Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Relationship Between the IS Plan and the Business Plan

In modern organizations, the IS plan and business plan are both essential to the company's survival. Just what exactly is the nature of the relationship between the two? Read on to find out about their relationship and the frustrations when making IS plans...Oi. Here we go again… The question was, “What should be the nature of the relationship between the business plan and the IS plan?”

Before we determine the nature of the relationship between business plan and information system plan, let us know first what the two terms mean. According to Wikipedia, business plan is a formal statement of a set of business goals, the reasons why they are believed attainable, and the plan for reaching those goals. It may also contain background information about the organization or team attempting to reach those goals. Basically, the business plan is a decision-making tool used by organizations to guide them with what to do and to set a clear path towards the things that they should be aiming for. On the other hand, an information systems plan or ISP, according to Michael M. Gorman, is the plan by which databases and information systems of the enterprise are accomplished in a timely manner.

Back in the days, information systems are still non-existent and companies relied on manual or simple processes for their business operations. There was little need for electronic information exchange and if there were, they were only for special purposes and rare occasions. The same goes for the business plans in the old times. I am not saying that they are non-existent, but business plans are pretty much simple and straightforward back then. Creating business plans only requires knowledge generally in finance, human resource management, intellectual property management, supply chain management, operations management, and marketing. These were the basic and fundamental aspects of a business plan.

However, when the use of technology exploded, it did not affect only those in the scientific community but also had a greater impact in the business arena. The effect of this was the birth of information systems. While the introduction of technology to business organizations was still new, only those businesses that are larger and make relatively more profit can afford to incorporate technology into their operations. And at that time, technology was only used as a tool to enhance or boost a company’s performance.

As time passed, more and more organizations, including the smaller ones, were able to acquire and adapt the use of technology, or more specifically information systems, in their operations. The use of information systems in a company was no longer an advantage or an add-on. Instead, information systems became a necessity. Modern organizations are dependent on their information systems for the smooth and successful run of their company. Information systems are now considered to be the backbone of a company. Moreover, business plans also gradually evolved, wherein it is now a part of the company’s business plan to integrate information systems in their operations.

Clearly, with the things I pointed out above, the business plan and the information systems plan have very close relationships with each other in terms of making a business organization successful. Therefore, the nature of the relationship between the business plan and information systems plan should be mutually-inclusive. Let us dissect the relationship between the business plan and Information System plan. They are mutual, which means that both the business plan and information systems plan should share the same objectives, point towards one direction, and aim towards one goal. Informally speaking, they should be on the same wavelength. Why do you think companies make information systems plan? It is not to work towards another goal but instead, it is also to work towards the goal that the business plan has set for the company. The second part of the relationship is “inclusive”. Inclusive means comprehensive or all-encompassing. The business plan and the information systems plan should include all aspects of the company and should make sure that these aspects are included in the plan. Each aspect plays an essential role in the success of the organization and if the business plan and information systems plan fail to include even one of these aspects, this may result to inefficient performance and eventually to the company’s failure.

I also mentioned earlier that Michael Gorman described information systems plan as “timely”. Note that he used the word “timely”. In my understanding and the way I see it, the business plan lays out all the goals and objectives of the company and the information systems plan lays out the means by which the company can accomplish those goals and objectives in a timely manner. According also to Gorman, there are certain characteristics of an information systems plan that are desirable to produce the optimal performance. These are: 1. Timely, 2. Usable, 3. Maintainable, 4. Quality, and 5. Reproducible. However, I honestly feel that this list is incomplete. I think that, given the situation in today’s modern era, the information systems plan should also be expandable or able to evolve. Why do I say so? We cannot be sure of the changes that a company would undergo. Therefore, it is only desirable that the information systems plan can adapt and accommodate these changes. In the same way, since the information systems plan and business plan share a mutual relationship, the business plan should evolve with the information systems plan and vice versa. In other words, one cannot be left behind by the other.

From the above things that I have written down, I could say that the business plan and information systems plan have to work in parallel to ensure the success of a business organization. The two plans- business and information systems- should reflect the organization’s vision, mission, goals and objectives. They should reflect what the company is aiming for. And to ensure that they are consistent, whenever there are changes in one, the other should also be able to accommodate these changes. The business plan and information systems plan are now critical factors in an organization. While they may be separate entities altogether, their content should be a reflection of what the company wants to achieve and they should be able to determine the goals of the company. After laying out the goals, it only follows that these two coincide with each other so they can both still work harmoniously and drive the business organization towards its success.

