Business Data Communications
This article covers the two major aspects of business data communications: The network, including networking technology and communications services, and; the business data communications applications that run on the network. The basics of wireless local area networks (WLANs) are reviewed along with the technology standards that are used to provide basic WLAN functionality. The use of supply chain systems as an emerging networked application is explained. In addition, the challenges of implementing and maintaining a global computer network are reviewed along with the various security problems that network managers must deal with in a wired world.
Keywords Business Data Communications; Business-To-Business (B2B) Applications; Data security; Denial Of Service Of Attacks; Global computer networks; Local area networks (LANs); Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs); Network Operating System (NOS); Supply Chain Management Systems; Supply chain systems; Wide Area Networks (WANs); Wireless communications networks; Wireless local area networks (WLANs)
Business Information Systems: Business Data Communications
There are two major aspects of business data communications: The network, which includes networking technology and communications services, and; the business data communications applications that run on the network. The technology to run computer networks includes servers, workstations, hubs, switches, and routers. Business applications that run on computer networks include E-mail, E-commerce, Websites, supply chain systems, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) business suites.
A computer network is the interconnection of computers and related equipment using wires or radio waves. Computer networks that serve users in a specific location such as company office or the floor of a building are local area networks (LANs). Networks that serve an entire city or community are metropolitan area networks (MANs) and networks that serve multiple cities or several states or countries are wide area networks (WANs). LANs are generally comprised of several types of equipment including:
- Workstations such as desktop computers or laptop computers used in business operations.
- Servers that provide access to business applications and network support systems.
- File servers that provide digital storage capabilities for end users or for enterprise applications.
- Networked printers that provide printing services to users on a LAN.
- E-mail servers that support the e-mail operations of an organization.
- Hubs, which are the collection points for cabling that connects devices to the network.
- Switches that help manage the flow of messages and data across the network.
- Routers which provide connectivity between LANs and WANs.
Network Operating Systems
Computer networks require a network operating system (NOS) just as an individual computer requires an operating system. A NOS is the computer program that manages the network and allows network administrators to create user names and provide users access to networked computing resources. A NOS also provides the basic security for the network and enables communication between the computers on the LAN and computers on other networks via communications over the Internet. Corporate access to WANs, private data networks, or the Internet, requires a connection from a network service provider or Internet service provider (ISP).
Business data communications over the Internet are made possible by a variety of communications protocols. A protocol is a structured process that controls and enables various types of data communications. The Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) are the primary protocols that support the communications process on the Internet. The File Transfer Protocol (FTP), as another example, supports the movement of files from one computer to another. The ever-popular activity of Web surfing is supported by the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which enables the operation of the Web browser and allows users to visit websites around the world.
Rhe technology that supports business data communications has been moving away from networks built solely with cables and wires to wireless systems. This has occurred in part because of the convergence of computing technology and cellular telephone technology. The modern cell phone, in addition to enabling wireless voice connections, can now provide access to e-mail, web pages, and text messages. Laptops and tablets can now connect to the Internet via a wireless connection from almost anywhere and be used much like a desktop computer that is connected to an office LAN with a cable.
In addition, the office LAN, which traditionally required cables to connect computers together, can now be created with wireless technology. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) suggest four primary benefits from Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) installation (Karygiannis & Owens, 2002):
- User mobility
- Rapid installation of the network
- Flexibility in relocating the network
- Scalability of the network (Drew, 2003).
A WLAN is a flexible data communication system most often Set up as an extension of a wired LAN. “Electromagnetic waves transmit and receive data over the air, minimizing the need for wired connections. With the help of WLANs, corporations and students at universities can use wireless connectivity to facilitate access to necessary information” and services using laptops or handheld devices (Malladi & Agrawal, 2002, p. 146).
In 1997, an important event that contributed to the growth of wireless LANs was the creation of the IEEE 802.11 standard. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is a “professional organization of engineers, scientists, and students,” which sets standards for networking and computing. The “802.11 standard sets the protocols used between a wireless client (user's device) and a base station (access point) or between two wireless clients” (Drew, 2003, p. 102).
Another wireless networking standard is Bluetooth. The current problem with using Bluetooth is its limited physical range and bandwidth, about 30 feet with a bandwidth of 2 Mbps. Bluetooth has been designed primarily to connect various wireless devices together” and supports functions like synchronizing a PDA, laptop, or cell phone. Bluetooth is “suitable for many applications but not for data networking purposes such as surfing the World Wide Web or accessing large files” (Drew, 2003, p. 102).
Supply Chains are Built on Business Data Communications
Data business communication plays a key role in the modern supply chain system by supporting business-to-business (B2B) applications. Supply chain management systems (SCMS) are digitally enabled inter-firm processes that integrate information flow, physical flow, and financial flow. Such systems require reliable networks capable of spanning the globe.
A supply chain is a network of organizations with specialized activities that work together, usually in a sequential manner, to produce, distribute, sell, and service goods. Supply chain systems “support entire networks of manufacturers and distributors, transportation and logistics firms, banks, insurance companies, brokers, warehouses and freight forwarders, all directly or indirectly attempting to make sure the right goods and services are available at the right price, where and when the customers want them” (Kumar, 2001, p. 58).
Once the goods or services are delivered, the chain does not end. “At the front end, through delivery, installation, customer education, help desks, maintenance, or repair, the goods or services are made useful to the customer. At the end of the product life, reverse logistics can ensure that used and discarded products are disassembled, brought back, and where possible, recycled” (Kumar, 2001, p. 58).
Traditional strategic thinking had always focused on individual firms as the competitive unit in any industry. The individual company created, stored, processed, and analyzed data all produced within the company itself (Kumar, 2001). In a supply chain environment, “the competitive success of a firm is no longer a function of its individual efforts-it depends, to a great extent, on how well the entire supply chain, as compared to competing supply chains, is able to deliver value to the ultimate consumers” (p. 58). Consequently, business data communication has evolved from providing communications within a firm to supporting communications throughout the companies up and down the supply chain (Kumar, 2001).
Research indicates that a firm's IT-based platform capabilities have a substantial effect on supply chain process integration. This capability is deeply embedded into the structure of inter-firm operational processes, such as order processing, inventory management, logistics, and distribution; financial processes, such as billing and receivables management; and information processes, such as demand planning and forecasting.
Implementation of IT-based supply chain management systems has been shown to have a positive effect on procurement of materials for production as well as distribution, marketing, and sales after production (Richardson, 2006). The integration associated with these processes is achieved through a variety of initiatives that may include trading partner agreements and supply chain partnerships and even deep embedding IT capabilities. The development of process integration capability based on an IT...
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