Choosing Applications Software
3.2.1 Custom Written and Off-the-Shelf Software.
When the analyst has analysed the problem and come to a conclusion about how it can be
solved, a decision has to be made about the software that should be used.
There are many pieces of software that have already been written and are immediately
available to buy. This type of software is called ‘off-the-shelf’ software because you can
literally go into a computer shop and pick a copy off the shelf. There are a number of
advantages in buying an off-the-shelf package:
The software has already been written and so is immediately available rather than having to
wait, sometimes a considerable time, for it to be written.
The software will be used by many people or organisations, therefore they share the
development costs rather than one having to foot the whole bill. This implies that the
software will be considerably cheaper.
Copies of the software have been in use for some time and will have been in use by a
variety of users. This means that any bugs in the software should have been found and
rectified, consequently it can be expected to work.
If it comes as part of a suite of software it can be relied upon to be compatible with other
applications, allowing, for example, the import of data.
Because the software will be in general use there are likely to be well established training
courses for the staff to be sent on to learn about the software.
A Custom package is one that has been specially written to solve a specific problem.
Perhaps there is no freely available piece of software that will satisfy the needs of the
company. A piece of custom software should mean that the organisation gets a piece of
software that will do all the things that it requires doing, and, equally importantly, does not
contain extra routines that will never be used.
3.2.2 Features of Common Applications
As the name implies, stock control systems are used to keep track of the stock being held
by an organisation.
There are typically three areas that need to be handled by a stock control program. The
first is to keep details of the individual items that the organisation holds in its stock. These
details will differ dependent on the item being held and the information about it that the
organisation decides is important. A consignment of towels in the stock of a shop will need
to have the colour of the towels stored, whereas the information stored about bulldozers
stored by a plant hire firm would not include colour as it is irrelevant to their function. What
would be included would be the horse power of the machines, which obviously does not
apply to the towels. The second is to store information related to the product though not
directly about the product itself. Examples would be storing details of the supplier, or where
the goods are being stored in the shop/warehouse. The third is to do with the use of the
goods. Who has hired the bulldozer out? Where is it? When is it due back? What sort of
condition was it in when it was hired out?
Stock control systems are all to do with keeping track of stock, recording stock levels and
the condition of the stock and keeping track of where it is going.
Many stock control systems are charged with the need to record the number or amount of
the goods that are in stock. If the quantity in stock falls below a pre-determined limit, the
system should automatically institute a reordering process. This would be done by using the
details of the supplier and possibly including the human management in the process to allow
for variations caused by season/fashion/.. Copies of the orders would be sent to the
accounts department so that when the invoice for the goods comes in it can be matched up
with the order. When the goods are delivered, the ordering system is informed so that the
live order can be shown to have been fulfilled, and the accounts department is told that the
order has arrived and that clearance has been given for payment to take place.
If the organisation is the one that is filling the order, the operation is similar, but in reverse.
The payroll is a perfect example of a batch process. All the records need to be processed
during the same run because all the workers need to be paid. Each record undergoes the
same type of processing, working out the number of hours worked, multiplying by the
hourly rate and then doing the tax calculations. The process requires no human intervention
during the processing.
The traditional picture of the payroll application is that the master file of workers is held on
a tape, as is the transaction file that holds the workers’ details for that week. The two are
arranged in the same order and then run together and the results stored on a new master
file, again held on a tape. This gives rise to the ancestral filing system form of backing up of
files which was introduced in section 1.4.15. In this system, the old files are kept so that if
the new versions are corrupted they can be reproduced using the old master and
transaction files. Nowadays, the file is likely to be held on a disk with an index to allow fast
access to individual records, this would imply that the records are overwritten and that there
is no new version of the master file created.
As the name implies, this is the use of a computer to automatically control a process. The
computer receives information about the process from sensors which allow it to make
decisions. The results of these decisions are actions that are carried out. The next set of
input from the sensors not only tells the system about the current state of the process but
also allows the computer to compare with the last set of inputs to decide whether the actions
that it took last time had any impact. This process is known as feedback.
