I’ve been extremely fortunate most of my life to have experienced good health. Aside from the occasional cold or seasonal flu attack, very little has really ailed me. That all changed in June 2004, when I started a new job as marketing communications/PR manager for the largest records-management software company in the world. There I succumbed to a disease, brought on by my new boss, which often resulted in leaving work at the end of the day feeling uninformed and overwhelmed. His constant and excessive use of technological jargon and acronyms would leave me braindead, my energy zapped.
For me and many, this ailment, called Technology Attention Deficit Disorder (TADD), will remain incurable, thanks to those individuals who spend their days "acronyming" poor, defenseless victims like myself to death.
By nature, I tend to be an activist. I’m always willing to fight for a good cause or financially support the efforts of those who are looking to find a cure for any debilitating disease. As a result, I now have a vested interest in TADD and refuse to render myself helpless against its onset. In this article, I will explain some common technological terms and acronyms in an effort to slow down the spread of this disease in the records-management world.
I’m going to discuss some of the latest terms specifically related to communications that have crept in. I’ll explain words like PAN, LAN, WLAN, WAN, GPRS and GPS, along with their differences and significance to records-management operations. I can already see that glazed look coming over your eyes. It’s one of TADD’s dreaded symptoms that can leave you comatose. Quick, before it overtakes you, read on and let’s search for a cure together.
Personal Area Network (PAN)
I don’t know about you, but for me it seemed like forever that I wrestled with an octopus of cords coming out of the back of my laptop computer. So I truly appreciate the value now of what is called a personal area network. Put quite simply, PAN is the interconnection of information technology devices within the range of an individual person, typically 10 meters, wirelessly.
For example, a person traveling with a laptop, a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and a portable printer can interconnect them without having to plug in anything using some form of wireless technology. Typically this kind of PAN could also be interconnected without wires to the Internet or other networks.
One such technology you will be familiar with is Bluetooth, a low-cost, short-range radio that links between mobile PCs and phones, as well as other portable devices. Bluetooth enables a PC and a cell phone to share and synch information without having to make a physical connection. The data transmission rates of Bluetooth are pretty slow (at only 3 megabits per second), limiting its usefulness. As a result, you usually only see this technology used in the records-management world to connect mobile computers and rugged, belt printers.
Local Area Network (LAN)
A LAN is a group of computers and associated devices that span a relatively small area and share a common communications line or wireless link. Typically, connected devices (workstations and PCs) share the resources of a single processor or server within a small geographic area, such as within an office building or group of buildings. However, one LAN can be connected to other LANs over any distance via telephone lines and radio waves. A system of LANs connected in this way is called a Wide Area Network (WAN), but more about that later. Generally the server has applications and data storage that are shared in common by multiple computer users. A LAN may serve as few as two or three users (for example, a home network), or as many as thousands of users in a work network.
A suite of application programs can be kept on a LAN server. Users who need an application frequently can download it once, then run it from their local hard disk, or order printing and other services as needed through applications run on the LAN server. They can also share files with others at the LAN server because read and write access is maintained by a LAN administrator. A LAN server may also be used as a Web server if safeguards are taken to secure internal applications and data from outside access.
The data transmission rates of a wired LAN are 100 megabits per second, which is fast enough to transfer even high-quality movies. This is why it is the preferred choice of businesses for the office and warehouse operations.
Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)
A wireless LAN, known in acronym land as WLAN, is one in which a mobile user can connect to a local area network through a wireless connection, such as a handheld (high-frequency radio waves rather than wires). It enables communication between devices in a limited area and gives users the mobility to move around within a broad coverage area and still be connected to the network.
Many public businesses today, such as coffee shops or malls, now offer wireless access to their customers; some even provide it as a free service. The IEEE 802.11 group of standards specify the technologies for wireless LANS. This is why a WLAN is often referred to as 802.11b, 802.11g and the newer 802.11n.
The popularity of WLANs is primarily a result of their convenience, mobility, productivity, cost efficiency and ease of integration with other networks and their components. When used in record-center operations, handhelds equipped with this technology and the right software enable the delivery of data where and when it’s needed, enhancing productivity wherever business is conducted—whether taking inventory or receiving a pick list.
