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User Friendly Taking a Spin on CD-ROM

February 1, 1995
If you're looking for a new spin on your job, try CD-ROM. Unlike other computer upgrades, this one's cheap and practical. In fact, you might not even realize that some PCs have the capability to install an internal drive for as little as $100. "If a CD drive costs about $100, it wouldn't take many times using it to save $100 worth of an HR person's time," says Jim Hemphill of Kalamazoo, Michigan-based I/NET Information Networkers. That's good news for human resources professionals who need to create, store, access and analyze voluminous amounts of information, but don't want to invest thousands of dollars to enjoy the benefits.

"Multimedia computing is becoming very popular and very inexpensive," says Neil Fox, a technology specialist at Cleveland-based TRW. Multimedia refers to using more than one medium to convey a message. In the PC context, it means adding video and sound to the usual text and graphics. The basic components you need to add multimedia compatibility are a CD-ROM drive, a sound card and stereo speakers. "Most people that bought CD [players] early on hooked them up to their computers to play audio disks," he says.

But today, with more than 5,000 choices of CD-ROM programs, the business community is jumping on the bandwagon of those who've already discovered the beauty of integrated audio, visual, touch, graphic, text and animation programs. According to San Jose, California-based Dataquest, almost 17 million CD-ROM drives were shipped worldwide last year. The company expects more than 36% of all desktop PCs to be connected to a CD-ROM drive by the end of 1996. In other words, more than six times as many desktop computers will have CD-ROM drives two years from now. "Last year (1994) was the first year that CD-ROM arrived as a mainstream product," says Patty Chang, principal analyst at Dataquest. Major contributing factors to the CD-ROM drive market include a booming home PC market, improved multimedia software, leaps in PC computing power and decreasing CD-ROM drive prices. The CD-ROM bonanza subsequently has created new markets and new opportunities for publishers, software developers, disk duplicators and content rights holders, according to Dataquest.

For users, however, a word of caution: You may actually fall in love with your seductive multimedia computer. Of course, you wouldn't want your boss to catch you searching for risotto recipes, exploring the secrets of Myst or customizing a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar. But there are human resources-related CDs that you just shouldn't be without. Indeed, HR professionals nationwide are beginning to use CDs for file storage, training, employee orientations and research. Instead of just reading standard text and graphics, today's user can view color presentations with background music and all sorts of fun and creative features. But if you're still in doubt, here's a few likely HR scenarios that might encourage your company to consider creating or purchasing available CD-ROM programs:

  • Problem:
    Your bookshelf is overstuffed with five-inch binders of government regulations and company policies. Aside from attracting dust mites, should an earthquake occur any one of them could land on your head and leave a bump the size of an eight ball.

    Solution:
    You can fill up to 600 times more information on a CD than on a floppy disk. They also can be reproduced for a couple of dollars, updated easily and distributed to large numbers of individuals. So either create your own CD storage files in-house or stock your library with some of the more popular programs available through providers such as the Bureau of National Affairs' Human Resources Library, Foster City, California-based Information Access Company's InfoTrac ® or Riverbrook, Illinois-based CCH, Inc.'s HR Library.
  • Problem:
    Your company has just hired 10 new sales representatives, but you don't have enough HR personnel to conduct that intimate, informal orientation on their first day.

    Solution:
    Set up a computer room with 10 PCs or have them sit at their own desks equipped with a multimedia PC. Let them watch a virtually live welcome by the company president, hear about the organization's policies and procedures, tour the facilities, locate the nearest restrooms and read about the background of the top company executives—all at their own point-and-click pace.
  • Problem:
    As your company becomes more global, you realize that your staff of expatriates doesn't know the first thing about local Thai customs. Is it appropriate to shake hands with women? Can hats be worn into a sacred temple?

    Solution:
    Create or purchase a CD-ROM program that introduces your expats to the local customs, history, geography, politics and business values of the designated country.
  • Problem:
    The senior executives of your ski-equipment company have requested that human resources recruit five marketing representatives for the Southwest division. These new reps must know whether locals prefer snowboarding or cross-country skiing. Rather than sift through piles of resumes, use CD-ROM programs like Career/NET that pack 100,000 student resumes on a single disk and allow the user to narrow the search—right down to the age, gender, background and grade-point average of the potential recruits.

Fortune 1000 companies are expanding their use of CD-ROM.
Clearly, there are advantages to using CD-ROMs. And some, like Carolyn Ladd, vice president of Cincinnati-based ComWare, Inc. say that at least 50% of her company's Fortune 1000 clients are using CD-ROM in at least one department. That number, she predicts, will continue to grow as the corporate community catches up with the general consumer market. "Because we're primarily a service provider, we deal more with a company's infrastructure of hardware. But if we're in a situation where we can contribute to a buying decision, we certainly recommend buying hardware with CD-ROM capability," she says. "I'm not sure you can buy [many] computers today without CD-ROM."

The major disadvantage of CD-ROMs may not even be a disadvantage any longer. As it's initials suggest, the compact disks provide read only memory, which means that a user can't manipulate and add text to the original disk. But you can cut and paste selected text onto a hard drive and then make your additions or revisions, says Hemphill, whose company created Career/NET. "They're also quite a bit slower in access speed than diskettes," he says. But at a major computer conference last year, hardware and software vendors were displaying CD-ROMs with faster access speeds and technology that allowed some disks to be written upon. "That technology is not widespread, but what appeared to be initial problems are quickly being overcome."

Hemphill suggests that any company or department considering the use of CD-ROM first look at its existing hardware. Many 386 and 486 processor-based PCs already are equipped to handle CD-ROM. So instead of buying an external drive—which can cost between $150 and $500—you might be able to install an internal drive on your existing computer for much less. With an external drive, you'll need to make sure that your computer has an expansion slot.

As you begin to shop for CD-ROM drives, remember that speed is everything. Most retailers today advertise double speed, which means a transfer rate of 300 kilobytes per second. The original CD-ROM drives spun the disks at the same speed used by audio CD players. By 1992, drive manufacturers upped the rotational speed, resulting in double-speed drives. They can still play audio CDs at the regular speed, but also double the speed at which they snatch data and feed it on to the multimedia computer.

Next, match the interface with your sound board and choose between a caddy-based system and a drawer-based system. According to some computer specialists, the advantage of a caddy-based system is that the innards of the drive stay clear of danger because it involves a removable carrier that holds the CD-ROM as it's inserted into the drive. (Because CD-ROM drives are optical devices that reflect laser beams off tiny spots on the disk's surface, it's essential to keep the drive clean.) With drawer-based systems, a drawer full of drive mechanism comes out to accept the CD-ROM directly.

Still uncertain? Quite normal, says Hemphill. "It's a new technology. People simply aren't familiar with it. And that lack of awareness [contributes] to the hesitancy," he says. But if you can't resist the possibilities of storing, distributing and presenting tons of information in a cheap way, this might be one bandwagon worth jumping on.

Personnel Journal, February 1995, Vol. 74, No. 2, pp. 94-96.