Point Of Sale Systems
A computer used at a point of sale needs to carry out three actions. The first is to identify
the goods being bought, the second is to carry out whatever processing is required and to
produce a satisfactory output, and finally to arrange for payment.
The identification of the goods can be done in a number of ways, but the standard method is
to read a code from a barcode. This code is then validated (see chapter 3.3) and then sent
to the processor. The processor uses this barcode as the key field when searching the
product file. When the record is found the contents of the record are used to produce a
printout for the customer (till receipt), and to accumulate the total value of all the goods that
have been bought. Finally, the payment can be made electronically by sending details of the
customer account to the bank or credit card company from where payment will be made to
When a product or service is developed it is important to make the potential customers
aware of it. Marketing is the term given to this process. In computer terms it would include
the use of systems to produce advertising literature, the promotion of the product on the
world wide web and the use of techniques such as direct mailing by using purchased files of
people who may reasonably be expected to have some interest and then mail merging to
produce ‘junk mail’.
Computer Aided Design (CAD)
This is simply the use of a computer system to design a commodity. It may be a house, or a
carburettor to fit a particular engine, or it may be a new traffic flow system around a town.
The software can be used to do calculations, will the roof be well enough supported by walls
made from that particular product? It can be used to make decisions about the
manufacture, will the robot tool be able to manoeuvre into a position to be able to screw the
two halves together? It can be used to cost a solution, having decided on the design of the
carburettor the prices of the individual components can be used along with the known costs
of production to calculate the cost of each unit. It can be used to make predictions, what will
happen if this street is made one way?
Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM)
CAM is the use of a computer to help with the manufacturing process. If the two principles
of CAD and CAM are combined then it should be possible to produce a seamless process
whereby the computer produces the design which is electronically sent to another system
where the design is produced by a computer controlled robot.
3.2.3 Generic Applications Software.
There is nothing frightening about this section. The intention is simply that students should
be able to suggest sensible software for given applications. The software automatically
divides itself into specific uses. The student should be able to isolate the important
characteristics of an application from the description and then decide which of the generic
software best fits the application characteristics.
Used for applications that have the need to communicate with others using text. Writing
letters, mail merging, preparing text documents for use in other software packages, are all
typical uses of a word processing package.
Spreadsheets are a type of software that allows data to be stored. If this were all that a
spreadsheet was to do then there would be other, more satisfactory types of software
available. A spreadsheet is particularly useful because it can store different types of data,
including numerical data, and that it can perform calculations on the areas (cells) where the
numerical data is being stored. Spreadsheets should be considered for any example where
data is stored and calculations need to be carried out on it. Examples would be profit and
loss accounts, budgeting, payrolls (although other, more specialised, payroll software would
be used in a large scale application), indeed any example that requires the manipulation of
figures to give accurate results or forecasts or predictions.
Desktop Publishing (Dtp)
This type of software is characterised by the ability to produce a page of printed output that
has been designed by using advanced layout techniques. The page may well contain text,
graphics, tables and many other types of output each one of which may be better produced
using a word processor or a drawing package or a spreadsheet. The value of DTP is that it
contains powerful tools for arranging these individual items on the page, the printout of
which can be used directly as the starting point for a printing process. Typically DTP
software is used for the production of leaflets, posters, proof copies of books and
magazines. Many word processors now have features which previously would only have
been found in a DTP package, for instance the ability to produce text in columns or to
surround graphics with text, and the distinction between a DTP package and a word
processor has become less clear cut.
The growth of the use of presentation software has followed the development of portable
computer systems. If a salesman is to do a presentation to a group of people it is now
possible for him to take a computer to the meeting with a previously prepared presentation
on it. The software allows for the preparation of a show which typically follows a storyboard
of individual screens. The software allows morphing from one screen to another and also
allows animation and full use of text and graphics within individual screens. If required, a
soundtrack can be added to complement the pictures being shown. Ideally, such a
presentation should be output via some device that would be designed for the audience
expected to be watching. This would mean that a single monitor would be fine for some
automated display in a department store, but would require something more akin to a
projection screen for a larger audience. This could be accomplished using an over head
projector linked to the computer or an RGB projector.
