In an intensely competitive global economy marked by the rapid emergence of new players, products and services, the pressure on the information services (IS) departments to provide low-cost and efficient systems, which will meet the complex and changing needs of the customers, is becoming more and more. In this article, I have tried to illustrate how the IS managers and the decision makers of any organization can create a more productive, efficient and effective IS environment which is lean, mean and proactive. This can be done by applying the development effectiveness principles to the information technology strategies.
Development effectiveness is a cost-effective approach, which draws its inspiration from Management, Psychology and Industrial Engineering techniques. It transforms the way the IS departments and IS and professionals work and will transform the IS departments from their passive and reactive role to more active and proactive role, helping the organization’s decision makers, with the right information at the right time, so that the organization is fully geared to meet the challenges of today’s brutally competitive business world. Development effectiveness is not a technique, it is a philosophy, a work culture which helps the IS departments to become more productive and efficient thus enabling it to get the essential work done faster and at the same time providing enough flexibility to meet changing work needs.
Information Services is one of the youngest functions in any organization. Compared to Finance or Marketing, which were there since the inception of the companies, IS departments are relatively new, with only around 40 years of existence. But the business scenario is changing so rapidly that the IS department has got a great role to play in ensuring the organization’s success. There are many challenges facing companies and businesses today. The growing size, complexity and diversity of global markets, the rapid pace of product development, shorter product life cycles, restrictions on the investment and working capital, increasing customer demands, etc. All these put the business managers under tremendous pressure. So in order to survive organizations have to reduce cost and improve quality, deploy assets effectively, improve customer satisfaction, and be sensitive to the changing moods of the market. In this race the ultimate winner will be the organization which can react quickly and effectively to the changes in the customer expectations and needs.
The critical factor in the organization’s ability to react and respond quickly and manage change is the availability of better/quality information. The information has to be timely, accurate and should be available to the right person. This means having in-depth knowledge about the business and its resources, products and customers and about the market and the factors that the drive the market trends. Most organizations have accumulated vast amounts of data ( I won’t call it information) about its customers, potential customers, past customers, historical data about sales, revenues, expenditure, etc. But in most cases the mechanism to convert these data into useful information will be absent, or may be some key information required to do a meaningful analysis will be missing.
So the role of information services is undergoing a transformation and decision makers are becoming more and more dependent on the IS department. So the IS departments has now a very crucial role to play in the day to day running of the organization. Without information, employees cannot be sure that their efforts are directed towards the business objectives of the company. So IS department acts as the command center which guides and directs the other departments so that all work towards a common goal, rather than pull the organization in different directions. Here the transformation of the IS department from the passive role to a very active role happens. Most management gurus are now supporting the concept of the information-based organization. In an information-based organization, the intermediate layers of people, whose function is to move the information from down to top and top to down can be eliminated. Thus by eliminating the layers of management, who are the carriers of information and replacing it with information systems which will do the same job more effectively and efficiently.
Thus information systems will have to play a central role in any successful organization. The information services should therefore be able to respond quickly and effectively to the changing needs of the organization. If the IS department is not geared to meet these challenges, then it will be wiped out either by end-user computing or by outsourcing. To meet these needs, an IS department must transform itself from an organization that prides itself on its technical prowess to one that is integrated into the enterprise and prides itself in servicing its customers; from an organization that seeks design or programming elegance to one that seeks effective and user-friendly business solutions, from an organization that looks and acts like a cost center to one that looks and acts like a partner in the creation of substantial business value.
So far the attempts to increase the productivity and effectiveness of the IS departments have been not very successful. Where as the hardware price have reduced in the order of 10 over the past 40 years, the software development productivity has increased only in the order of one. But the range of technological developments in the software front over the past 40 years is nothing but spectacular. In software the new technologies like client/server computing, expert systems, workflow automation, CASE tools, Object-oriented development, neural technologies, etc. are emerging or have emerged. New technologies will continue to appear, but the lack of knowledge to properly utilize these new technologies and the lack of enough trained manpower is going to be problems for most of the IS departments. Selection of the appropriate technology for key information systems development, technology that will not be outdated very fast, technology that is scalable, which has an open architecture, which can grow with the organization and which can integrate with newer technologies is going to be very critical as the range of options expands.
IS departments all over the world should be able to develop high-quality information systems, rapidly and at a reasonable cost, and then maintain or evolve them cost-effectively. The major hurdle that stands in the development of better information system development is the misunderstanding during the requirement analysis stage. The system analysts and the decision makers in most cases ‘talk different languages’. The system analysts usually does not have enough knowledge of the business to understand the entire complexity of the business, nor do they have enough time to watch and learn. The managers on the other hand does not have enough idea about the technology to appreciate what is possible and what is not possible and what they could do with the technology in order to make their jobs easier and more productive. This misunderstanding between analysts and the end-users results in finally developing a system which will never be utilized fully or which will have to be enhanced considerably.
According to a study conducted by IBM SHARE group, more than 50% of the defects reported in information systems after they have been installed can be traced back to inaccurate requirements analysis and specification. This clearly shows that in order to improve the development effectiveness, the understanding of the user’s requirements should be enhanced considerably. But this is not an easy task. Analysts and users often uses the same vocabulary but with different meanings. Also among the end-users themselves the same word can have different meanings.
Alexis Leon, DQ Week Madras, 24th March 1997.