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By A Thomas Young

At the start of the computer revolution, pundits began predicting a "paperless" office. In point of fact, however, computers have become the most prolific printing machines in history. The paperless office remains a dream.

Yet computers have evolved to the point where they provide the potential to reduce the volume of paper through which you must plow in order to understand your business. "Executive Information System" (or EIS) is the most common term used for the unified collections of computer hardware and software that track the essential data of a business' daily performance and present it to managers as an aid to their planning and decision-making.

Automated EIS of one kind or another have been around for a dozen years, but didn't catch on as well as simpler and more familiar business aids like automated spreadsheets or accounting systems. One reason is that computers are only now becoming fast and inexpensive enough to let an EIS do all the computations required to appeal to the typical manager. A typical desktop computer of today has all the number-crunching power of a typical mainframe costing $1 million or more a few years ago. And this is supplemented with powerful on-line graphics capabilities and sophisticated mouse-driven software that can easily display reams of information in a few self-generated charts. In these days of proliferating computers and off-the-shelf graphical interfaces and graphical presentation programs, EIS's are starting to look very good--and relatively inexpensive.

Another reason that many companies may have gone slow with EIS until today is that their daily sales and production data haven't been automated as completely as they must be if an EIS is to reflect the real world performance of the business. But with inexpensive point-of-sale terminals capturing sales data and wireless computers operating in the warehouse and the manufacturing floor, it's becoming very easy for an organization to computerize all its data continually and automatically. Many organizations have more than enough automated data input to keep a simple but effective EIS well supplied with up-to-the-minute information.


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