This is a package that produces graphics output. Often such output is exported to a DTP
package for inclusion in some publication, or to a piece of presentation software for
inclusion in a display sequence. Another use for such output is to enliven a page on the
world wide web. There are many different forms of graphics package split into groups
dependent on the way that the graphic is produced. The two most common are bitmap
graphics where each pixel is treated separately, and vector graphics where the lines on the
drawing are created mathematically. Different software packages create the graphics in
different ways; for instance Paintbrush creates pictures in bitmap form while Draw uses
vectors. The simple way of describing the difference is in sizing the drawing. If a drawing
held as a bitmap is increased in size then each of the pixels is increased in size and hence
becomes more obvious. If a drawing stored using vector graphics is increased in size the
only things that change are the mathematical formulae for producing the lines, which will
produce a picture of comparable quality whatever the size.
3.2.4 Applications for which Common Packages are not appropriate
Common applications packages are those that have been designed to satisfy particular
needs that are common to a number of different applications. There are many other
examples where computers are necessary but where the use is so specialised that the
software will need to be written (or at least tailored) for that particular use. Uses that would
require such specialist software are legion, but would include many uses of control software.
Robots used on production lines tend to be one-off machines, designed for that particular
purpose, consequently, the software that would drive them would, similarly, be one-off. A
stock control system in a warehouse would have standard modules, but would have other
sections which would be for that warehousing system alone. The important consideration is
how different from the standard design is the system for which we want the software, the
further away from the standard, the more difficult it is to use standard software, and the
more likelihood there is that the system will require software written specially for it.
3.2.5 Purpose and Impact of Generic Software.
The purposes of the different types of generic software were covered in section 3.2.3.
The impact of the different types of software have been profound.
Expectations have changed markedly since the days of the typewriter, which can be thought
of as the direct precursor of the word processor. Letters or other documents are perceived
to be unacceptable if they contain an error. If an error is spotted then it is corrected and the
document is reprinted. The advent of electronic machines was heralded as the start of the
paperless office, whereas the facts are that the amount of paper consumed in office
applications has multiplied enormously. The use of computers running word processing
programs was greeted with fear by most type writer operators for two reasons. The first
was because of the fear of unemployment. The logic went along the lines of: Each operator
will be able to work much faster and hence produce more output, therefore some of the
operators can be made redundant. While this happened a little, the truth was far from this,
and there are now more computer operators than there ever were typists. The second fear
was that in order to use one of the new machines typists would have to undergo
considerable training. While this was true to some extent, and there were some typists who,
largely through being older, found great difficulty in changing their old practices, most had
little problem and even learned new skills making them better qualified, giving more job
satisfaction and the capacity for higher paid jobs.
A spreadsheet is essentially an area which can be split up into rows and columns forming
‘cells’, in which data can be placed. In its simplest form then, a spreadsheet is simply a data
storage system. However, spreadsheets begin to take on added significance when formulae
are applied to the numeric data in the sheet to make calculations, particularly calculations
that make predictions about what would happen if some value were to be changed.
Spreadsheets can also be expected to have presentation tools like graphing packages in
order to produce the results in easily understandable form. The addition of a language, so
that algorithms can be programmed, makes a spreadsheet a very powerful software tool
which goes beyond simply juggling with figures necessary for doing a payroll or keeping the
accounts and makes it possible to model situations in mathematics and the physical
Desk Top Publishing (DTP)
Strictly speaking a DTP package combines elements of software and output devices so that
published quality material can be produced from a desk top computer system. In order to
do this the output device needs to be top quality otherwise the other parts of the system are
let down, and the software needs to enable the user to combine graphics images and textual
images and manipulate them around the page before being printed out. This system
compares with the system that used to be in operation of creating the page physically from
cold type and attaching the page to a commercial printer before printing out multiple copies.
