Whether it is an application targeted to a specific mission, web enabling business processes or a complete enterprise resource planning system, determining which information system truly meets a company's needs is often a challenge. In many cases, information technology professionals and consultants can direct a company to a system that meets their needs. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
An incorrect decision is often the result of starting with the technology rather than the business process. A decade ago, technology was seen as the solution to all business problems; i.e., just get the right system and your troubles are over. Today, however, technology is properly viewed as the implementation of the solution. Technology is an essential component of the solution, but only a component.
An effective solution must start with the business processes that generate and use the information that is managed and stored by the information system. The business process must drive the choice or design of technology, not vice versa. This may seem an obvious statement, but it is one unfortunately overlooked by too many companies.
The Roster Network Facilitation Services and PerformanceWare are unsurpassed at defining, documenting and communicating business processes and are therefore the first step in determining your enterprise or specific information system needs.
What can go wrong!
Too many times, businesses find the information system they have purchased and installed at great expense does not meet their needs and expectations. With the increasing cost and complexity of existing or custom information systems and the wide range of vendors, making the right match can be harder than ever. Following are just some of the possibilities that can result from making the wrong choice in an information system.
An astonishing number of information system projects are started and abandoned when it becomes obvious that the system will not meet the company's needs. The waste and cost of such a failure are obvious.
Employees often start maintaining information on their own "systems," which range from the hard drive of their computers to hard copy files and notes on scraps of paper. They start spending a lot of time "working around the system" in order to get their jobs done. Obviously, none of these alternatives promote efficiency and profitability.
A similar situation is the employees changing what they do and how they do it "so it works with the system," a situation not unlike the tail wagging the dog. This is especially true if the company has developed unique systems and procedures for its business upon which its competitive advantage rests.
Frequently there are never-ending and expensive customizing and programming by the vendor or internal information technology staff to "make the system do what we need it to do."
The process of identifying information system needs is no different that any other sales process. In other words, the focus should be on identifying what the customer needs. In the case of determining information system needs, there are at least two customers. The first are the company's customers. In the case of web enabled systems, the information system is often the customers' primary interface with the company and obviously needs to meet their needs. Often overlooked, however, are the internal customers, those employees (and in some cases vendors, professionals and others who provide goods or services to the company) who need the information system to do their work ("Individual Users"). Simply put, the company's need for an information system is no more than an aggregation of the customers' and Individual Users' needs.
What drives each Individual User's needs? Individual User needs should be driven by the requirements of the business processes they use. If this is not the case, once again the margin for error in selecting an information system increases dramatically. Unfortunately, many companies do not have the present ability to define, document and communicate their business processes. Although this may seem like a stumbling block, it really is an opportunity to address these issues that are core to the company's performance, profitability, risk management and other business needs.
Defining, Documenting and Communicating Business Processes
The Roster Network process for identifying information system needs is driven from the bottom up, starting with the people that will actually use the information in their work. This avoids overselling by vendors, recommendations based on theory or the reality of the last consulting assignment or succumbing to good demos and sales presentations that may result in the sale of an expensive and yet inefficient information system. This process starts with defining, documenting and communicating business processes. Following are the essential steps in the Roster Network process for defining, documenting and communicating business processes and identifying information system needs.
Step 1. Complete an Enterprise Risk Management Assessment
Our Enterprise Risk Management Assessment will identify many of your internal systems needs.
Step 2. Identify the Needs of External Customers
The only way to identify the needs of your customers is to ask them! Some companies may think they know their customers' needs regarding an information system interface, but there is no substitute for a formal survey. (This is also the case with the customers' core needs, those you are in business to meet!) If you would like assistance in developing a survey, we can help you with it.
Step 3. Develop Position Matrices
Unlike many consulting solutions that involve huge amounts of billable time in separately interviewing individual employees to determine their needs, the Position Matrix facilitation process (whether done for ISO 9000, lean enterprise, compliance, or other purposes) quickly and efficiently gathers information with respect to individual goals, work activities, tools and processes used, level of responsibility and impacts on others through Position Matrix workshops of 20 to 25 employees.
The Position Matrix facilitation further develops information necessary to the definition and documentation of all business processes. This information can then managed with PerformanceWare. In addition, the information regarding tools and processes used by individuals forms the basis of the Document Teams who are charged with defining their needs.
Step 4. The Document Team
The Document Team is an essential component of all of the Roster Network facilitation procedures. This team is comprised of all employees who use a particular tool, process or procedure. The information needed to develop the Document Teams is derived from the Position Matrices. Each Document Team is charged with creating and maintaining the documentation applicable to the tool, process or procedure around which the Document Team is formed. This Document Team is the natural source for identifying and reviewing information system needs that relate to the tools, processes and procedures that the team uses.
Step 5. The Evaluation Process
Following is an example of how the Document Team would assist in defining and reviewing information system needs.
A. The Document Team reviews its information system needs (or the features of a proposed information system) with respect to each tool, process or procedure its members use, asking such basic questions as:
1. What information is needed?
2. Why is the information needed?
3. Where does the information originate?
4. Where does the information go or who else uses the information?
5. How does gathering or using the information support our individual, team and company goals?
6. Is the information needed the optimum level of information? Too much? Too little?
7. Does the information system need to interface with other manual or computer-based information systems?
8. Is the flow of information and applications consistent with the applicable tools, processes and procedures?
9. What changes in workflow, tools, processes and procedures are necessary to accommodate the information system? Are they desirable or undesirable changes?
The tool and process documentation facilitation will identify many, if not generally all, of the information system needs.
B. The Document Team then compiles its report of needs and/or applicability and forwards it to the facilitator of the information system decision making process.
C. The Document Team also nominates one of its members to the overall company, business unit or departmental information system team who will work closely with the facilitator to evaluate information systems. The size, membership and number of information system team(s) will vary with the circumstances and the size of the company.
D. The information system team then checks to make sure that all reports for all common tools, processes and procedures are the same or similar and to develop a master list or hierarchy of information system needs.
E. The facilitator, in conjunction with an information technology person from the company's staff, the Roster Network member or another vendor then evaluates the master list of information system needs against various information system applications and technologies that are available or proposed for use.
F. Once an information system is preliminarily suggested, demos and marketing material describing the information system can be organized and circulated among the information system team(s) for review and evaluation.
G. The comments of the information system team are then reviewed by the facilitator and information technology person to assure the optimum information system has been selected.
H. If need be, the selection and demo steps may be repeated.
To see a flow chart diagramming this process, click here.