You are undoubtedly familiar with many business uses of computers that affect your life everyday—for example, computerized mailing lists and billings—but businesses also use the computer for many "behind-the-scenes" tasks. For example, many companies rely exclusively on the computer for monitoring inventory and ordering, receiving, and paying for goods. Data processing is also important in many companies for computing payrolls applying to many different pay scales and deductions. A not-so-hidden business use of the computer is the point-of-sale (POS) system that is used at retail checkout counters to speed the processing and automate inventory Applications in Business, Industry, and Government control. Airlines and national hotel chains depend on large mainframe computers to handle reservation systems. Very few offices today are without either a personal computer or a terminal hooked into a mainframe. The PC is often used for various clerical operations, such as word processing, while the terminal allows the office to link into the corporate information center.
On the financial side, banks have for some time been using a computerized check-handling system involving magnetic ink. Now, ATMs and bank-by-telephone services have made the computer even more important in banking. Financial institutions also Applications in Business, Industry, and Government make heavy use of computers to process and store many transactions each day. The use of computers for electronic funds transfer (EFT)means that many people can now transfer money and make purchases from the comfort of home. Another development involves the use of a computer chip in a card that allows the user to make purchases without checks or credit card verification.
Industries of all sizes and types are relying heavily on computers to manage large inventories necessary for manufacturing industries, to help design products and manufacturing processes, and to control machines that build the products. The Applications in Business, Industry, and Government management of inventories is critical—too much inventory is expensive and too little inventory can shut down the entire manufacturing or supply process. Two areas in which the computer has improved productivity are computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). In CAD, computers replace drafting machines, thereby speeding the design process; in CAM, microprocessors control various manufacturing processes, such as continuous-flow paper making.
Automated machines called robotsare commonly used to reduce costs and defects while increasing safety in manufacturing tasks that are unsafe or boring. These robots are not the walking, talking Applications in Business, Industry, and Government variety seen in various science fiction movies, but are primarily microprocessor-controlled "arms" that can perform the same hot, dirty, or dangerous task—such as welding or painting automobile bodies—time after time without loss of concentration or reduction in efficiency.
Governments at the local, state, and national levels have found the computer to be an important tool in efficiently serving their citizenry. For example, computers were an integral part of many weapons used in the 1991 Gulf War. In fact, computers are a crucial element of most U.S. armed forces defense systems in use today. The Applications in Business, Industry, and Government Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses computers to compare financial records of businesses and individuals to detect possible tax fraud. Recently, IRS agents have used laptop personal computers for their auditing duties. Similarly, the Bureau of the Census would not be able to complete the U.S. population count without the help of many mainframe computers.