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1.4 The value of CAT



Unit 1.1 Information processing cycle: input, processing, storage, output and communication
Unit 1.2 Computer features and classification
Unit 1.3 The role of ICTs in the workplace
Unit 1.4 The value of CAT

image By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Describe the information processing cycle
  • Discuss different types of computers and their typical features
  • Categorise computers
  • Elaborate on the role of ICT in the workplace
  • Discuss the value of CAT as a subject


In Grade 10, you learned about the basics of computers. You were shown that all computers use the same basic process to function, namely the input, processing, storage, output and communication process. This is called the information processing cycle.

This chapter will refresh your knowledge on the basics of how computers work, the different types of computers there are and their typical features. You will then learn about how computers are categorised and how ICT has made the workplace faster and more efficient.

 1.1   Information processing cycle

Before you can start to learn about the different types of computers that you will come across, you need to understand the basics of how computers work. All computers, whether they are the smartphone in your hand or large, powerful servers, operate on the same five basic principles. These are input, processing, storage, output and communication. Each component of a computer performs one of these functions, but they all work together to make the computer work.

Figure 1.1: The stages of the information processing cycle

In this section we will look at each of these stages and how they work together. We will also look at how these processes can get one computer to communicate with users and other computers. The five main steps are input, processing, storage, output and communication.


In the input stage, the data is entered into the computer. There are many ways to do this. In fact, there are as many ways to input data as there are input devices. You would have learned about input devices in Grade 10 but just to refresh your memory, input devices are things such as keyboards, touchscreens and microphones. The user inputs the data (for example, by typing on a keyboard or speaking into a microphone) into the computer. The device takes this data and converts it into a series of 1s and 0s (this is called binary code).


The central processing unit (CPU) inside the computer then takes that binary code and does the calculations needed to get that data to display in a way that makes sense to the user. The CPU works with the computer’s memory to get instructions on how to display the information from the input device and stores it as pixels in the computer’s memory. This information is sent to the output device to be translated and displayed in a way that is useful. All of this takes a fraction of a second to do.


Storage is where the computer takes the input and stores it in its memory banks. There are many ways to store the data, but the basic process is as follows:

1.The CPU writes the data to the computer’s temporary storage, or random access memory (RAM).

2.The computer then waits for the user’s command to move the data from the RAM to more permanent storage. If that command is given, the computer writes the data to the disk drive.

3.Lastly, the computer saves the data in a location on the drive, either the default storage location or a location set by the user. The user can then recall this stored information at any time.

You can also store information using external storage devices (for example USB drives or external hard drives).


Output is where the computer takes the pixels from the processing stage and displays them in a way that the user can see them. There are many kinds of output devices, such as printers, screens, video and audio devices.

These devices make the raw data usable and visible, allowing human users to interpret the data, turning it into information. This could be the sound waves of a song or the letters in a document.


Communication is linked to the other stages in the information processing cycle. Each part of the cycle happens because one of the other steps came before it, meaning that they are linked. This link is the communication aspect of the information processing cycle. The most visible aspect of this is the relationship between input and output. Input and output happen almost immediately (for example typing a letter on a keyboard makes it appear almost immediately on a screen). This is communication between the user and the computer.

Communication can then further be sent across a network to other computers. Think about browsing the internet. The internet is basically a huge network of computers linked across the world. Opening your browser connects you to those other computers and these computers communicate with each other to give you what you are looking for. Computers that are linked in a network also communicate with each other. Examples of this are computers linked on a company’s intranet or those linked to a server.


To see how this works, think about sending a WhatsApp message from your smartphone. To start the process, you open WhatsApp and use the touch keyboard to enter your message (this is input, output and communication). Once you press SEND, your WhatsApp application communicates with the servers to send the message and displays it in the current conversation (this is communication, processing and output). The app keeps a record of the conversation on your phone, your friend’s phone and the WhatsApp server (this is storage).

Figure 1.2: How sending a WhatsApp message works


As you can see, these processes are interlinked at every step of the way.

image Activity 1.1

Do the following activity on your own.

1.Usually Mpumi uses the computers in her school’s computer lab to do her homework. Mpumi’s parents recently decided to get her a computer so that she can do more of her work at home.

a.What kind of computer should Mpumi use? Give two reasons for your answer.

b.List two types of input devices she would need.

c.List two types of output devices she would need.

d.List two types of storage devices she would need.

e.Mpumi wants to save a Microsoft Word document on her computer as “Geography.docx”. Explain the basic process of how she will create and save this file on her computer. NOTE: Consider what happens during each stage of the information processing cycle.

 1.2   Computer features and classification

Now that we understand how computers work, we can look at what types of computers there are and their typical components. Computers can be broadly separated into three categories, namely:

1.Non-portable: server, desktop

2.Portable: laptop, tablets, smartphones

3.Dedicated devices: ATM, smart fridge

These devices are classified according to how portable they are, what their processing power is and what they are used for.

