Office Technology

views updated Jun 08 2018


Changing technologiesincluding personal computers (PCs), slide projectors, movie projectors, overhead projectors, television monitors, videocassettes, videodisc players, multimedia systems, and the Internethave had a major impact on the office environment since the start of the twentieth century. The ability to use technology is an essential skill in the ever changing workforce of the twenty-first century.

The modern office has changed dramatically since the 1990s. Offices in today's society are transmitting information via electronic mail (e-mail), electronic calendars, and teleconferencing, as well as other electronic devices. Communication via technology is just as important as oral and written communication in the work environment. Technology continues to play a vital role in transforming the business environment.

Advances in technology have transformed the world of work. As the work environment has changed, individual workers see how their work connects not only to their particular work place, but to the entire value chain.

The backbone of technology is the local area network (LAN), a single-site computer network, or the wide area network (WAN), which supports worldwide work groups. Both of these networks provide tools for users to transmit data, graphics, mail, and voice across the network. LANs and WANs enable distributed work teams to complete projects using groupware and decision support systems.

Merging in the fast lane of the information super-highway of the twenty-first century world of work, faster information systems, blink-of-an-eye access to the global marketplace, virtual offices, virtual teams, and virtual organizations are coming into existence. The impetus is technology. The technology explosion has transformed every level of business environmentfrom the typical office worker to the chief executive officer (CEO), providing a challenge for all. Technology is creating whole new genres of content. Office technology focuses upon office information functions such as word processing, data processing, graphics, desktop publishing, and communication.


The invention of the PC in the 1980s altered the way computing power was distributed within an organizationchanging how companies were run, the ways in which information was created, and the ways in which information was used by individuals in carrying out their jobs. The use of word processing and spreadsheet packages made it possible for professional staffs to create their own reports without having to go to a central typing pool or computer center. Prior to the advent of the PC, secretaries typed letters, created reports, and organized information in files. The nature of secretarial positions changed with the arrival of the PC, from a focus on document creation and production to a focus on other kinds of administrative functions, as reflected in the changing work patterns of the office.

Office systems consist of tasks to be performed, procedures to complete the tasks, sets of automated technologies designed to enhance productivity, and personnel working within the framework of a business organizational structure. Office systems exist in facilitating and retaining communications, and creating, processing, and distributing information. Integrated hardware components and integrated software applications enhance the productivity and efficiency of the overall organization to the success of the business.


The variety of technologies available continues to change. Some of the technologies used in today's offices are:

Intranets and Internets

Messages can be transmitted electronically within an office (intranet) as well as around the universe (Internet, or Net). Workers are able to exchange information over the computer via the Net through e-mail. E-mails can be sent simultaneously to many individuals around the world.

The intranet is an internal computer network that is used within a company, whereby pertinent informationsuch as telephone directories, calendars of events, procedure manuals, job postings, and human resources informationcan be posted and updated. With the intranet, one is able to communicate online with individuals within a designated work environment.

The Internet is a global computer network that permits millions of computers around the world to communicate via telephone systems and other communication lines. It is also known as the digital information super-highway and is a part of the World Wide Web. With the Internet one can communicate to anyone online throughout the world. The Internet is a public worldwide computer network full of information comprising inter-connected networks that span the globe.

Web Pages

Web pages make it possible for businesses, organizations, and anyone who wishes to post information or sell products to do so on the World Wide Web. Web page programssuch as Macromedia, Dream-weaver, and Site Rackenable users to create their own Web pages.

Web-Based E-Mail

Web mail is a popular Internet service that allows one to send messages and files to anyone around the world from any computer that is connected to the Internet. With an account, users can send and receive messages, images, and any other type of information. Users can access e-mail even if they do not have a computer, simply by using small, inexpensive devices that fit in the palm of one's hand.

E-mail is keyed messages sent from one computer screen to another, using a network linking the units. Transmitting messages from one computer to another offers office workers the ability to communicate quickly through written messages with colleagues, coworkers, and friends.