There are two parts to this assignment and so I have already finished the first question. Let us now move on to the second question. The second question is, “What are the two most frequently experienced causes of frustration in IS professionals and users while working on an IS plan?”

At first I thought this was going to be easy. I mean, I thought that there must be several causes of frustration in information systems professionals and users when they are working on an information systems plan. But then, as I read the question again, I realized that it was very specific. I actually floundered over the Internet looking for the answers to this question. And eventually, I ended up asking in Yahoo! Answers. Fortunately, some people gave me some answers but I do not really know if they are correct because, first of all, I do not know what answers are expected for this question. If I could put here my frustration of looking for the answers to this question, then I would definitely. But anyway, here's my try.

According to what I have found, one frustration that information systems professionals and users frequently experience when working on an IS plan is system failures. Of course, who would not be frustrated when you are in the middle of work then it is suddenly cut off because the system suddenly crashed or broke down? But before that, let me mention that there are two kinds of failures, one of which is system failures. From our previous subjects, I learned that system failures are known simply as soft crash. It does not affect the physical database of the information system and does not do damage to it. However, the second type of failure- media failure – is the one that becomes a very sensitive issue when it comes to information systems because it directly affects the physical database and does damage to part of or the whole database of the system. Media failure is also known as hard crash.

Let us go back to the frustration brought about by system failures. Imagine that you are in the middle of a transaction and it is very important that you accomplish it immediately when suddenly, the system bugs down. Your transaction is halted in mid-process and now you have to wait for the system to be fixed and to be usable again. In my point of view, for information system professionals, this may be an anticipated event because they are always exposed to such circumstances. Although it may still bring frustration because of the thought that the system you designed is unstable, they are open to the fact that any system could break down. However, the frustration this brings to IS professionals may be less compared to the frustration it brings to the users. I mean, most users are not that experienced and may or may not have any knowledge at all about information systems and therefore would not generally know how to react or what to do in situations like this. Most users think that if they are using a system, then it should always work out fine and they should not run into any problems because the people behind it have made sure to that. But we all know that this is not always the case.

For information system professionals, system failures can frustrate decision-making. No matter how much they prepare for or anticipate it, system failures always come in unexpected moments. Just when the professionals thought that the system was working fine and they can now proceed to the next stage of development, it gets interrupted and they have to start all over again. But, for every problem, there is a corresponding solution. From what I learned from my previous subjects, the impact caused by system failures can be lessened, if not totally eliminated, by setting up checkpoints at regular intervals. These checkpoints will save the current state of the system and so if a system failure does occur, not all transactions will have to be repeated.

Now, the second cause of frustration that I have found – user error. Like I said earlier, users may have little or no idea at all about the system they are working with. They usually have not the slightest inkling about the processes that go on behind the system. Most of the time also, users are irresponsible and rash and this usually results from not orienting them about the system that they are using. In this case, information system professionals, when designing an information system, cannot foresee all the errors that the users may do. The only thing that they can do to lessen the possibility of user error is to make the system as idiot-proof and as user-friendly as possible.

User error, in the point of view of the user, can cause inconsistencies in the information system that they are working with. But, usually, users do not know that they caused it. Most user errors are pretty simple, like inputting a wrong value. However, some user errors can also affect the entire system and this in turn causes frustration to both the information system professionals and the users. To the information system professionals, it causes frustration in that the error was completely unexpected and therefore they have to rework the system. This causes additional workload and costs them more time and effort. The users, on the other hand, are frustrated because the system may not live up to their expectations and their operation is halted.

I could not think of a sure-fire way to prevent user errors from occurring because the users of the system are varied and they may commit a wide range of mistakes. However, as a frontline prevention, the system should be designed to address most, if not all, possible and potential user-caused errors.

So, those are the two frustrations that I have found. I am not sure if they are the exact answers to the question, but I think they are not wrong either. They ARE causes of frustration for basically anyone who works with an information systems plan.

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