Information Processing (Encyclopedia of Business and Finance)
Information processing may be defined as the manipulation of data to produce useful information. Over the past several years, the explosion of sophisticated computer software has dramatically changed the way computer users create documents. When word-processing, spreadsheet, and database software packages first became available to the public in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they were very different. The user interface, menus, and procedures were quite different depending on the program. As the years passed and computer software became more sophisticated, the software programs began to share many common features. Today, computer software not only shares common features, it is extremely compatiblehat is, information created in one software package can be shared with that of another.
In today's modern office, computer documents often require that a combination of software packages be used together. For example, it might be necessary to place a spreadsheet in a word-processing document or a spreadsheet graph on one of the slides in a presentation file. This ability to integrate software applications is one of the most useful features of using Microsoft Windows and other software designed to be used in the Windows environment.
Integration simply means the sharing of information among applications. Windows allows the user to use different software packages as if they were parts of a single program. Shelley, Cashman, and Vermaat (2000) explain that integrating these software programs allows the user to move quickly among applications and transfer text and graphics easily. The Windows environment offers three ways that information can be integrated: (1) the clipboard, (2) linking objects, and (3) embedding objects.
THE CLIPBOARDOPYING, CUTTING, AND PASTING
Software running in the Windows environment makes it very easy to copy and move text from one software application to another. The user can copy or move text, graphics, or other objects from one place to another using the clipboard application. For example, a chart created in Excel could be copied and pasted into a written report created in Word. To complete this procedure successfully, the user must first select the desired text or object. Then the user may choose to copy or cut (move) the selected text from the edit menu. Shortcuts usually exist for these two commands, such as clicking a button on the toolbar. If the user copies the selected text, an exact copy of the original text will be placed on the clipboard. If the user cuts the text, however, the original text will be moved to the clipboard. Text that is placed on the clipboard will stay there until it is pasted somewhere else. To paste the information, the user selects the paste option from the edit menu. It is important to remember that only one object can be stored on the clipboard at a time. When a new object is copied or cut to the clipboard, whatever information was previously there will be removed.
Because multiple software programs (applications) can run at the same time in Windows, the user can place information on the clipboard, open another program, and paste the information in the desired location in the new program. This method is the simplest and most frequently used for sharing information among software applications.
Copying/cutting and pasting among different applications has several advantages. This procedure saves time, eliminates keying errors, and allows the user to tie various applications together as if they were part of a single program.
LINKING INFORMATION BETWEEN PROGRAMS
Some limitations exist in using the clipboard to copy and move information between applications. Once the information has been pasted from the clipboard to the new location, all ties between the original source document and the pasted information cease to exist. The destination document, which contains the pasted information, will not be automatically updated if any changes are made to the original source document. This limitation creates a problem in many of today's fast-paced work environments. For example, many annual reports created in word-processing packages contain financial status information that is produced in a spreadsheet package. If the financial data are changed or updated in any way, the information that was previously pasted into the actual word-processing report would not show those changes.
To rectify many of these situations, Windows has developed Object Linking and Embedding (OLE). The first OLE method, linking, allows the user to share information among applications by creating a connection (or link) between the original source document and the destination document. If the source is altered after an OLE has been established, the destination document will automatically update and show all the changes that have been made. When data are linked between two documents in this way, the data are not actually stored in a destination file. The destination document stores only the information it needs to link back to the original source document. If changes need to be made to the linked information, the changes must be made and saved in the original source application.
Linking is very useful when there is a large group of users who need to view the source data. These users can access the source data and then view the updates if changes are made frequently. To link a selected object that has already been copied to the clipboard, the user must choose the Paste special option on the edit menu. Within this menu, the user selects the Paste link option.
The user may find several advantages by deciding to link objects. Linking does not waste the computer's memory or storage space because it never duplicates information in two separate locations. Linking allows the user to place objects such as those created in other applications or sound and video clips into word-processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents that have no other options for performing such procedures.
Linking can also be very beneficial when different users have to share computing tasks. For example, the accounting department might be responsible for the creation of all spreadsheets and graphs within a company. If the accounting department saves the files on the network drive, employees throughout the company can link these spreadsheet and graph files into their necessary applications. If changes need to be made to the original spreadsheet files, the accounting department would be responsible for making these updates. When other users throughout the company open their destination documents that contain the link, the changes can either be automatically updated (called an automatic link) or can be updated when the user requests it (called a manual link). Most Windows software has an Update Now feature that allows a user to decide when to update a link. A lock feature is also widely available in case the user does not want the link to be accidentally updated.
One important point to remember when linking information is that the destination document must always be able to locate the original source document. If a destination file was copied to a floppy disk and taken to another computer, all linked files must also be copied onto the floppy disk in order for the links to be able to find their connections.
The second type of OLE process, embedding, is another feature of Windows. When information from one application is embedded into another, the information becomes part of the destination file. Although this process requires the use of more memory, it allows the destination file to be self-supporting. When the embedded object needs to be edited or updated, the user must double-click on the object. This double-clicking opens the source application file inside an editing window. All the necessary menus and features will be available in this window for use in editing the source information. After making the appropriate changes to the embedded object, the user simply clicks outside of the editing window and returns to the destination document. Because the user does not have to keep opening and closing the source application file, a great deal of time is saved. Another advantage of this feature is that the user can make changes in the embedded object and the destination file without touching the original source document and vice versa. In keeping with linking objects, the user must be able to access all source applications in order to make changes in any embedded objects. The user does not, however, need to have access to the original source application in order to print or view the destination document. To embed an object, the user follows the same procedures as for linking an object except that in the Paste special menu the Paste option is selected instead of the Paste Link option.
O'Leary and O'Leary (1996) explain that embedding text or objects is often favored over linking objects in the following situations: (1) The size of the file is not important; (2) users have access to source applications, but not the original source file; and (3) the embedded data is changed only occasionally. For example, if the user in tends to use the shared information at a location removed from the source file, it would be necessary to embed the object in order to edit the information. When linking, however, the user must always have access to the source file via a network or an accessible fixed drive.
Unfortunately, not every software program supports OLE features. If a software package supports OLE features, it is called OLE-aware. The first version of OLE was introduced with Windows 3.x; therefore, nearly all software created to run under the Windows environment is OLE-aware.
Information processing is a broad concept covering the many aspects of manipulating data to produce useful information. This article has addressed the specific skills of integrating information by using the clipboard, linked objects, and embedded objects. With the increased sophistication of software packages, the concepts and skills used in copying/cutting and pasting to the clipboard, linking objects, and embedding objects are no longer difficult to use. Software integration allows a number of software application packages to be used as if they were a single package, thereby increasing efficiency and productivity within the work environment. Various departments within an organization are able to access files from any desktop and link them to necessary applications. Users are able to save time and eliminate keying errors. As these activities become more commonplace, it may be necessary for computer users within organizations to update their skills in these areas.
O'Leary, Timothy J., and O'Leary, Linda I. (1996). Microsoft Office Integration. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Shelly, G. B., Cashman, T. J., and Vermaat, M. E. (2000). Microsoft Office 2000: Introductory Concepts and Techniques. Cambridge, MA: Course Technology.