Voice Mail

Voice mail is an outgrowth of e-mail. Information is spoken into the phone. Words are converted or digitized into electronic computer language. This form of communication is transmitted electronically by phone lines for immediate delivery or can be stored in a computer mailbox. The recipient is able to retrieve the message by dialing a code number to access the mailbox. The computer reconverts the message to the caller's voice and the recipient is able to hear the voice message.

Electronic Calendars

Office tasks are being accomplished and redefined by computers. Computers can keep a calendar of appointments. The computer stores the files of employees' schedules, forthcoming meetings, calendars of events, and conferences, thereby enabling employees to check their central file. Everyone in a particular office has access to electronic calendars and is able to choose a time and place that is available and open on everyone's schedule. Each office employee can be tied into the system by having access to a central electronic file.

Office Suites

Office suites are a group of programs. In the mid-1990s the term office suite was considered to be a group of programs that allowed for word processing, spreadsheets, and sometimes data entry. Now office suite includes Web design software, presentation software, page layout design, and, in some instances, graphics editors. They are key pieces of productivity software, used in most businesses.

Portable PCs

Portable PCs include personal digital assistants (PDAs), laptop computers, and notebook computers. PDAs are proliferating. Among the most popular PDAs are the Palm and BlackBerry. Laptop computers are used by business travelers to make multimedia presentations, create and send reports and spreadsheets, and do research on the Internet. Notebook computers are similar to laptops, but usually smaller.

Groupware and Decision Support Systems

Groupware is a work group software, such as Lotus Notes. It enables members of a team to share information on a project that they are working on together. Some of the functions of groupware are document formatting, information management, and communication. The group is kept informed via an electronic calendar. It runs an e-mail network that links the work group with remote operations. It also includes an information system that handles all data relevant to the business and provides instant accessibility throughout the organization. Decision support systems facilitate group decisions by providing a formalized process for brainstorming, distilling key concepts, prioritizing or ranking topics, and achieving group consensus.


In the business world, many companies hold meetings via teleconferences. Teleconferencing is a method of conducting meetings via telephone lines and/or satellites connecting participants' terminals at two or more locations, with one or more participants per location. There are three types of teleconferences:

  1. Computer conferencing Terminals that are connected to a mainframe computer are used by all the participants. Comments or questions can be keyed in on their screens, which are arranged on an inter-connected network. Messages are displayed on the participants' screens.
  2. Audio conferencing Participants make comments over the phone. They cannot see each other, and they are not able to read body language. Audio conferences are connected by telephone and/or speaker-phone.
  3. Videoconferencing A CEO in Los Angeles could have a sales conference or interview with a person in Washington, D.C. Both individuals are shown simultaneously or alternately on the screen. The advantage of videoconferencing over audio conferencing is that individuals can see as well as hear each other.

Voice Recognition and Videoconferencing

With the advent of voice recognition, a day may come when human translators are no longer needed. The future of videoconferencing is not only multilingual, but 100 percent real-timewith no delays. Voice recognition software allows humans to talk to a computer. Computers understand the voice. It is an electronic process in which information is printed from voice input, thereby bypassing the keyboarding operations.

At one time, videoconferencing used large, expensive pieces of equipment that provided "room"-based video-conferencing. Participants gathered at a central site in a specially equipped conference room, looking at monitors displaying similar rooms at remote sites.

Computer-based videoconferencing is a new paradigm for videoconferencing. Participants sit at their desk or in a videoconferencing room calling up other participantssimilar to making a telephone call. It is a form of communication that uses bandwidth. Bandwidth is interpreted as the speed at which information flows, and communication is the transfer of information from one place to another. The connection between these two remote sites is called communication channels.

Multimedia System

A multimedia system presents information by using a combination of sound, graphics, animation, and video. Multimedia applications are used for business and education. Marketing presentations are developed to advertise and sell products using multimedia. Sales representatives use a computer, a video projector, and a display screen to make their presentations to the audience. Interactive advertisements as well as job applications and training applications can be published on the Internet or in a kiosk display.

Electronic Whiteboard

An interactive "smart" white-board with "electronic ink" and touch-sensitive screen can be hooked up to a computer and a projector. The board magnifies images clearly and colorfully. The board has annotation capabilities and notes can be jotted down directly over the projected images, then printed instantly. Thus, there is no need for individuals to take any notes.

