Computer-speak is the Language of Business



Cyberschools Column


First Published in The Herald September 1997


The ways in which businesses communicate have changed significantly in the last twenty years and the Internet has accelerated the pace of change. A recent survey of over 200 by Reed Employment Services found that a typical senior secretary had an in-depth knowledge of various technical skills: 79% were expert users of spreadsheet packages; 71% were skilled users of databases and 31% were already users of the Internet. For teachers of Business Studies the Internet has an immediate relevance, obviously in office, secretarial and management courses but also in Accounting and in Economics.

BizEd is one of the most accessible Web sites for those new to the Internet. In the "Schools and Colleges" area there's a list of high profile companies such as The Body Shop and Marks and Spencers. The site provides answers to frequently asked questions about the companies and details about production, operations, marketing and human resources. On the financial side company reports and even customised company profiles are also available. It1s the type of site that students could use on their own and it1d be particularly useful when investigating organisational structures as students must do in Standard Grade Office and Information Systems.

O.I.S. and Higher Grade Secretarial Studies also require students to access appropriate sources of information. Teaching them to do this by using the Web will mirror the changes already taking place in companies, large and small. In many organisations even an activity such as organising business travel is now routinely undertaken by accessing information on the Web and booking by e-mail. Business Studies students can simulate this by searching for suitable accommodation at destination Scotland where a database asks users to select the region, the type of accommodation and any specific facilities required. It returns a list of suitable possibilities. Even better resources are the R.A.C. and the A.A. Web sites which have a wider range of accommodation and include prices. Most accommodation databases will actually allow you to book online by contacting the site or by e-mailing a hotel directly. The A.A. and R.A.C. sites cover the whole of the UK and the R.A.C. also has an area for checking the traffic conditions.

Travel by train can be organised at Scotrail's site where students can submit the place of departure and the required time of arrival at the destination. An itinerary is immediately supplied (including any changes of train which are necessary). A weakness in the Scotrail site is that it doesn1t seem to be possible to get a list of ticket prices or to book online but that may come in the future. There is still a justified degree of caution about giving credit cards details across the Internet. Personal details should never be transmitted on an insecure line but increasingly mechanisms are being put in place to protect the consumer. (In Netscape secure lines are indicated by a solid key at the bottom of the screen. Insecure lines are shown by a broken key.)

It will soon be essential for most companies to understand how to use the Net in their financial dealings and major banks such as the Bank of Scotland and the Abbey National already have extensive Web sites where Internet banking can be investigated. A good way of finding the Web addresses for other banks and financial organisations is to go through the Central Office of Information which provides links to leading organisations. The details are in the Finance section. An essential site for financial links is to be found at Find!. It has a fantastic amount of information and a hugh number of links.

Admin. assistants will also have to become familiar with Search Engines, the index facilities on the Web. Typing in a wide topic category - as anyone who has tried it knows - yields far too many sites to handle, often as many as 500, 000. Searches should be as specific as possible. Each of the search engines has its own conventions and strengths. Altavista is usually a good starting point. It allows advanced searches where several key words can be listed as essential and where searches can be narrowed by date, language or country. Some of the material highlighted will only be available on the Web and some will be online versions of printed publications.

The London Stock Exchange and Wall Street are easily found and the great advantage with the online information is that it1s usually the most recent. Some traders now operate online using information which is just as readily available to schools. For government information the HM Treasury Web site (http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk) is ideal, whether it1s to find out budget details or print out the latest press releases or speeches. It1s obviously beneficial for students to access primary sources directly, enabling them to make their own judgements with no hints from the media.

Nevertheless many financial journals are also good sources. The Financial Times requires you to register but the form-filling only occurs on the first visit to the site and the service is actually free. As an exercise, students could register themselves. They would get their own username and password for the site and it would also provide evidence that they had completed a business form effectively. The Economist also publishes online and offers its own view of the issues. With statistics and data changing daily and even several times during the day, the need to buy up-to-date financial journals and periodicals has always demanded too much of the small budgets within which Business Studies departments operate. Using Internet editions means that the journals can be accessed when required, while printed versions no longer need to purchased or stored. Any details which are important can always be saved to a hard drive or floppy disk. Saving material as "text" means that it can be pasted into other documents and saving it as 3source2 means that it can be viewed - just as it appears on the Internet - in a Web browser, off-line. When copying extracts of a publication it1s worth checking the copyright situation but essentially it should be little different from photocopying the paper version.

Resources will always be a worry for teachers and even more so as courses change. The Higher Still arrangements for Economics suggest that there will be a shift towards macroeconomics. Departments worried about resourcing this area will be able to get a lot from the Web. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have informative Web sites and progress towards the Euro can also be investigated.

The future Business Management courses will require students to explain the importance of information technology to businesses. It would be difficult to neglect the Internet, whether e-mail or the Web. E-mail is actually the fastest growing Internet facility and it1s particularly popular with businesses. E-mail1s cheaper and usually faster than the fax. Teachers of Business Studies - with their suite of subjects - may prove to be amongst the first in schools to use and evaluate the Internet. They certainly can't ignore it.



NEW LINKS
NEW LINKS
The Yahoo search engine has created a financial area with links to a whole host of sites related to financial issues.

Electronic Yellow Pages is an ideal resource for "obtaining and supplying information".