Operations Support Systems

Operations Support Systems

Operational Support System is a collection of computer programs or an IT system, which is used by communications service providers for monitoring, controlling, analyzing, and managing a computer or telephone network system.

OSS software is specifically designed for telecommunications service providers and especially used for supporting network processes to preserve network inventory, configure network components, deliver services and manage faults.

With the development of new broadband and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems, OSS and network management are now functional in home networks. An OSS is also known as a Business Support System (BSS).

Information systems have been performing various business operations such as accounting and production. Systems that support business operations are gathered under the category of OSS. There are three main divisions of OSS, which are discussed as follows.

Transaction Processing Systems

Transaction Processing Systems gather, store, alter and retrieve the transactions of an organization. A transaction is an event that produces or changes data that is eventually stored in an information system.

Some examples of TPSs are selling goods with the help of a Point-OfSale (POS) system, processing credit card payments, or making a hotel reservation. TPSs differ in features from other types of information systems, in which they directly support business operations.

The most important information processes of a TPS are gathering and storing data. If a TPS is used to record a sale transaction and produce a receipt, the transaction data is collected at the POS terminal and then stored in an online database.

The four important features of a TPS are as follows:

Rapid Response: It is critical for a TPS to have a rapid response time with fast performance. Businesses cannot let customers wait for a TPS to respond. The total amount of time from the input of the transaction to the production of the output must be a few seconds or less.

Reliability: Many organizations depend greatly on their TPS. A system failure can disturb operations or even stop business. The failure rate of a TPS must be very low to be effective. If a TPS fails, then quick and accurate recovery of data must be possible. This makes backup and recovery procedures essential.

Inflexibility: A TPS executes every transaction in the same way, irrespective of the user, the customer, or the time of day. With a flexible TPS, there would be too many opportunities for non-standard operations. For example, a commercial airline requires to consistently accept airline reservation data from numerous travel agents. It would be difficult and problematic to accept different transaction data from different travel agents.

Controlled Processing: The processing in a TPS must support an organization’s operations. For example, if an organization assigns roles and responsibilities to specific employees, then the TPS should impose and control this requirement.

A TPS lowers the organization’s costs by reducing the number of times the data must be handled and by performing timely updates to the database.

There are two types of data processing, which are discussed as follows:

Batch Transaction Processing

Batch transaction processing collects the transaction data together as a group or batch and processes it later. It has a time delay. Transactions are collected but not processed until it is suitable or cost-effective to process them.

Waiting for a large amount of data usually results in lesser processing costs per transaction. The transactions are collected as a batch and stored offline on magnetic tape or on paper. The time delay before processing a batch run could be a few minutes, hours, or even days.

Batch processing is used when a time delay does not affect or decrease the usefulness of the results. This approach is used for making pay cheques and other forms of paper output. Batch processing is performed by large organizations using a mainframe or mid-range computer. It includes a large batch of identical data types, such as payroll or stock information.

For example, a payroll application gathers data for each employee. This data consists of the hours worked and overtime earned by the employee. This data is processed in batches by updating a payroll master file. After the master file is updated, the pay slips are generated for all employees in the organization. Batch programs are often run at night when the demand for the information system is lesser.

There are three disadvantages to batch processing, which are as follows:

  • All processing must wait until a preset time. The processing schedule is predetermined.

  • Errors found during the processing cannot be corrected.

  • Sorting the transaction data is costly and time-consuming.

Real-time Transaction Processing

Real-time transaction processing is the instant processing of data. It provides instant confirmation of a transaction but needs access to an online database. Real-time processing includes a terminal or workstation to input data and show the outcome of the TPS.

It utilizes a computer network to connect the terminals to the mainframe computer and to retrieve the online database. Real-time processing contains numerous users, who are simultaneously performing transactions to change data.

Even though each user is processing a very small number of records, their requests are being made at the same time. For example, airline reservation systems and banking transaction systems are two common examples of real-time processing.

The two major concerns with real-time processing are as follows:

  • Concurrency ensures that two users cannot modify the same data at the same time, which means one user cannot alter a particular piece of data before another user is done with it.

  • Atomicity guarantees that all the steps involved in a transaction are completed successfully as a group. If even one step fails, no other step should be completed.

Examples of real-time transaction processing are as follows:

  • Reservation systems are used widely in any type of business involved in establishing a service or product to be used in the future time by the customer.

  • POS terminals are used by retail stores to sell goods and services. They send inventory data to a central database when a sales transaction is complete.

  • A library loan system is used to record and keep track of items rented from the library.

Figure shows a transaction processing system:

Process Control System

A Process Control System (PCS) monitors and controls physical processes in an organization. It manages the manufacturing environment and electronically controls the process based on restrictions defined by the user.

In a typical PCS, a measuring device is used to detect gas or liquid present in a manufacturing environment. The frequency signature of the specific gas or liquid is sent to the receiver, where it is converted to a digital signal and then identified by the processor. This identification is used for system tasks by the host controller and automation system.

For example, underground mining plants use such systems. These systems have electronic sensors that can monitor the pressure and send warnings automatically if the pressure is near the danger level. It can also locate water sources in a particular range in a mining field.

Figure shows an automatic process control system:

Figure shows a simple automatic control system which has the following components:

  • The temperature transmitter (T.T) determines the temperature of the hot water and changes it to a standard level.

  • A signal is sent from the transmitter to the controller, the signal could be pneumatic or electrical.

  • The controller keeps the temperature of the hot water at a particular point set (set point) by the operator.

  • The controller adjusts the automatic control valve with the help of an output signal line similar to the input line from the transmitter.

  • The controller can alert the operator with an alarming signal if the system fails. It can also switch off the gas supply if the water starts to boil.

Therefore, process control systems provide completely automated control over a process which makes business more productive and efficient.

Enterprise Collaboration System

Enterprise Collaboration System (ECS) can be defined as an information system that is used to enable the well-organized sharing of documents and knowledge between business teams and individuals in an enterprise. ECS tools consist of the Internet, groupware, and different software/hardware and internal/external networks. An ECS works best in a collaborative working environment.

Therefore, ECS enables us to work effectively by helping us to perform the following:

  • Communicate: Share information with each other

  • Coordinate: Coordinate individual work efforts and use the shared resources efficiently

  • Collaborate: Work together cooperatively on joint projects and assignments

For example, engineers, business experts, and consultants may team up virtually for a project. The team may collaborate through the Internet and extranet, using e-mail, video conferencing, discussion forums, and a multimedia database that displays information regarding work progress at the project website.

The ECS may use computer systems that are networked to various servers that store project, corporate, and other databases. Additionally, these servers provide various software resources, such as Web browsers, groupware, and application, which help the team to collaborate till the project is complete.

The demand for better enterprise collaboration tools in business is increasing due to the capabilities and potential of the Internet. Figure 5.4 depict some software tools for electronic communication, electronic conferencing, and collaborative work management:

The ECS tools are discussed further as follows:

Electronic Communication Tools

These consist of e-mail, voice mail, paging, faxing, Internet phone system, Web publishing, etc. These tools allow you to electronically send messages, documents, and different files such as text, data, voice, and multimedia files.

Electronic Conferencing Tools

These help people communicate and collaborate while working together. Different conferencing methods enable the members of a team to exchange their ideas with each other at any time. These tools consist of voice conferencing, video conferencing, chat messengers, and discussion forums.

Collaborative Work Management Tools

These help people to manage and control group activities regarding work. These tools contain calendar and scheduling systems, task and project management, workflow systems, and knowledge management tools.

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