The advantage that a whiteboard offers over a simple projection system is that it can be used as a projection screen and a writing surface through its connection with the PC, from which images can be printed out. A white-board allows trainers and instructors to operate the computer as if they were using a mouse, moving the cursor around on the computer just by touching a point on the whiteboard. A projector is mounted on the ceiling. The screen should be centered so that all participants have a clear view of the screen.

Smart Board

A smart board is a tool that improves the way people meet, share ideas, and teach. It looks and feels like a regular whiteboard combined with the power of the computer. It lets users save and print notes, collaborate on documents, share information, and run multimedia materialsvideo or data conferencing across distances.

The smart board becomes a large, touch-sensitive screen when combined with a liquid crystal display panel or projector. It can control Windows or Macintosh applications or multimedia by touching the board with one's finger. By picking up a pen, presenters can draw over their applications in electronic ink to obtain the attention of the audience. Users can e-mail notes to participants and even cut and paste them into other applications.


The processing capabilities and storage capacity of computers have made electronic storage and retrieval of information a common practice in business. Computer-generated document management, records management software, and imaging systems assist businesses with large volumes of records. Imaging systems convert all types of documents to digitized electronic data that can be stored and retrieved quickly. With the advent of superhigh-density magnetic storage and online storage, this will be much less of an issue in the future.

A scanner is used in converting paper documents into a digitized form. A processor compresses the image. A retrieval mechanism converts the image for viewing on a monitor, and output devices process the image to a hardcopy format. Laser optical disks are suited for high-volume record management because of their high capacity and durability.


In the business world, technology links employees working in teams; employees are expected to be competent in various software applications and be able to make decisions and multitask. The impetus of newer office technology has transformed the way businesses function in the worldwide marketplace.

In the past, workers acquired a set of skills that became their tools of the trade. Since the mid-1970s, workplace technology has changed swiftly; new technologies have been introduced and replaced. Computer applications are updated continuously. In the twenty-first century, people who work in offices need to be well versed on the use and application of the many emerging technologies. Workers need to adapt to this ever-changing technology. In an increasingly technological world, the expansion of American workers' skills depends upon commitments from the workers themselves, industries, workplaces, and educational and training institutions.

All of these office technologies facilitate communication among people in organizations. All businesses need workers who possess critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, and the ability to communicate effectivelywhether in writing or orally. Appropriate choices of communication lead to increased productivity and positive social effects. Workers need to be technologically literate in order to compete in a world that continues to change faster than one can imagine.

see also Desktop Publishing ; Information Technology


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Shelly, Gary B., Cashman, Thomas J., and Vermaat, Misty E. (2003). Discovering computers 2004: A gateway to information. Boston: Course Technology.

Anna Nemesh

Office Technology

views updated Jun 08 2018


OFFICE TECHNOLOGY consisted mainly of writing implements, paper, and basic furniture in colonial America, and remained so through the first half of the nineteenth century. But as the American industrial revolution accelerated after the Civil War, and as the size of businesses grew, a wave of "efficiency" improvements began to transform office technology.

Mechanizing Correspondence

The typewriter was the best-known icon of office mechanization through much of the twentieth century. It appeared in rudimentary form in 1714 in England, and many variations were produced over the years. However, it began to catch on only after the Civil War, as certain enterprises such as railroads and mail-order catalog businesses began to consolidate. These businesses soon began to try to standardize their office practices, and they sought ways to speed up the production of letters, particularly semistandardized or "form" letters. The Remington typewriter of the early 1870s, produced by the firearm manufacturer of the ame name, was perhaps the earliest commercially successful form of the typewriter.

Typewriting replaced most handwriting for business correspondence between 1875 and the early 1900s. In addition to mechanizing letter writing, the typewriter was at the center of an effort to replace relatively well paid male clerical workers with low-wage women during the same period. Nonetheless, within the limits of women's office work, typists were among the most skilled female workers. As the twentieth century progressed, the desire among women to master typing generated students to fill numerous typing courses, promoted mainly to women, in private business colleges and public schools.