Commercial printing presses are now electronically set up meaning that the publication and
the press can all be controlled from a single micro computer. In the 1970’s there were fewer
than 200 magazine periodicals available in this country because of the difficulty of setting up
a new publication and the cost which could only be recuperated if there were sufficient sales
of the magazine. The cost of producing a magazine has fallen so much that a small
circulation title will still make a profit, and the production is very simple, often a one person
job. This has led to there being many thousands of titles now available, although it has,
perhaps, done little for the quality of such titles.
Presentation software allows someone to prepare a series of inter-related slides to
accompany a talk that is being given, or even to be a stand alone system. Each slide has
animations, colour and colour change, the ability to morph into the next slide and many
other features. When such software was first available those who used it produced
presentations that were out of the ordinary and consequently it was seen as something to
aspire to because of the novelty factor being able to hold the attention of an audience.
However, as the use of such presentations became more common, it became necessary to
use more and more complex techniques to maintain the novelty factor. This leads to
presentations becoming overloaded with tricks in order to make an impact. This distracts
from the message that is being attempted to be put across to the audience. There is no
doubt that presentation software can be used to make a message more accessible to the
audience, but it is also true that no amount of clever gimmickry can hide a poor message.
Drawing packages are, strictly speaking, software that allows the creation of graphics using
vector graphics as opposed to painting packages that use bitmaps. However, in this context
the syllabus is referring to the concept of the user being able to create graphics which can
then be imported into other software packages to enhance the work that is being done. No
longer does the school worksheet need to be a simple text document, but diagrams,
pictures, even photographs can be included.
1. Discuss the reasons that a solicitors’ practice would have for choosing off-the –shelf
software rather than custom written software if it was decided to change the word processor
currently being used because it was perceived to be out of date. (4)
A. The office manager would be keen to go ahead with the purchase as soon as possible
because all the decision making would have been done and the need has already been
established. When making the decision to change, current packages available would have
been evaluated so there is probably some confidence in what is available. The office is likely
to be a relatively small operation with few users, hence the relative costs of buying custom
software compared to off-the-shelf software would be very high as would the costs of the
Notes: The difficult question first in this section. A question which starts with ‘Discuss’ is
expecting a certain amount of analysis of the situation, not just hard facts. Also expected is
a linking of the question to the scenario given. Notice that there is an indication in the
number of marks for the question of the degree of depth of the answer. There were plenty
of other points that could have been made in answer to this question but plenty have
already been stated to get the four marks, and four marks means four minutes to answer
the question and with reading and thinking time I’ve certainly used that up.
2. In the same scenario, State two reasons why custom made software might be more
appropriate than off-the-shelf software. (2)
A. -This application may need more specialised routines than are available in off-the –shelf
-Many of the routines in the off-the-shelf software will not be relevant
Notes: A far simpler question than the first one. It simply needs two statements of fact, the
standard answers in the text, with no need to describe or explain, though notice that there is
some relating to the scenario.
3. Describe how CAD/CAM can be used to produce prototype designs in a manufacturing
A. -CAD is used to design the item
-The software can be used to carry out tests on the finished design
-Completed designs sent electronically to CAM software
-which controls robot machinery to produce the item.
Notes: Standard answers are all that will be expected from questions about the standard
software packages. The facts that are produced in the text will be more than adequate for
the needs of the examination.
4. A firm produces widgets for sale to the brewing industry.
A brewing company may come to the firm with a proposal for a widget to fit a particular
container that will need to be produced by the firm, which will then ship the finished product,
in batches, and invoice the brewing company. Sometimes the sales team will be sent to try
to persuade the brewing firm of the advantages of the company’s widgets.
Explain how the company can use commonly available software in the running of its
A. -CAD can be used to design the widget
-CAM can be used to produce prototype/help set up production line
-Spreadsheets can be used to keep track of the firm’s accounts
-Stock control software can be used to control the stock being stored in the warehouse
-Order processing software can be used to keep track of new orders when they arrive
-Payroll software can be used for paying the workforce
-Presentation software can be used by the salesman to impress the brewery firm.
Notes: It is possible to make almost any software fit the given scenario when it is that wide
in scope. The important thing is not to be able to pick particular pieces of software but to
give a reasonable explanation of why that software would be used in the given situation.