INFO 2 CH 14 - People and ICT systems

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Characteristics of Users

There is no such person as a "Standard ICT User". Different users have different requirements which depends on a number of factors:

  • Experience
  • Physical Characteristics
  • Environment of use
  • Task to be undertaken
  • Age
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Some users will use a particular ICT system on a regular basis. They will become familiar with using the system and will want to be able to carry out tasks as quickly as possible. They are likely to be irritated by carrying out operations that slow them down, such as having to make selections from numerous sub-menus before reaching the function they require. 

Other users will use an ICT system infrequently. For example, they may order goods from a particular web site just once or twice. They will not build up any expertise in using the system and would become frustrated if it was not made very clear how the system should be used.

Users who rarely use any ICT systems generally find it much harder to use a new system than those who have worked extensively with a range of other systems.

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Physical Characteristics

Users have different physically characteristics. Some users have poor eye sight others may lack manual dexterity and be unable to use a standard keyboard. 

ICT offers many opportunaities for people with disabilities, particularly those who have difficulty communicating. There are various computer adaptations available for people who can not use a mouse or keyboard or hwo can not read from a normal monitor very well.

Someone who can operate a pointing device, such as a mouse, but not a standard keyboard can use an on-screen keyboard. This provides point-and-click access to standard keyboard letters, whole words and communications phrases. 

A person who is unable to operate a keyboard or a mouse may use a computer system with speech reconition.

To assits those with poor eyesight,output can be to a large screen, spoken by a speech synthesiser, or to a special printer in the form of Braille.

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Environment of use

While many computer systems are used by people sitting at a desk, this is not true for all ICT systems. Consider a system that allows a train passenger to buy their ticket at a machine. they require a system that is quick to use, is robust and has clear instructions. An ICT system using a touch screen would be appropriate.

When a person is on the move they may wish to access their emails using a mobile phone. As the display screen is small, the interface needs to be very simple and clear to use.

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Task to be Undertaken

If an application requires large amounts of text to be entered then the most appropriate form of interface will probably involve a keyboard. However, human-computer communication is not just about entering data at the keyboard and reading the text on the screen. A voice recognition system may be more appropriate.

Adventure games have video-quality graphics and CD quality sound. A keyboard or mouse would not be quick or precise enough as an input device - a joystick is needed. 

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An ICT system for use in primary school will need screen designs to be very simple with visual clues as the children may not be able to read very well. A concept keyboard with pictures overlaid on a pressure-sensitive pad may be more suitable than the standard keyboard.

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Human - Computer Interface (HCI)

Most ICT systems involve human interaction at same point, for example:

  • A person ordering goods online needs to select items and fill in a form - probably using a keyboard and a mouse.
  • A garden designer may create or modify an idea for a garden layout using a CAD package on a computer with a large screen anda graphics tablet. 

The Human - Computer Interface (HCI) is the point of internaction between people and computer system.The HCI should be designed to make it as easy as possible for humans to communicate with the computer. In particular, creating an appropriate HCI requires:

  • The choice of appropriate hardware devices (both Input and output devices)
  • Designing the "look and feel" of the software including screen layout designs
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Designing the HCI

The design of how humans and computer systems interact is crucial to the successful use of a computer system. the choice of HCI will depend on the application and the needs of the user. 

Graphics are now used extensively in HCIs. As the memory capacity, and the processing speeds of computers have increased, the use of graphics has become more widespread. Icons- tiny pictures designed to convey an easily understood meaning - are fast and easy to interpret and are not language specific. 

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User support

Most ICT system providers offer some form of supporyt for users in case they have difficulties in installing or using the system. Support is sometimes provided free under the product warrantly or an entitlement to help can be bought for a fixed period of time. Large organisations have an ICT support team whose members provide in-house system support for users. 

Users may also need access to help on a ragular basis. The ICT system may offer many features, not all of which the user makes use of on a regular basis. There needs to be a suitable way for the user to find out what they need to know at the appropriate time.

These are some methods below:

  • Telephone help desks
  • Email support 
  • User guide
  • Online Support
  • Support options for industry standard packages
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Telephone Help Desks

Many ICT system suppliers offer telephone support for immediate help and advice. This provides someone with technical skills to guide the customer.

This help may be available during business hours or if its for a general-purpose software the help could be available 24 hours a day. The user phones the help desk when they have a problem. Help desk operators are trouble-shooters who provide technical assistance, support and advice to customers and end-users. They are experts in the ICT system and are likeyly to have a computer on the desk in front of them, which they will use to try to repliacte and solve the users' problem. 

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Email Support

If the problem is not time critical, then email could be used as an alternative to the telephone. This has the advantages of smoothing out the demand, so that the operator can answer some queries in order throughout the day. A priority system could be used which would ensure that critical enquries were answered first. Operators will be able to spend all their time finding solutions to problems without being interrupted by a ringing telephone. 

From the user's point of view, the use of email avoids wasted time on the telephone. However, instant answers to simple problems are not possible. Emails lacks the opportunity for human interactions offered by a telephone conversation. 

Online chats can provide a user with real-time access to help and advice of other users or employees of the osftware producers.

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User Guides

An ICT system provider usually creates written instructions for using a package. These are typically provided free with the system. This user guide may come in hard copy forms as a book or in a soft copy that can be stored on the user's hard disk so it can be accessed whenever required. The user guide will describe how to install and use the system. For complex systems, there can be a number of different books; perhaps one aimed at a first time user, in the form of a tutorial, and another involving a complete description of all functions to serve as a reference document, These guides allow users to work at their own pace with the instructions beside them so they can find out how to use the system functions for themselves. 

In an organisation some people, perhaps senior managers, may not be directly using a system themselves. However the system may produce reports that will provide them with information that they will need to make appropriate decisions. They will need to know what reports the system is capable of producing and how to interpret them. These managers would require a written manual that provides instructions for using the reports, toegther with samples of the reports so that they can determine which reports will aid them in their decision making. 

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Online Support

A popular way of making supprot avaliable to the user is to use the internet. Help facilities can be stored on the Web. Information can be kept very up to date. Users can access patches to update software or fix errors. Such a site would offer facility to email a package expert for advice on a specific problem.

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Support Option for Idustry Standard Packages

Many inductrystandard packages, such as Microsoft Office have a very large user base. The users need to know all aspects of the software's functionality, although each individual user is likely to use only part of the range of options a software package offers. Support is provided in a variety of ways.

Help is now usually available over the internet where up-to-date advice on common problems can be stored. For complex systems, user groups are set up, where users can get toegther to share problems and ideas. 

Software houses provide a considerable amount of information on packages via Specialist Bulletin Boards on the internet, often in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs). Users can search through questions that other people have asked and are likely to find a solution that resolves their current problem. 

Publishers of widely used software may send newletters to all registerd users including support articiles on tips, solutions to common problems and adavanced functions. 

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