This unit will look at these types of computers and their typical components, as well as look at how each type of computer can be classified.


Table 1.1 lists the different kinds of computers, what they are used for and their processing power.

Table 1.1: Computing device classification



Computers are everywhere around you, even in places that you least expect. It might surprise you to learn that computers are in ATMs, point-of-sale devices (that is, tills and card machines) and even fridges and air-conditioners.

These computers are called dedicated or embedded devices and their components will differ depending on what they are installed in, but they will most often consist of a display of some kind (either a screen or light emitting diode (LED) display) and some form of input device (such as a keypad or remote control).

They are usually limited in what they can and cannot do, as they are designed to perform very specific functions.

In recent years, so-called “smart devices” have become more popular and available. These devices are designed to interact with each other and the internet to make life easier for their users.

Table 1.2 lists different examples of dedicated and embedded devices.

Table 1.2: Dedicated and embedded devices


imageActivity 1.2

Do the following activity on your own.

1.Briefly describe what a dedicated device is.

2.Give five examples of a dedicated device.

3.Place the following devices in order of most portable to least portable.



C.Laptop computer

D.Desktop computer

4.Place the following devices in order of most processing power to least processing power.



C.Laptop computer

D.Desktop computer


5.Determine which of the following computing devices are used in the following examples:

Desktop PC






 1.3   The role of ICTs in the workplace


ICT is changing the workplace in South Africa:



As you learned in Grade 10, information and communications technologies (ICTs) have an impact on every aspect of what people do at home, at school or at work. By looking at what you have learned so far in this chapter, you can see how ICTs have become a major component of daily life. This section will look at the role that ICTs play in the workplace.

The main reason ICTs are used in the workplace is that they allow humans to do their work faster, more efficiently and with fewer wasted resources. Companies no longer need staff to handle physical mail as email is faster and more effective than an employee sorting through post and delivering it to the correct people.


ICTs have also changed how workplaces are organised. ICTs allow employees to be more flexible in where, when and how they work, giving rise to the concept of mobile or virtual offices. Mobile offices are usually built for temporary purposes, usually within moveable, temporary buildings (such as an old shipping container). They can be completely virtual, with employees using mobile computing devices (such as laptops, tablets and smartphones) to create an office space outside of the business environment. Virtual offices can also be rented spaces that give businesses a physical address and office-related services (such as a telephone exchange) without the business needing to sign business leases or hire administration staff.

Figure 1.3: ICTs connect staff working in different locations and aid communication between them

Virtual offices are especially popular with new businesses, as there are lower starting and administrative costs, and a higher degree of flexibility and efficiency, since staff members do not have to handle day-to-day administrative tasks.

This has led to a change in how companies employ staff. The rise in flexi-time schedules (where staff work hours that suit them and not according to rigid timetables) and mobile offices has led to something called the decentralisation of labour. In the past, employees all worked at a central location according to a fixed time schedule (for example, at an office from 9 am to 5 pm). Now, employees can be scattered across the globe, all working at different times (that may or may not overlap with others) and in different places. Employers and employees are able to keep in touch using the internet and various software programs (such as Skype or email).

ICTs have also led to the rise of office automation. In some companies, ICTs have completely replaced the need for reception staff to answer telephones and take messages, due to messaging services and cellular technology.


A job that is slowly being phased out of existence due to ICTs is the receptionist or switchboard operator. Their job was to take calls and direct those calls to the correct department or person in a company. This is now handled by automated responses, like those used by large service providers such as MTN or Vodacom. When you dial their customer support number from your smartphone, an automated message plays, asking you to select a number to be put through to the correct department to help you with your query. In some cases, you might not even need to speak to a person, since there may be a computer on the other side of the line that is programmed to answer your questions with a series of automated responses.

Another change that ICTs have brought to the workplace has been the rise of bring your own device (BYOD) policies. As smartphones and tablets have become more cost-effective to buy, there has been a rise in the number of companies adopting a BYOD policy. BYOD means that businesses can avoid the costs of purchasing computing equipment for new staff members, as staff are encouraged to bring their own computers. Staff can also tailor their computers to their needs. However, BYOD is mostly only cost-effective for small to medium businesses, as larger businesses have the buying power to make arrangements with ICT providers to get the best devices for their staff.

BYOD polices also allow staff to take their devices home, meaning that businesses have a lower insurance risk as they do not need to keep expensive technology on their premises.


imageActivity 1.3

Do the following activity on your own.

1.As technology is always changing and improving, people are finding more ways to use technology to make certain processes in the workplace more efficient.

a.What are ICTs and why are they used in the workplace?

b.In the workplace, how are ICTs used to improve the way employees are paid?

c.In the workplace, how are ICTs used to improve the way employees communicate with each other? Also mention TWO software programs that employees can communicate with.