Completing the mechanization of letter writing was the subject of intense interest following the diffusion of the typewriter. By the early 1900s, the phonograph (invented in 1877) was marketed as an adjunct to the typewriter. The Dictaphone Corporation's office phonograph became virtually synonymous with this class of instrument, intended for use by men to record their letters. The company promoted a system whereby Dictaphone records were collected (typically by office boys) and taken to central typing pools, where large numbers of closely supervised women spent their days converting the recordings into typed correspondence. However, the office recorder proved much less successful than the typewriter, and until the latter succumbed to the personal computer it was more common for letters to be dictated to secretaries, who wrote them down on paper in shorthand.

Somewhat more successful, though now made obsolete by the computer, were a wide range of machines which like the phonograph were intended to mechanize further the correspondence process. Where certain businesses used form letters or produced large numbers of slightly customized letters or bills, inventors looked for ways to eliminate as much manual typing as possible. There were numerous attempts to produce automatic typing machines, which could be set up to produce one or a range of semistandardized letters. Some of them relied on a master record resembling a player piano roll. A machine operator then had merely to select phrases from a predetermined list of possibilities, and manually type the addresses and other brief items to complete the job. The most famous of these machines was the Autotypist, introduced in the early 1930s by the American Automatic Typewriter Company. Both the typewriter and these more elaborate letter writing machines were replaced by the word processing machine, discussed below.


A different class of office technology is related to the duplication of documents. Letters written by hand in ink could be duplicated once or twice at the time of their creation simply by pressing them into the pages of a paper copy book, transferring some of the ink to a new sheet. The ink used in the typewriter did not easily allow such methods, but did allow the creation of a few copies using a transfer paper, coated with an ink and wax mixture. Usually called "carbon paper," this transfer paper was invented much earlier but only widely adopted after the diffusion of the typewriter.

For somewhat larger runs of documents, virtually the only viable option until the late nineteenth century was printing. Very small, simplified printing presses were once widely available, even including children's models. While limited, they could be used to print documents. Large businesses often ran their own printing departments in the nineteenth century to handle internal publications and advertisements. The increase in the size of businesses and the pace of transactions stimulated the desire to copy documents more quickly and easily. Among his other accomplishments, Thomas Edison invented one of the technologies that bridged the gap between typewriting and printing in the form of the Mimeograph. Originally, Edison utilized a battery operated "electric pen," which consisted of a tube holding a rapidly oscillating stylus. The pen did not use ink, but "wrote" a series of perforations. The perforated master document was then put in a special press and ink applied to one side. The ink flowing through the tiny holes printed a copy of the original on a clean sheet placed under the stencil. Others found that typewriter keys could also perforate the stencil, and the electric pen faded by 1900. Edison sold his interest in the Mimeograph, but it remained a successful office technology through the late twentieth century.

Other inventors developed duplicating technologies to fit into even narrower niches. The Mimeograph, it was argued, was not economical for print runs of a few hundred copies or less, so other methods were offered for this purpose. A familiar sight in offices until about the 1980s was the "spirit duplicator" (often confused with the Mimeograph), which used a volatile liquid that produced a distinctive smell. A spirit duplicator master looked much like a sheet of carbon paper. Used with a typewriter or pen, a stencil sheet coated with a waxy ink transferred a reversed facsimile to the master sheet. This master was then inserted in a special rotary press, which coated the master with a duplicating fluid. The fluid partially dissolved the ink, allowing some of it to be transferred to a clean sheet. The process continued until the print was too light to be readable. A number of companies manufactured spirit duplicators, including the "Ditto" machine marketed by the Bell and Howell Corporation.

The last half of the twentieth century saw considerable innovation in office duplication technology. During World War II, there was a surge in governmental document production, resulting in growing sales for an inexpensive form of photographic duplicator called the "Photostat." Ultimately it was a different form of photo-duplication that became dominant. An American, Chester Carlson, invented "electro-photography" in 1937, but the process was not commonly used until the 1960s. His process, later called "xerography," exploited the tendency of a sheet of paper to hold a greater static charge in places where it is printed than in places where it is blank. By electrically charging the original, transferring the charge by contact to a metal plate, allowing a powdered ink to adhere to the charged areas of the plate, then transferring the ink to a clean sheet, a reasonable facsimile of the original was produced. The use of the Xerox copier (or similar photocopiers offered by the 1970s) vastly increased the demand for paper in the office.

