Information Systems Plan:
The Bet-Your-Business Project
Published: September 1, 1999
Published in TDAN.com September 1999
Rationale for an Information Systems Plan
Every year, $300-700 million dollar corporations spend about 5% of their gross income on information systems and their supports. That's from about $15,000,000 to $35,000,000! A significant part of those funds support enterprise databases, a philosophy of database system applications that enable corporations to research the past, control the present, and plan for the future.
Even though an information system costs from $1,000,000 to $10,000,000, and even through most chief information officers (CIOs) can specify exactly how much money is being spent for hardware, software, and staff, CIOs cannot however state with any degree of certainty why one system is being done this year versus next, why it is being done ahead of another, or finally, why it is being done at all.
Many enterprises do not have model-based information systems development environments that allow system designers to see the benefits of rearranging an information systems development schedule. Consequently, the questions that cannot be answered include:
If these questions were transformed and applied to any other component of a business (e.g., accounting, manufacturing, distribution and marketing), and remained unanswered, that unit's manager would surely be fired!
We not only need answers to these questions NOW!, we also need them quickly, cost effectively, and in a form that they can be modeled and changed in response to unfolding realities. This paper provides a brief review of a successful 10-step strategy that answers these questions.
Too many half-billion dollar organizations have only a vague notion of the names and interactions of the existing and under development information systems. Whenever they need to know, a meeting is held among the critical few, an inventory is taken, interactions confirmed, and accomplishment schedules are updated.
This ad hoc information systems plan was possible only because all design and development was centralized, the only computer was a main-frame, and the past was acceptable prologue because budgets were ever increasing, schedules always slipping, and information was not yet part of the corporation's critical edge.
Well, today is different, really different! Budgets are decreasing, and slipped schedules are being cited as preventing business alternatives. Confounding the computing environment are different operating systems, DBMSs, development tools, telecommunications (LAN, WAN, Intra-, Inter-, and Extra-net), and distributed hard- and software.
Rather than having centralized, long-range planning and management activities that address these problems, today's business units are using readily available tools to design and build ad hoc stop-gap solutions. These ad hoc systems not only do not interconnect, support common semantics, or provide synchronized views of critical corporate policy, they are soon to form the almost impossible to comprehend confusion of systems and data from which systems order and semantic harmony must spring.
Not only has the computing landscape become profoundly different and more difficult to comprehend, the need for just the right--and correct--information at just the right time is escalating. Late or wrong information is worse than no information.
Information systems managers need a model of their information systems environment. A model that is malleable. As new requirements are discovered, budgets modified, new hardware/software introduced, this model must be such that it can reconstitute the information systems plan in a timely and efficient manner.
Characteristics of a Quality ISP
A quality ISP must exhibit five distinct characteristics before it is useful. These five are presented in the table that follows.
Whenever a proposal for the development of an ISP is created it must be assessed against these five characteristics. If any fail or not addressed in an optimum way, the entire set of funds for the development of an ISP is risked.
ISP Within the Context of the Meta data Environment
The information systems plan is the plan by which databases and information systems of the enterprise are accomplished in a timely manner. A key facility through which the ISP obtains its Adata@ is the meta data repository. The domain of the meta data repository is set forth in Figure 1, and, as seen through Figure 1, persons through their role within an organization perform functions in the accomplishment of enterprise missions, they have information needs. These information needs reflect the state of certain enterprise resources such as finance, people, and products that are known to the enterprises. The states are created through business information systems and databases.
The majority of the meta data employed to develop the ISP resides in the meta entities supporting the enterprise=s resource life cycles (see TDAN issue #7, December 1998, Resource Life Cycle Analysis), the databases and information systems, and project management. All these meta entities are depicted within the meta data repository meta model in Figure 2.
The ISP Steps
The information systems plan project determines the sequence for implementing specific information systems. The goal of the strategy is to deliver the most valuable business information at the earliest time possible in the most cost-effective manner.
The end product of the information systems project is an information systems plan (ISP). Once deployed, the information systems department can implement the plan with confidence that they are doing the correct information systems project at the right time and in the right sequence. The focus of the ISP is not one information system but the entire suite of information systems for the enterprise. Once developed, each identified information system is seen in context with all other information systems within the enterprise.
Collectively, the first nine steps take about 5000 staff hours, or about $500,000. Compared to an IS budget $15-35 million, that's only about 3.0% to 1.0%.
If the pundits are to be believed, that is, that the right information at the right time is the competitive edge, then paying for an information systems plan that is accurate, repeatable, and reliable is a small price indeed.
Executive and Adjusting the ISP Through Time
IT projects are accomplished within distinct development environments. The two most common are: discrete project and release. The discrete project environment is typified by completely encapsulated projects accomplished through a water-fall methodology.
In release environments, there are a number of different projects underway by different organizations and staff of varying skill levels. Once a large number of projects are underway, the ability of the enterprise to know about and manage all the different projects degrades rapidly. That is because the project management environment has been transformed from discrete encapsulated projects into a continuous flow process of product or functionality improvements that are released on a set time schedule. Figure 3 illustrates the continuous flow process environment that supports releases. The continuous flow process environment is characterized by:
It is precisely because enterprises have transformed themselves from a project to a release environment that information systems plans that can be created, evolved, and maintained on an enterprise-wide basis are essential.
There are four major sets of activities within the continuous flow process environment. The user/client is represented at the top in the small rectangular box. Each of the ellipses represents an activity targeted to a specific need. The four basic needs are:
The box in the center is the meta data repository. Specification and impact analysis is represented through the left two processes. Implementation design and accomplishment is represented by the right two processes. Two key characteristics should be immediately apparent. First, unlike the water-fall approach, the activities do not flow one to the other. They are disjoint. In fact, they may be done by different teams, on different time schedules, and involve different quantities of products under management. In short, these four activities are independent one from the other. Their only interdependence is through the meta data repository.
The second characteristic flows from the first. Because these four activities are independent one from the other, the enterprise evolves by means of releases rather than through whole systems. If it evolved through whole systems, then the four activities would be connected either in a waterfall or a spiral approach, and the enterprise would be evolving through major upgrades to encapsulated functionality within specific business resources. In contrast, the release approach causes coordinated sets of changes to multiple business resources to be placed into production. This causes simultaneous, enterprise-wide capability upgrades across multiple business resources.
Through this continuous-flow process, several unique features are present:
In summary, any technique employed to achieve an ISP must be accomplishable with less than 3% of the IT budget. Additionally, it must be timely, useable, maintainable, able to be iterated into a quality product, and reproducible. IT organizations, once they have completed their initial set of databases and business information systems will find themselves transformed from a project to a release environment.
The continuous flow environment then becomes the only viable alternative for moving the enterprise forward. It is precisely because of the release environment that enterprise-wide information systems plans that can be created, evolved, and maintained are essential.
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