survival. We at Hollings Associates Ltd. not only want you to survive, but will help you excel.