Telephony, Telegraphy, Fax, and Intercoms

Businesses have long held dear the notion of instantaneous communication. Almost from the inception of practical telegraphy with the opening of Samuel Morse's line from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore in 1843, its primary uses, in addition to government communication, were commercial. The use of the telegraph greatly accelerated the expansion and interconnection of the railroads and became a nearly universal fixture in large businesses after the end of the Civil War. A few of the pioneering telegraph operating companies, such as Western Union, were still in business at the beginning of the twenty-first century, albeit in greatly attenuated form, though telegraph message services have been effectively dead for some years.

The power of the telegraph to overcome geographic separation was so appealing to businesses that many of them took up the use of the telephone immediately after its introduction by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. For much of the period from the 1870s to the 1920s, the telephone was almost exclusively a business machine, and although the U.S. eventually attained "universal service" to residences as well, the telephone's importance in business operations steadily increased.

The establishment of a nearly complete monopoly on telephone service under the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) helped create a seamless national network but also tended to fossilize the telephone technology used in the office. While AT&T was marvelously innovative, little of its effort went into improving the "desk set" telephone, which it preferred to standardize. For this reason, the company successfully resisted innovations such as telephone-based facsimile, answering machines, and other inventions, all of which appeared before 1900. Not until the 1950s did this begin to change, and not until the 1984 breakup of the Bell System were consumers completely free to purchase and install their own equipment. Once this floodgate was open, Americans were presented with a torrent of innovations, the most successful of which are still in use. Facsimile machines were widely adopted in business once their technology was standardized in the early 1980s. Businesses also drove the market in cellular telephones in the 1980s, until their price dropped to the point at which residential customers also began to buy them.

Accounting Machines, Adding Machines, and Computers

A final major category of office technology is the computer. Although today its name hardly describes its usual functions, the computer is derived from machines intended to calculate numbers. Simple mechanical aids to accounting developed in the middle ages gave way to more complex adding machines and calculators in the early nineteenth century. Few of these sold in large numbers in the United States until the introduction of the Felt Company's "Comptometer" in 1885, the Burroughs calculator of 1892, and the Monroe adding machine of 1911. These small calculators were at first unrelated to another class of invention, the statistical tabulating machinery introduced by Herman Hollerith of Washington, D.C., in the 1880s. Used famously to compile the information from the 1890 census, the Hollerith machines retained records in the form of holes in punched paper cards. Hollerith's company eventually grew into the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), which by the time of World War II was a major manufacturer of office equipment.

World War II would see the transformation of calculating devices and their convergence with punched card tabulating equipment. Prompted mainly by the U.S. government during World War II, engineers and mathematicians built upon the basic mechanical operations of these machines to create the first programmable computers. These machines could be modified relatively easily to perform different series of operations or "programs" and worked with great speed and accuracy. The mechanical elements of computers were soon abandoned in favor of electronic circuits, leading the first electronic computers in the 1940s.

By the early 1950s, when standardized electronic computers were available, large businesses were among the first customers for them. Typically they were used in accounting and billing departments to streamline operations. IBM became the dominant firm in this field and remained so for the next three decades. This company was a leader in the movement to expand the uses of the computer in the office, especially its use in the handling of correspondence. IBM introduced the first "word processing typewriter" around 1964. This consisted of a computer-like device used to control the operation of a modified version of one of the company's Selectric typewriters. Data to be printed was stored on special cards. While not linked to the mainframes, word processing devices and computers ultimately merged with the introduction of the personal computer in the late 1970s. Personal computers became useful to businesses with the introduction of business software programs such as Visicalc accounting software introduced in 1979. Computers today are used not only in dealing with the financial records of companies, but as communication devices, incorporating typing, mail, and increasingly voice and video communication.


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See alsoBusiness Machines ; Computers and Computer Technology ; Fax Machine ; Telephone ; Typewriter .

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