These handhelds can capture, move and manage record-center information throughout an enterprise, increasing productivity and efficiency in the warehouse as well as in the office. Additionally, with built-in data capture, management, wireless and security capabilities, handhelds incorporating this kind of technology can improve customer-response time and satisfaction, as well as enhance record-center control.
With wireless access to a network, mobile users no longer have to place their mobile computers in a cradle for communications. Access points, which support radio communications, allow users to send and receive scanned information via their mobile computer. And multiple users can communicate simultaneously through access points at distances of 100 feet or greater. This means no lines waiting to send or receive data, increasing labor efficiency. With data speeds of up to 54 megabits per second, this is a technology that is being rapidly introduced into record centers today.
Wide Area Network (WAN)
A computer network that spans a relatively large geographical area is called a WAN and typically consists of two or more LANS. The term distinguishes a broader telecommunications structure from that of a LAN.
Computers on a WAN are often connected through public networks, such as the telephone system. They can also be connected through leased lines or satellites. The largest WAN in existence is the Internet.
General Packet Radio Service (GPRS)
GPRS is a packet-switched technology that enables data communications from anywhere, not just via a "Wi-Fi" hotspot. It is used for various data applications on phones (such as over AT&T networks), including wireless Internet. Basically any network connection that is not voice or text messaging uses a data connection like GPRS. Using packet switching, users are always connected and online, so services are easy and quick to access, even from remote areas.
GPRS runs at speeds up to 2 megabits per second, on a 3G network. It supports a wide range of bandwidths, and is particularly suited for sending and receiving small bursts of data, such as e-mail and Web browsing, as well as large volumes of data.
Wireless handhelds equipped with this technology and the appropriate software enable instant communications with record-center staff working in remote areas. As a result, many activities can be accomplished directly from users’ handhelds to a facility with no network communications. This could include downloading and uploading pick lists and work orders; creating route operation assignments; and uploading truck, work order and delivery validations.
The technology shortens process implementation time from hours to just minutes, saving time, money and enhancing service levels. Users can react immediately to customer demands, streamlining record-center business processes and enhancing performance by enabling users to instantly respond to operations events as they occur, out in the field and at the point of activity. It also connects them to their company’s database, greatly reducing process implementation time, legwork and labor requirements.
Global Positioning System (GPS)
I mention this because it is often confused with GPRS. Where GPRS is a communications method, GPS is a satellite-based radio navigation system run by the U.S. Department of Defense, officially known as NAVSTAR. It was designed so that signals from at least four satellites would be on the horizon at all times, sufficient to compute current latitude, longitude and elevation of a GPS receiver anywhere on earth to within a few meters.
Whether installed in vehicles or carried by hand, a GPS receiver calculates the distance to the satellites by comparing the times the transmitted signals were sent with the times they were received. By knowing the precise locations of the satellites at a given moment, the receiver uses triangulation, the navigation technique of ship captains for centuries, to pinpoint its own location.
By 2000, in-dash navigation systems using GPS were either standard or an option in luxury cars, and third-party systems became available for all vehicles. In addition, portable units can be taken from car to car, and navigation software can be added to a laptop computer or viewed over the Internet. Tracking information can be sent every two seconds to a database and journeys plotted. This means you can know exactly where every truck is, how long it stopped at the last location, and even if it was speeding at any time en route.
How to Treat TADD
I understand that it’s important for anyone associated with managing the lifecycle of records and information management to understand the technological terms and acronyms discussed in this article. All too often, people in the industry purchase the latest and greatest products for their record centers without fully understanding what they need, why they need them and how best to use them. But once they do, these products can help them and their staff perform jobs more efficiently, productively and profitably.
Christine Spisto is the marketing communications/ public relations director for O’Neil Software. Located in Irvine, Calif., the company has more than 850 installations, from startups to multi-nationals, in more than 65 countries. For more information, 949.458.1234; visit www.oneilsoft.com.