Issues and Problems of computer Systems

Norbert Wiener, one of the pioneers in computer technology, early expressed concern about the ability of human beings to remain in control of electronic computers: “It is my thesis that machines can and do transcend some of the limitations of their designers, and that in doing so they may be both effective and dangerous” even if computers are governed by programs prepared by humans. Computer systems may take actions at such speeds that the human control may be too late to ward off disastrous consequences. For example a driver of a speeding automobile who is unable to correct the path of the machine before it hits a wall. Wienner’s early observation is today the basis of some of the concerns about nuclear missiles, potential errors in electronic banking, and in a variety of issues involving the use of computers. In this article we are briefly discussing some leading issues concerning the computer’s role in information systems.

Four categories of technical problems continually needing attention are: (1) hardware related, (2) software related, (3) operations related, and (4) system related.

Hardware Problems: Computer reliability may be a source of problems in the sense that a job may not be completed when it is desired because the computer mal-functional. In this case, the job can be run properly later. Seldom do computers produce incorrect answer because of electronic or mechanical failure; instead such failures normally result in no information at all being produced at the appointed time.

Computers are composed of many electronic, electrical, and mechanical components. Each component is subject to failure, in much the same manner as parts of an automobile. Some computers fail less frequently than others, sometimes because of a superior engineering design, but more often because of the smaller number of different components required. A computer with millions of components will probably fail more frequently than one with, say, ten thousand components.

A very different sort of computer hardware problem relates to under capacity of the computer itself. One cannot expect to go at a speed of 100 miles per hour in a car with only 30 horsepower; similarly, sufficient computer power must be available to process the expected workload.

Software Problems: Because software errors are not unusual a staff of maintenance programs is required in any large computing installation, to locate quickly and to correct errors when they became known. A careful and thorough testing requirement imposed by management can reduce software errors. No one knows how to eliminate them completely. It is in this area that highly experienced professional programs earn their higher salaries by experiencing much lower software failure rates than beginning programs.

Companies specializing in software, such as Microsoft and Lotus, relieve managers of many of the technical problems elating to software and are making software easier to use. Competition in the software industry has increased the options open to managers.

Operations Problems: The computer workload must be scheduled so that there is a sufficiently high probability that the needed processing can be done. Realistic times for job completion must be known, realistic amounts of time provided for reruns (where the first computer run was incorrect for some reason), and realistic estimates made of when accurate inputs will be available for processing. Without proper planning of computer operation, one cannot guarantee that all of the required workload will be processed when it is needed.

Systems Problems: A successful system must make the inputs to the computer available when needed, ensure the proper controls over accuracy and timing of the inputs and outputs, and ensure that the specifications for the software and operations are correct. Computers usually do what they are told, but the specifications which were originally provided may be incorrect or obsolete. One often hears “the darned computer will not provide me with the information I need”. While this assertion may well be true, these particular requirements may have never been included in the original specifications. Further, as time passes, new requirements occur which make existing systems obsolete and render them less useful. These types of needs must be re-specified in a logical manner in order to initiate responsive system change.

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