2.Give TWO examples of how ICTs can be used to improve a school environment.

3.Name TWO jobs, which currently exist, that you think will be replaced by ICTs in the future. Give a reason for each of your answers.


 1.4   The value of CAT

We are living in the information age so it is important for people to understand the value of computers and how to use them. This is where CAT as a subject comes in. By understanding computers and their basic components, programs and applications, you will be able to adapt to new developments in computing quickly, easily and with less training. CAT teaches you the basic skills you will need to prosper in any career, even those that use specialised software and equipment.


Apart from using your computer to finish your schoolwork or do research for projects, knowing how to use a computer is a requirement for almost any job today. From obvious jobs, such as computer programmers and graphic designers, to less obvious jobs, such as truck drivers and carpenters, each person entering the job market must know how to use a computer with some degree of skill.

With computers and the internet becoming more accessible, an entirely new workspace has opened up, where digitally savvy people are using computers and computing technology to advertise, promote and build businesses online. Online marketing (or digital marketing) is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the world and skilled digital marketers are in high demand.

It is not only people who will be working in ICT-related fields who will need to be computer literate. In 2017, a News Corp Australia article found that by 2020, about 90% of the Australian workforce would need to have basic computer skills to communicate with others and to find information about their tasks and daily duties.

CAT is also an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to managing information. By knowing how you can use a computer to manage large amounts of data and information, you will be able to work quickly and more efficiently in your future career. CAT teaches you how to use programs and systems to manage data and information.


Taking CAT at school level opens the door to many possibilities and career options once you have completed your schooling. Almost all careers available to you use computers in some part of their daily operations. From fashion, web and graphic design to accounting, law and medicine, having CAT as a subject will allow you to use the technologies associated with these careers. A good understanding of computer applications technologies also opens up Information Technology and Management to you as a field of study and work.

Studying CAT will also give you insight into how the internet and the World Wide Web function and how they can be used to enhance your knowledge and life.

imageActivity 1.4

Do the following activity on your own.

1.Bernes is a learner who dreams of becoming a doctor when he grows up. Bernes has decided that he does not need to take CAT because it is not relevant to his dream job.

a.What job would you like to do in the future? Mention three ways in which CAT can prepare you for this job.

b.Name three ways in which CAT could improve Bernes’ study life as a university medical student.

c.Do you think that people in the medical field need to know how to work with computers? Give a reason for your answer.

d.While taking a tour of one of the best medical universities, Bernes discovers that a lot of the medical equipment makes use of computers.

i. What type of computer is used in medical equipment such as heart rate monitors?

ii.Give two reasons why you think a lot of medical equipment makes use of computers.

2.Do you know of a job that cannot benefit from CAT? If yes, mention it and give a reason for your answer. If no, explain your answer.



1.1Which of the following is not part of the information processing cycle? (1)





1.2Which of the following can be used for storage? (1)





1.3Which of the following computers is not portable? (1)





1.4Which of the following computers can be used to process large amounts of data quickly? (1)





1.5Which of the following is not a “smart device”? (1)


B.Smart light bulb


D.Xbox 360


Choose the answer and write True or False next to the question number. Correct the statement if it is FALSE. Change the underlined word(s) to make the statement TRUE. (You may not simply use the word NOT to change the statement.)

a.Taking CAT at university level opens up many career possibilities. (1)

b.New businesses can lower their administrative costs by using a centralised office. (1)

c.Printed statements have been mostly replaced by electronic statements sent via email. (1)

d.CAT as a subject teaches us how to use computers so that we can become digitally savvy. (1)

e.Networking is part of the communication stage. (1)


Choose a concept from Column B that matches a description in Column A. Write only the letter next to the question number (e.g. 1J). (5)



4.1Briefly explain what happens during the following stages of the information processing cycle.

a.Processing stage (2)

b.Storage stage (2)

4.2Compare the functions of input and output devices. (4)

4.3Name a device that can be used to electronically transfer money. (1)

4.4What is the relationship between CAT and ICTs? (2)

4.5Give the name of a non-portable device that is suitable for creating documents and web browsing. (1)


Adam and his family have decided to open a sweet shop called the Sweet Company. As his shop starts to grow, he decides to open a second Sweet Company at a different location. In order to keep track of both shops, he decides to start integrating ICTs and computers into his business.

a.Name TWO computing devices Adam and his employees can use to better run and manage his shops. Give a reason for each of your answers. (4)

b.Mention THREE ways in which ICTs can improve the way that Adam’s sweet shop is run. (3)

c.Mention TWO instances where CAT skills can be used to improve the running of Adam’s sweet shops. (2)

d.Give TWO reasons why Adam should consider purchasing a UPS for both shops. (2)

e.Adam can now work on a flexi-time schedule. Explain what it means to work flexi time. (2)

TOTAL: [40]